Among the many protein sources available in supplements, there are two that are consistently in the lead: whey and casein. Claims abound about the benefits – and superiority – of each but, ultimately, it depends on what you’re looking for. What should you consider when looking at a protein powder? In the debate between casein and whey, which one is better for your needs?
In the Beginning…
Before we really delve into the differences, though, it’s helpful to understand where both casein and whey come from since this will impact the end-product.
Both proteins are derived from milk and are divided through some pretty simple chemistry that traditionally starts with cheese-making. The milk is heated or otherwise curdled (acids are sometimes used) which separated the solid and the liquid portions, with the solid curds floating to the top. For cheese-making, these curds are skimmed off and processed further, leaving the liquid behind as a by-product.
Here’s the thing: those curds? That’s casein. And the bothersome liquid? There’s your whey. In reality, then, both casein and whey are concentrated forms of milk protein. When they’re divided off like this, though, the unique qualities of each is able to shine.
What’s the Difference?
Nutritionally speaking, both whey and casein are excellent sources of protein and offer a complete amino acid profile – including the essential aminos that your body is not capable of making itself.
Whey, however, is also rich in immunoglobulins, lactoferrin and numerous other nutrients that have been shown to positively impact the human immune system. So, even though protein tends to get all the attention in these discussions, it should be noted that whey can have a host of benefits when it comes to general well-being, too.
It’s also important to note that whey is absorbed very quickly. This is key because the opposite is true regarding casein – making this the main division being these two milk proteins. Casein, as demonstrated by it’s cheese-making-origins, tends to clot up. And this is exactly what it does in the human stomach. While this seems unpleasant to consider, it means that casein provides a slow-acting source of protein that can keep you fueled for several hours. For this reason, casein is often taken by bodybuilders shortly before going to sleep for the night.
On the negative end of things, we need to look at potential allergies, as well. While both casein and whey contain lactose (although whey has slightly more), which can be a limiting factor for lactose intolerant individuals, the situation is a little more serious with casein. In fact, people who have a milk allergy – causing a severe or even life-threatening reaction – are actually allergic to the casein contained in the milk.
In the end, the decision between whey and casein depends on what you need out of your protein supplements. A high-quality, grass-fed whey – like Gnarly Whey – can provide you with all the protein you need, in addition to supporting a healthy immune system. The rapid breakdown of whey also makes it ideal for fueling up before a workout and recovering after.
If you need a slow-acting protein to carry you over for several hours, casein will do just that. All that being said, though, whey is likely the best choice for most exercises and athletes.