It seems like everywhere we go we are constantly being bombarded with adverts promoting the latest and greatest protein based product. We can’t escape it. What’s the big deal with it anyway?

Protein plays a crucial role within the body in terms of maintenance and repair of body tissue. Proteins themselves are large molecules which often made up of smaller units known as amino acids of which are sometimes referred to as the “building block” of the body.

Considering the role that it plays, it’s important to consume enough of this macronutrient on a daily basis. If we fail to consume an adequate over a prolonged time period, there may well be health consequences such as, muscle atrophy (wastage), anaemia (low blood iron), increased chance of illness and injury and fatigue.

In the fitness industry, the emphasis on getting enough is even more stark. This is down to the fact that, during physical training the body is exposed to a stimulus which cause small tears (microtears) to appear within the muscle fibres. For these tears to be repaired an ample amount of protein is required. Failing to do so can potentially lead to a slowed recovery, restricted movement and prolonged muscular soreness and stiffness.

As a result of this requirement for protein post-workout, many fitness businesses have seen an opportunity to create post-workout supplements. Powders by far the most popular form of protein supplement – they are quick, easy and some brands have numerous different flavours from which you can choose. There are also different types of protein that can be purchased.

What’s the difference between whey and casein protein?

If you have ever come across many of these powders, you may have noticed that there are two extremely common types of powder – whey and casein. Both are major proteins that are found in milk that contain an abundance of amino acids which are essential for rebuilding muscle.

What is whey protein?

Whey is fast digesting which allows for rapid protein synthesis. In more simple terms, the body can break down whey very quickly and as a result, it is quick to take effect in the repair of muscle tissue.

What is casein protein?

Casein is more abundant in milk than whey. However, it is slow digesting and is therefore less effective at onsetting protein synthesis but is more useful for the prevention of tissue breakdown. The slow digesting nature of casein means that amino acids are released gradually over time which causes protein balance to be improved as amino acid levels are maintained for a prolonged period.

It is apparent that the primary difference between whey and casein is in regards to digestion periods and it’s important to recognise the different roles they play – one for driving muscular growth and the other for retaining muscular size and strength.

So, now that we are beginning to understand both substances, which one is best for you? The debate of casein vs whey has been ongoing for a long period of time. The answer isn’t as simple as one or the other as it all depends on your goal. For example, if you are looking to building muscular size and strength then it would make sense to focus mostly on whey to ensure protein synthesis is at an optimum. However, if you are looking to lose weight but maintain muscle size, it may be a better to focus mainly on casein.

The optimal option would be to view both proteins as equally important and utilise them in combination rather than think about it as casein protein vs whey protein. By doing this, whey will work to maintain a high level of synthesis and the casein will work to maintain overall balance.

What’s perhaps even more important than the type of protein ingested, whether that be casein or whey, is the overall amount of this key macronutrient that you are consuming per day. If your goal is muscle building or maintenance based, you need to pay particular attention to the amount of protein you daily consume. A typical guide for an adults intake is 0.8g per kilogram of bodyweight. So, for example, if I weigh 80kg, I should be aiming for approximately 64 grams per day.

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