Not all protein powders are created equal. In this post, we'll cover the differences between two popular proteins derived from the same origin: milk.
Whey protein and casein protein have stood the test of time and remain the two most popular animal-based protein supplements available. Stick with us and you'll soon be able to differentiate between the benefits of whey vs. casein protein and understand which one is right for your needs and goals.
Let's break it down.
Shared Source: Milk
The proteins found in milk are 80 percent casein and 20 percent whey. Although whey and casein are both derived from milk, their amino acid content differs significantly.
Whey and casein are byproducts of cheese production. When acid is added to heated milk, the milk separates. The solid part is the casein, and the liquid part is the whey. We'll explain their production further in the next section.
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey is the liquid milk derivative byproduct of the cheesemaking process. The liquid is dried into a white powder, which then becomes the whey protein widely available on the market.
Whey protein includes high concentrations of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAAs are not manufactured naturally in the body, and therefore they are an essential component of many athletes’ diets and nutritional supplementation.
The amino acid profile of whey famously promotes muscle growth. It contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.
After extraction from cheesemaking, whey protein can be turned into whey concentrate or whey isolate. The most commonly consumed whey protein—whey concentrate—contains about an 80:20 ration of protein to carbohydrates.
While whey concentrate is mainly protein and contains the same amino acid profile as whey isolate, it does have more fat, carbs, and lactose compared to whey isolate.
Whey isolate is whey protein that has been processed further to remove additional fat and carbohydrates.
This results in a powder that has 90 percent or more protein by weight. It is a highly-concentrated protein, making it more expensive.
Benefits of Whey Protein
The benefits of whey protein are obtained from both isolate and concentrate. The main purpose of whey protein consumption is to support muscle growth and subsequent recovery. When taken directly following a workout, whey acts as a catalyst to muscle growth by raising amino acid concentrations in the blood.
Beyond supporting muscle growth, whey protein offers the following unique benefits:
- Immunoglobins: antimicrobial active proteins that boost immunity by destroying harmful microbes from viruses and bacteria
- Enhances Nutrient Absorption: Certain immunoglobins found in whey transport nutrients to their proper destination in the body so they can be better absorbed
- Antioxidants: Whey's high cysteine content promotes the body's antioxidant defense system by boosting glutathione
- Anti-Inflammatory: Whey has been shown to reduce C-reactive protein (CRP), a key marker of inflammation in the body
What Is Casein?
Casein is a jelly-like byproduct of the cheesemaking process, which, similar to whey, is also dried into a powder. As is the case with whey protein, casein is a complete protein.
The key difference between whey and casein lies in the amino acid profile of the two proteins. There are fewer BCAAs in casein as compared to whey, but higher levels of histidine, phenylalanine, and methionine—all essential amino acids that promote muscle repair.
This is why casein is good to take before sleep when your body naturally repairs muscle and tissue damage.
Benefits of Casein
Casein proteins benefit those interested in muscle maintenance and repair. While whey protein digests in about 20 minutes, casein can take up to five hours before the amino acids are completely digested and absorbed.
This slow-release characteristic supports the body's natural mechanism of repairing muscle tissue—especially when casein protein is consumed before bed,
In addition to muscle repair, these are the unique benefits of casein protein:
- Diet: the slow release keeps you feeling satiated longer
- Blood Sugar: casein helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and can reduce cravings
- Bioactive Peptides: reduce blood pressure and risk of blood clots
- Digestion: casein contains minerals like phosphorus and calcium that make it easier to digest
- Texture Enhancer: the thick origins of casein make it an ideal ingredient for creating thick and creamy shakes
Your Goals, Your Protein
By now you’re probably wondering which one—whey vs. casein protein—is better for you. The protein you choose depends on your fitness goals. We'll discuss their effectiveness in relation to the two most popular fitness goals below.
One of the advantages of whey protein is its ability to boost amino acid content in the blood quickly (in just 20 minutes, to be specific).
Whey protein contains 20 percent more leucine—the amino acid that aids in muscle growth—than casein protein. The high amino acid content in the blood produced by consuming whey protein triggers muscle development. This makes whey protein an excellent choice for anyone wanting to build muscle.
You’ll get the most effective benefits from whey protein when you consume it as a shake immediately following a workout. Pack a shaker bottle with your gym gear and you’ll have your protein on hand as soon as you’re finished and ready to trigger those muscle gains. The BlenderBottle® ProStak® system lets you store protein powder in a separate compartment until you’re ready to shake it up. Or you can pre-mix your shake in an insulated bottle like the BlenderBottle® Strada™, which will keep it fresh and cold through even your longest gym session.
Casein is more suitable for those trying to lose weight. Since weight loss is about 70 percent diet and 30 percent exercise, casein is excellent for helping control cravings.
The slow digestion of casein, lasting three to five hours after consumption, makes you feel full longer. Most people taking casein experience more stable blood sugar, which in turn reduces cravings and the chance of overeating or indulging in foods that might derail weight loss goals.
Whey Protein vs. Casein Protein: The Verdict
When comparing whey vs. casein protein, it also sometimes it makes sense to use both. There’s no exact answer, as everyone's fitness goals are unique. And while the weight loss benefit of casein and the muscle gain benefit of whey address two common goals, they’re not comprehensive.
In fact, while whey protein taken post-workout enhances muscle development, this can also assist with weight loss. Likewise, the slow release of casein protein has benefits beyond weight loss. For example, those recovering from injury and those looking to maintain muscle gains also benefit from casein's slow release.
Perhaps the best way to view why vs. casein protein is this: Think of whey as a quick muscle enhancer and casein as its sidekick muscle preserver. They’re both excellent supplements to bolster your fitness goals and healthy nutrition plan.
For inspiration on delicious ways to use whey and casein protein, check out our easy recipes.
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