Protein is the core building block of the human body, so when working to increase your muscle mass, remember to eat enough of it. But where to take the protein from to make sure it perfectly responds to the body’s needs? You probably remember the slogan from a popular campaign: “Drink milk to grow big and strong”. It was not without a good reason that the authors encouraged us to consume milk, as it is a great source of calcium and proteins. Plus, it contains a number of other valuable nutrients.

What exactly is casein?

Casein is the most important milk protein (comprising c.a. 75% of all the amino-acids in cow’s milk). It can be obtained by dehydrating milk and removal of as much lactose and fat as possible. Once in the stomach, the white powder obtained in the process undergoes coagulation and is converted into a gel which is slowly digested by the body (digestion takes 5 to 7 hours). In the meanwhile, the amino-acids are gradually released into the blood, to supply the muscles with the substances they need to grow. Casein naturally occurs in high concentrations in cottage cheese and in young hard cheese. You can also take ready-made supplements with casein.

Types of casein

Casein occurs in two forms, i.e. as micellar casein and as calcium caseinate, which are obtained from milk in two different ways.

Calcium caseinate is produced in a cheese-making process. It is obtained through adding calcium hydroxide to souring milk, to neutralize the pH. Calcium caseinate is collected right before the milk gets sour. The substance is known for high content of L-glutamine. Its digestion time is quite short.

Micellar casein is the purest casein protein available. Advancement of the technological processes used makes it possible to obtain an almost 100% pure product, low in lactose. Micellar casein is obtained in the process of milk skimming, purification from contaminants and lactose removal. At low temperatures, micro-filtration occurs, which is performed without any use of chemical agents. The so produced casein has unbroken peptide bonds and is rich in L-glutamine and branched-chain amino-acids (BCAA). Micellar casein will help you maintain your muscle mass when you switch to a low-calorie diet.

The gradual release of amino-acids, which remain at a high level for many hours, has a beneficial effect on all cells that need proteins, either to produce energy or for building purposes. This thesis has been confirmed in a number of research, some of which showed catabolism reduction by as much as 40%.

Whey protein

Both casein and whey are obtained from milk. Casein represents 80% of all proteins contained in milk, with the remaining 20% being whey. Casein is mostly used in the food industry to produce cheese. Whey, in turn, has for years been treated as waste generated in the casein production process. Whey separates from milk after full milk coagulation. In the second half of the 20th century, researchers paid more attention to whey, and succeeded in extracting its properties that are most valuable to athletes.

It shows that whey protein, in all kinds of different forms, has for some time been the most purchased protein. High content of biological ingredients and branched-chain amino-acids is what all those who fight for a beautiful figure value high.

Seemingly the same, but only up to a point

Whey protein and casein are usually presented as two different products, while they are in fact just two sides of the same coin. Both supplements are the side-effects of cheese production processes and are obtained from milk. Although from the same source, their properties highly differ, making the substances complementary to each other.

Whey is a fast-absorbing protein, causing a sudden growth of amino-acids which remain high for 3 to 4 hours. Casein, in turn, is absorbed slowly. Once eaten, it does not produce a sudden growth of amino-acid concentration, but causes a gradual release of slight amounts for 6 to 7 hours. In addition, whey causes a bigger insulin surge.

Whey promotes protein synthesis in the body, while casein inhibits systemic protein catabolism. This means that right after eating whey, the number of proteins to undergo anabolism grows. Through its gradual action, casein prevents protein degradation due to physical effort and peri-workout muscle damage.

Finally, it must be remembered that whey is much more effective where muscle protein synthesis takes place after 1 to 3.5 hours after consumption. Casein, in turn, is better for protein synthesis after 3.5 to 6 hours post consumption, which is connected with the mechanism of protein release to/absorption from the circulatory system.

The rapid growth of amino-acid concentration immediately after whey consumption results in a sudden stimulation of anabolism, which causes loss of significant amounts of amino-acids from the body. Eating casein, in turn, ensures bigger accumulation of amino-acids right after consumption. The processes are slower, but the protein loss is slower, too.

The properties of whey make it an ideal drink after working out, to help you recover your strength and ensure protein balance. Casein supports long-term recovery, for instance, during sleep.

Casein and whey protein combined?

The differences between these two are remarkable, which makes the selection of the appropriate protein not an easy thing to do. You need to remember that whey and casein are mutually complementary, with the former acting best during the day and right after working out and the latter acting at night, for longer time. They complement each other perfectly because they come from the same source.

For those who want to have a perfect body, there is no better combination than casein and whey protein. Such a mix has both anabolic (whey protein) and anti-catabolic (casein) effect. The above is also confirmed by research, which shows unambiguously that when combined, these two significantly enhance muscle growth.

How to combine casein and whey protein? If you need a quick food to feed your body, choose whey and your muscles will not have the time to feel hunger. Casein is best when taken before bedtime, as it will give your muscles the proteins they need at night to recover properly.