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What Is Casein and is it Bad For You?

Jason Hughes
Published by Jason Hughes
Fact checked by Markus Oliver, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: June 24, 2022

Protein is amongst the most popular supplements that you can find on the market. It is quite common for bodybuilders and weightlifters alike to consume at least 1 gram of protein per body weight to maximize the potential benefits for muscle development. With so many supplements that claim they can do better than the latest on the market, it may be difficult to ascertain which one is best for you, including conforming to certain dietary restrictions. One such form of protein intake is casein, which is a milk protein that is derived from cows - often made into a powder form to be added easily to a protein shake.

In this article, we will define what casein protein (and how it works inside of your body's functions) is and how it can benefit you over the other popular choices. We will also go over the possible side effects that can be observed from casein protein as compared to its most cited rival: whey.

What Exactly is Casein?

Casein is a protein and is derived from cow's milk. This is in contrast to whey protein, which is the most popular form of protein supplement on the market. Interestingly enough, casein is actually 80% of the protein found in the milk, consisting of the milk curds, or the "solid" part, as opposed to the "liquid" part, which is whey. The most common form of casein protein outside of protein powder is found in cottage cheese and dehydrated curds - which can often be eaten by themselves or incorporated into tasty dishes. You can also find casein in yogurt where the liquid has separated itself at the top (whey).

Casein protein is in abundance as compared to its counterpart and is easier to transform into a powder. It contains between 78-82% of protein per gram of weight. While this may seem like casein is the better choice, it actually is digested much slower by the body due to the acidic environment of the protein. Both casein and whey are complete proteins, meaning they have the 9 essential amino acids that are necessary for human nutrition. Because casein is digested much slower, it is not recommended to take it prior to your workout and has a unique list of benefits and side effects as compared to its more "fast-acting" cousin.

Casein protein contains between 78-82% of protein per gram of weight. While this may seem like casein is the better choice, it actually is digested much slower by the body due to the acidic environment of the protein. Both casein and whey are complete proteins, meaning they have the 9 essential amino acids that are necessary for human nutrition. Because casein is digested much slower, it is not recommended to take it prior to your workout and has a unique list of benefits and side effects as compared to its more "fast-acting" cousin.

Casein Benefits and Side Effects

Benefits

Long-term muscle development: Casein protein is complete and is conducive to an effective environment for your muscles to recover and develop. Casein's slow-acting protein release sometimes causes overstraining, as not feeling the effects immediately can sometimes increase motivation and workload in order to achieve a longer-lasting pump. While whey protein needs to be used right away, casein protein often digests throughout the night - making it better both for sleep and for the available protein which rebuilds your muscles while it has been broken down.

Increased metabolism and limited cravings: Casein's acidity naturally makes it clot and climb into cheese curds. This is not only true for the external environment but this is also mimicked within your digestive tract. While it may not seem to be too filling immediately, eating foods high in casein protein will cause you to feel extremely full and satisfied starting 20-30 minutes after your meal or supplement, and then for hours afterward. Casein protein is great to be eaten in the evening, after a workout but much before bed, in combination with foods that are high in healthy oils and fats. This will keep you full throughout the night and much of the next morning, limiting cravings, increasing metabolic burn and improving weight loss.

Extremely nutritious: Not only is casein extremely filling and nutritious, but it also contains many vitamins and minerals that are conducive to a healthy body. Casein contains a high calcium rating, which is extremely important for bone and joint health, helping to reduce the chance of early-onset osteoporosis, chills, and shakes. Casein also contains beneficial peptides which help to regulate the blood, primarily reducing blood pressure and improving the overall health of the circulator system.

Side effects

Allergies and restrictions: Casein protein is primarily found in cow's milk, which is a common allergy in many cultures and children. It is also not vegan-friendly, as it is an animal-derived protein. Certain casein foods and supplements also add soy as an additive and other fortified vitamins and fillers. Synthetic casein protein, on the other hand, may remove the lactose content within as well as may also be safe for vegans.

BCAA: Branch chain amino acids are extremely important for muscle development and recovery. Although both whey and casein are complete proteins, whey contains a higher leucine content.  This very reason is why whey protein is much more popular than casein, combined with the fact that it is more fast-acting. However, these are mostly rumors - it is quite possible that you may see faster gains with whey due to more rapid access and retention of water, but casein may be better for consistent recovery over the course of a few months.

FAQs

Is casein bad for you?

Casein is not necessarily bad but does contain certain side effects. Most of these are in conjunction with soy and lactose allergies, as most casein products contain soy additives as well as naturally containing lactose (it is a cow milk protein after all). This means that side effects can include bloating, discomfort, and other digestive issues.

Can you take whey and casein together?

As whey and casein are both complete proteins, the difference is the slow and fast release of the protein, nutrients, and amino acids found within. When combined, they complement each other; whey protein will help build muscle and a "pump" in the shorter term, while casein contributes to longer recovery and better sleep quality.

When is it best to eat casein?

Casein makes you feel extremely full, and as a result, makes your body satisfied and fatigued. This is due to the slow digestion process. Casein should be taken a few hours before bed and after all physical exercise has been done for maximum benefits.


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