More about Casein
Although available for some time, casein is what you might call a late "rising star" in the protein supplement arena. Casein is often found in various protein powder drink mixes and MRP's as caseinate (an acid form that's usually combined with sodium, calcium, or potassium). Recent studies have revealed this amazing protein not only supplies the most critical amino acids our bodies need to spare muscle mass during intense training sessions, but there's strong evidence it may even help us increase muscle mass as well.
Found naturally in rather small amounts in cottage cheese or one of many protein powder or MRP's, casein's an especially rich source of the immune-boosting and muscle-protein-sparing amino acid glutamine. In fact, it has a potent 20.5% glutamine content — higher than whey, soy, or egg albumen protein sources. It's also a great source of arginine, the well-known "growth-hormone-releasing" amino acid.
And because casein has one of the highest tyrosine-to-tryptophan amino acid ratios of any protein (almost 5 to 1), it's also considered one of the most stimulating and may even help suppress appetite after consumption. This is because tyrosine is considered the "pick-me-up" amino acid that increases levels of excitatory chemical signals in the brain and, therefore, creates a sense of overall satisfaction and "fullness."
A worthy protein choice
During intense training phases, our bodies require more protein to help reduce muscle protein breakdown and supply the needed amino acids to help our muscles rebuild bigger and stronger. In fact, studies show protein may be especially important to consume about an hour after a workout for optimal uptake of these muscle-building aminos. Because casein is found in many of the protein supplement drinks and MRP's and is less expensive than many whole-food proteins, many active people find it helps them meet their increased needs for protein in a convenient drink mix.
Casein is an ideal protein to consume immediately before bed. You see, casein digests more slowly than many other protein choices (such as whey, which absorbs very quickly) and could almost be considered a "time-released" protein because it forms a "gel-like" substance in the gut, which slows its absorption rate. So late into the night — for hours longer — our muscle cells continue to be supplied with muscle-building protein and amino acids, lessening the time our bodies are "fasting" and increasing the likelihood of prolonged muscle-building activity and improved nitrogen retention.
Nevertheless, experts have agreed it's a good idea to consume both casein and whey proteins throughout the day for maximum results. This popular combination of proteins typically can be found in MRP's (usually found in their so-called "proprietary protein formulas," as seen on the label) as well as many protein powders.
A better choice of casein?
Technology may have supplied us with an even higher quality casein protein product called Micellar casein. It is isolated from milk by cold filtration instead of the usual heat processing, using a series of enzymes and a process called nano-filtration to create an undenatured (undamaged protein matrix) casein. Thus, the structural integrity of the protein may be preserved more so than with other processes and therefore offer some additional immune-boosting and muscle-building benefits.
Ultimately, this "special" form of casein would be considered "the supreme" if we could use such a word to describe its place on the protein hierarchy. Hint: You can tell if the protein supplement you're considering has this high-tech casein by looking for the "iMicellar" insignia on the label. However, the price is usually higher for these products, and the research, though intriguing, is still preliminary and not yet conclusive.
While casein is a wonderful protein source, it does contain a small amount of the milk sugar lactose and, therefore, may not be the best choice for anyone who is lactose intolerant. Anyone who is allergic to milk proteins should also avoid any products which contain casein.
It can be difficult to meet our bodies' protein needs — especially for active individuals who, according to many experts, need from 1 gram to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. Fortunately, science has yielded a protein source, such as casein, that is convenient, inexpensive, and very nutritious.