Anyone who takes their fitness seriously will be familiar with whey protein powder, an easily digested supplement that quickly provides the body with a readily accessible source of bio-available amino acids. This works well through the day when it can be eaten regularly, but as the whey protein is quickly absorbed and used up, how do you continue to provide the nutrition your body needs and avoid catabolism while you are sleeping? This is where micellar casein can help, providing protein in a slow release form, gently being digested as the body recovers naturally, and providing a steady flow of amino acids through the night, when most muscle growth and repair takes place.
The word casein is derived from the Latin caseus, meaning cheese, and refers to a group of phosphor-proteins that are found in mammalian milk. It is these milk ‘solids’ that form the bulk of the curds when they are separated from the whey, that are then used to make cheese, one of the oldest manufactured foods. In its raw state casein provides amino acids, carbohydrates, calcium and phosphorous, but it can be split into its two main constituents, calcium caseinate and micellar casein. The latter is a slow release protein source, low in carbohydrate and fat, which also contains bioactive micro-fractions, trace compounds that are important growth factors, which studies have linked to a strengthening of the immune system. Micellar casein breaks down to form high quality branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) that are ideal for muscle tissue recovery and have an anti-catabolic effect. The protein source is relatively hydrophobic, meaning that it does not mix well with water, forming a suspension in milk. This insolubility increases when it is combined with acidic liquids, such as stomach acid, and it is this quality that results in its slow absorption, forming a gel that is gradually digested over a 7-8 hour period.
Why take casein before bed?
In order to maintain a steady supply of BCAAs that are readily available in the blood stream it is generally recommended that we consume regular amounts of protein that the body can quickly utilise. Accounting for about 50% of the body’s dry weight, protein structures are responsible for much more than maintaining and building muscle tissue. Everything from hair and nail growth, replacing blood cells, regulating our hormones, combating disease and transporting vital nutrients around the body relies on proteins to function. It is during the restorative time we call sleep that the most vital work is carried out and this is when a slowly digested source of protein is most valuable. Since muscles carry out the bulk of their repairs from the stresses of a heavy workout while we are not awake it is important that the body can call on the reserves it needs to carry them out. With its long digestive period casein provides a steady nutritional supply of protein, a sustained nitrogen balance in the body, essential for muscle repair, and the BCAAs that provide protection against catabolism, making it ideal for consumption just before going to sleep.
What other times can you use casein?
Casein should be taken when the opportunities for regular meals are unavailable or inconvenient, providing its slow release of nutrients to bridge any gaps. Busy lives mean that even with the best will in the world meals are sometimes likely to be missed and this is where casein can provide a safeguard. It also avoids the risk that a low calorie diet can sometimes present, where the body, looking for nutrition, starts to cannibalise muscle rather than fat. Maintaining a steady flow of amino acids into the blood stream by taking casein helps to guard against this catabolic condition while keeping the calorie load to a minimum. Casein is also commonly used by people with allergic reactions to other protein sources such as egg albumen and is lactose free, so can be used as an alternative source of nutrition. As more studies are carried out new benefits from taking casein as a supplement are being discovered, one has recently found a link between casein and a reduction in the erosion of tooth enamel.
Casein Vs Whey Protein, what makes them different?
The main difference between casein and whey protein is the way in which they are absorbed by the body. Whey protein is acid soluble and passes through the stomach lining quickly to enter the bloodstream, providing a good source of L-leucine that stimulates protein synthesis and the building of muscle tissue. This is exactly what the body needs before and after a strenuous workout. Casein on the other hand reacts with the acidic content of the stomach and forms a gel that takes several hours to digest, resulting in a slow, steady release of nutrients. To build muscle effectively the body needs to be in an anabolic state, supplied with sufficient protein and BCAAs to produce the desired lean muscle mass. When starved of these nutrients, through fasting or after a heavy workout, the body switches to a catabolic state and starts to use muscle protein as an alternative energy source, degrading all the hard work. Whey protein provides a rapid replenishment that switches the body back into the anabolic state, while casein provides a longer buffering state, ideal for when taking whey is not an option. Casein is also high in calcium, responsible for 80% of the mineral content in skim milk. When taking the two supplements whey protein is best mixed with water to maintain its fast digestibility, while casein combines more readily with milk.
Can you take casein and whey protein?
Casein and whey protein are not mutually exclusive and can be combined to make the best of the properties of both of them. The whey will provide an L-leucine boost to protein synthesis, while the casein provides a steady supply of amino acids over a sustained period. It has been shown that a combination of casein and whey can provide better results during heavy resistance training than a traditional combination of whey, BCAAs and glutamine, resulting in more lean and fat free muscle mass.
Can I take both Casein and ZMA before bed?
It is well known that ingesting casein inhibits the absorption of ZMA, a combination of zinc and magnesium that aids protein synthesis and facilitates a better sleeping pattern. Athletes and bodybuilders who are using one of the supplements are likely to benefit from the other so it has been widely established that taking the ZMA 30-45 minutes before the casein allows it to be absorbed before the inhibitive factors of the protein supplement take effect.
Can casein be used for weight loss?
Casein can assist with fatty weight loss in a number of ways and is very useful for people who would like to replace fat with lean muscle. Due to the way that the casein reacts in the stomach, forming a slowly digested gel, it provides a longer period of satiety, so that you feel fuller for longer. Micellar casein provides 22 grams of protein in a regular sized portion, with only 110 calories and virtually no fat or carbohydrates. Think of it as providing the opposite to a sugar spike, where the blood sugar level shoots up and then quickly crashes, resulting in cravings. Taken before sleep, the slow release of nutrients by the casein avoids the hunger pangs which can lead to late night trips to the fridge. Using casein has also been found to increase the body’s metabolic rate as the high protein content helps the body to run more efficiently, losing the sluggishness associated with obesity, which is ideal for burning unwanted calories more quickly. Another important factor in achieving weight-loss while using casein is the fact that a high protein diet, combined with an increase in calcium intake, which is what casein provides, results in less fat being absorbed by the body and a higher percentage of it being excreted. The results of the study can be found in the International Journal of Obesity.
Mammalian milk has evolved over millions of years to provide all the essential nutrients for fast and efficient growth, necessary for a species survival. Casein is one of the main constituents of this amazing nutritional source and many of its beneficial effects are only now being explored. New studies are constantly discovering new properties for this supplement and providing more solid reasons for making the most of its body building and regenerative properties.
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