When you’re looking to add protein powder to your diet, the biggest debate on your mind should be whether to get whey or casein protein powder. You might be wondering what the difference between casein and whey protein is—and there’s a good reason why you’re confused! Both of these options are types of milk protein, but they come from different parts of the milk itself and have very different effects on your body when digested.
One is a derivative from milk (casein), and the other is an extract from milk (whey). Both make great shakes or powders. Good sources of both include cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and ricotta cheese. If you have trouble digesting dairy, some plant-based proteins may be an option for you too.
You can also find them in seafood, beef, eggs, and soy. While most protein powders come from whey, casein is often helpful as a slower-releasing source of protein. This makes it especially valuable after a workout or before bed.
Research suggests that your body needs 20-40 grams of protein per meal for optimal muscle building. One study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that consuming 30 grams of casein along with 50 grams of carbs helped men build twice as much muscle as those who drank only whey protein or carbs alone.
Whey protein is a water-soluble dairy protein that’s abundant in leucine, an amino acid. This potent amino acid stimulates muscle growth and recovery. Casein is another form of dairy protein, but it has a slower digestion rate than whey, which means its effects last longer. Due to its slower digestion, you’ll experience a sustained rise in amino acids.
When Should You Take Them?
Take whey protein immediately after your workout for a spike in muscle protein synthesis. Take casein before bed for a prolonged, slow release of amino acids into your system. What’s more, casein provides other health benefits. That includes improving sleep quality and reducing blood pressure levels.
How Do They Taste Compared to One Another?
Casein mixes up pretty easily and is usually tasteless. But that also means it doesn’t have a flavor of its own. This makes it ideal for adding things like fruit or coffee beans since those flavors can come through more than in whey protein. Whey has a more prominent taste due to its high concentration of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), but not so much that it affects most foods you mix it with.
Which One Should I Choose If I Have Intolerances or Allergies?
If you’re lactose intolerant, opt for a whey protein powder. If you’re allergic to dairy and can tolerate soy products, choose casein. If not, try rice protein instead. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, consider pea-based protein powder if you tolerate beans well. If not, hemp is another option (though some find it too strong-tasting).
In either case, make sure your product is organic and non-GMO. There are plenty of great products out there. For example, “Casein+ is a 100% natural grass-fed micellar casein protein powder made with milk from small, sustainable dairy farms in Ireland,” according to Legion Athletics.
Keep in mind that while casein and whey are similar, they differ significantly in a few ways. Casein is usually lower in carbs than whey. It also has a higher calorie content per serving, probably due to its slow digestibility.