Whereas rapid absorption into the system is the goal with whey protein, the opposite is true of casein proteins. Whether your goal is adding new muscle or preserving what you already have, you must have a diet that is rich in protein. Whey is great for post workout because it is quickly absorbed into your system to help with recovery and muscle building. However, at a time like before bed, taking whey isn’t really all that beneficial. The goal of a protein at night is to provide long lasting nutrition to your muscle. Casein does exactly that.
Casein makes up around 80% of the protein in cow milk, whereas whey is around 20%. Where a quality whey protein is absorbed in your system practically before you put the shaker bottle down, a high quality casein turns into a gel when it hits your stomach acid. This gel is slowly absorbed, therefore providing an IV-like trickle of amino acids into your blood and muscle.
As a post workout protein, casein is inferior to faster digesting proteins as it is much less anabolic (muscle building). However, as it pertains to helping you sustain the muscles you’ve built, casein is king. Casein, while great in powder form, is also readily available in solid foods. Solid cheese has the highest amount of casein protein, aside from powder form, followed by cottage cheese. While the proteins in meats and nut butters digest at a slower rate, they are in fact not casein proteins.
A good casein protein powder will not set you back terribly in price, and they are fairly easy to pick out based on labels. Most will say 100% casein or say something to the effect of “12 hour protein.” If sustained release of amino acids and muscle retention is a high priority, which in almost all cases it should be, a good casein product will be very beneficial to you.
Now you could easily go out and buy a canister of whey protein and a canister of casein protein and use them to great effect. It’s generally how I do it, and how a lot of people do it. However, if you want to get the best of both worlds out of a single source, this is where protein blends come in to play.
Blended proteins often times have at least 2, if not up to 4 different kinds of protein in them. At the very least they are going to have some type of whey, usually an isolate or hydrolysate, and a casein protein blended together. Other times they will include processed egg protein and sometimes soy. The main purpose of these proteins is to provide you with an all in one source of protein. You will get fast, medium, and slow digesting protein, in addition to often added recovery agents such as glutamine and creatine.
Other types of blended proteins are the so called “mass builders.” You’ll generally be able to spot the mass building proteins in the store by the word “mass” often inscribed in huge lettering on the canister, or by the enormous size of the canister itself. This doesn’t mean you get more servings because the canister is huge. Often times, a mass powder has several protein sources, creatine, extra fat and a large amount of carbohydrates all in one package. If your goal is calorie excess and putting on bulk, this is the kind of protein powder you will want to buy.
I really recommend reading labels on blended protein powders. Find out the kind of protein it has in it, how much protein, fat, and carbs it has, and see if there’s any extra things like creatine added. If there’s a question of anything in there you think you might not need in your regimen, maybe it’s best to pick up a pure form of something else. However, blended proteins in many cases are great as a meal replacement, and will take the guess work out of deciding how much of what certain kind of protein you should be taking at what times. Have a scoop after your workout, before bed, or just as a snack. Blended proteins can be very convenient.
Unless there is an issue of particular food allergies or intolerances, I really don’t find a great use for specialty type proteins such as soy, pea, rice, or even beef powders. For the purposes of this article I’m writing, I’m interested in protein powders that are beneficial in athletic performance, recovery, and better fitness. Your best bets for this are going to come from whey, casein, and blended protein products. If your blended protein has some type of a specialty powder in it, that’s great. I’m all for getting extra protein. But I find the specialty sources to be far inferior to the more “traditional” powders in matters of absorption and bioavailability.
Bonus: Branched Chain Amino Acids
As this article is about protein powders, and a large importance of those powders is their amino acid profile, I figured I’d write a bit about the benefits of BCAA powder. For those of you looking to shut the door on muscle loss, have quicker recovery times, and sometimes boost your performance, a good BCAA supplement can hold the key to unlock this potential.
As I mentioned before, your muscles are made up of proteins, which in turn are made up of amino acids. The body naturally produces many amino acids, but it cannot make nine of them itself. They have to be ingested either through food or in supplement form. I won’t list the nine, but three of these amino acids are key in muscle building. Leucine, IsoLeucine, and Valine. These are the branched chain amino acids.
BCAAs are critical in muscle development because unlike other amino acids that are metabolized in the liver, BCAAs are metabolized specifically in the muscles themselves. Leucine is generally recognized as the dominant one of these three, and in general is the most sought after amino acid by people interested in building muscle mass. Food sources that are high in leucine include chicken and eggs. However, a good BCAA powder requires no food digestion, can be taken pre, during or post workout and is an amazing tool for preserving lean mass and recovering from a hard workout. Taken before a workout or during, it can help increase muscle endurance.
While protein powders contains a good level of BCAAs, a pure BCAA supplement requires no digestion unlike protein. You can take BCAAs after your workout, followed shortly after by a protein rich solid food meal to promote muscle growth, or you can stack BCAAs along with protein powder after your workout to nearly guarantee muscle preservation and promote new muscle growth. It can only help your overall cause.
I hope this gives everyone a better idea of what they’re buying when they head to the store or website to purchase a protein powder. There are a lot of different choices for a lot of different goals, and being educated on this subject is your best bet for buying the right powder at the right price. If you have any further questions on something I possibly didn’t cover, contact me and I’ll be happy to help. Have an awesome weekend, and go work out!