Protein :Casein Vs. Whey

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Protein is an essential component that has to be included in our daily consumption.Protein is an important part of a healthy diet. Proteins are made up of chemical ‘building blocks’ called amino acids. Your body uses amino acids to build and repair muscles and bones and to make hormones and enzymes.

All proteins contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Some proteins even have sulfur in them. These elements make up the building blocks of proteins – the amino acids. There are twenty basic types of amino acids.

Proteins are composed of both essential and nonessential amino acids:

  • Essential amino acids must be obtained through food as the body cannot synthesize these.
  • Nonessential amino acids are still important to construct our body’s proteins. The name just means it is not necessary for us to ingest them because our bodies can synthesize them.

Although many foods have little or more protein content, the essential components, called the ‘essential amino acids’ of a protein, are important for various metabolic functions and are not synthesized by the body. Few of the essential amino acids called ‘Branched Chain Amino Acids’ or ‘BCAA’ are found to help with the growth and repair of the muscles.

Whey and casein are the two most popular types of protein powders. Both the proteins are found in cow’s milk, making up 80 per cent and 20 per cent of milk protein respectively. They are high-quality protein as they contain all the important amino acids that your body cannot make and thus you must derive them from food. The best part is that both can be easily digested and absorbed by your body.

Foods with a complete amino acid profile come mostly from animal sources, except for soy. While it is always ideal to consume daily protein from foods, one may avail a supplement with complete protein if they are unable to meet the protein requirement through food alone. The two most common complete protein supplements that are available include casein and whey. Read on and understand more about these two proteins.

What is Casein ?

Casein is the major protein in cows’ milk, and comprises about 80 % of the total protein content of which the rest,
some 20 %, are the whey or serum proteins.
Casein is the basic component of ordinary cheese. In the cheese-making process, casein is precipitated by the action of rennet enzymes, and a coagulum is formed consisting of casein, whey proteins, fat, lactose and the minerals of the milk.

What is whey protein?

Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from whey, which is the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production. Whey is available to the body immediately after consumption. It is absorbed faster compared to casein and is termed as ‘fast protein’ or ‘fast absorbing’ protein. The whey is available in the bloodstream for up to 90 minutes.

Milk actually contains two main types of protein: casein (80%) and whey (20%).

Whey is found in the watery portion of milk. When cheese is produced, the fatty parts of the milk coagulate and the whey is separated from it as a byproduct .

If you’ve ever opened a yogurt container to see liquid floating on top — that’s whey. Cheesemakers used to discard it before they discovered its commercial value .

How are casein and whey protein prepared?

Both casein and whey are the proteins of milk. When milk is processed with certain enzymes or agents, it curdles. This is also the process of making cheese (or paneer in Indian households). The curdled thick portion has casein and the remaining water contains whey. The thick portion is extracted and processed into powder form, which can be used easily. The whey water is also further processed more to make it available in powder form. The extracted powder forms are then available for easy use and consumption.

Difference between casein and whey protein

  • Casein and whey differ slightly in their amino acid profiles.
  • Whey has a little higher content of leucine, which helps in the growth of muscle and recovery.
  • Once the whey is consumed, the amino acids released stay in the bloodstream for approximately 90 minutes whereas casein stays for around 3-4 hours, which makes casein suitable for consumption in conditions such as fasting and before bedtime.
  • Since the muscles need to be fueled soon after a workout, whey is advised to be consumed post-workout as it has high leucine content and a fast absorption rate.
  • Whey has three different forms, namely concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate. The difference in each form is the number of carbohydrates and fat.

Let’s also say whey helps in building muscles by quick absorption, and casein helps in keeping muscles healthy without breaking down.

Benefits of casein and whey protein

  • Some studies show that whey is more satiating than casein. Whey has bioactive compounds which are shown to signal satiety.
  • Studies had shown that whey has the potential to decrease postprandial glycemia by stimulating insulin secretion and slowing down gastric emptying, which suppresses the appetite.
  • In a few other studies, casein was also found to be satiating and help reduce daily energy intake.
  • Casein helps in reducing the breakdown of protein in muscles due to its slow absorption rate, keeping protein synthesis intact.

The timing and dose of protein intake also play an important role in understanding the better benefits of each of them.

Which is better: Casein or whey protein?

If you are into strength or weight training and looking for optimal muscle growth and recovery, whey protein could be the best option. It also induces appetite, helping treat obesity and weight management. If one has more appetite, particularly late-night cravings, then casein would be the best option for long-time fullness. Casein helps in reducing hunger and promotes weight loss. Casein is also ideal for people who are into fasting regimes. It might be useful as sip feeds for people who are sick and also for the elderly. A number of studies have shown the effectiveness of whey as a dietary intervention like a functional food for diabetics, phenylketonuria patients, old people, athletes, and also in infant formulas.

Both the protein types show the satiety effect, promote muscle growth, help in recovery, and have a good amino acid profile. The best way is to make sure there is an adequate daily intake of protein.

In the end, it is always ideal to consume daily protein from foods and rely on protein supplements when it is practically not possible to have it through food for various reasons.

How to take casein and whey protein?

Casein and whey proteins can be consumed by ideally blending with water, either with cold or normal water. Fruits also can be added to improve the flavor. They can also be mixed with milk. Casein might form lumps in water, and adding in milk will make it thicker. It is also preferable to blend the powder against mixing with a spoon so that it dissolves well. Add them to curd or Greek yogurt.  Many other recipes too can be made with whey powder, such as cookies and bars.

Casein takes much longer to digest than whey

Casein is well known as a “time-release” protein because of its slow absorption rate in the gut.

This means that it feeds your cells with amino acids at a low level over a long period of time.

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It can help your cells synthesize protein, even during times when your body might normally be breaking down its own muscles to feed itself, such as when you haven’t eaten for some time .

For this reason, it’s called “anti-catabolic” and helps reduce muscle breakdown .

One study tested digestion speed by providing participants with either a casein or whey protein shake. Researchers monitored the blood amino acid content, specifically the key amino acid leucine, for seven hours after ingestion .

These researchers found a quicker and larger spike from whey protein due to its rapid absorption rate. Despite a smaller initial peak, casein levels stayed more consistent over time.

In another study, researchers gave participants either whey or casein protein and then measured their digestion rate by analyzing circulating levels of the amino acid, leucine, over a seven-hour period.

They found that circulating levels of leucine rose 25% higher in the whey protein group, indicating faster digestion .

This means that the casein group reduced the total amount of protein burned for fuel over a seven-hour period. That means an improved net protein balance, a key factor for muscle growth and retention .

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