Casein Protein Powders FAQ
What is Casein and where does it come from?
The two proteins found in milk are casein and whey – this is what the term ‘curds and whey’ refers to.
Whey protein powders are made from the liquid fraction of milk, which is separated from the casein by various means and then dried to form the supplements that we all know and use.
Casein, on the other hand, is the solid fraction that is left over after the milk as separated, and cottage cheese is a crude form of this that typically also contains significant amounts of fat and / or lactose.
Production of Casein
As much as 80% of the protein found in milk is casein; interestingly enough, casein accounts for between 20% and 45% of the protein found in human milk.
A simple method of producing homemade casein, also known as cottage cheese or farmer’s cheese, is to bring a pan of milk to 100C and then add a small amount of distilled vinegar. You will notice clumps beginning to form almost instantly as you stir the milk; this is the casein separating from the rest of the milk proteins.
For more commercial purposes, casein is used extensively in cheese production where a similar method of acidification is used, followed by the addition of rennet which serves to separate the casein more thoroughly than is achieved through the simple addition of vinegar.
The production of casein hydrolysate or hydrolyzed casein is slightly different, and in this method we see the addition of a protease enzyme which essentially leaves the protein in a pre-digested state, making it excellent for use as a sports supplement.
What Types of Casein are there?
Micellar casein is casein that has been processed using the above methods but without being hydrolyzed.
As mentioned, there is also hydrolyzed casein; we will discuss the benefits of both of these variations below because they are typically applied to quite different scenarios.
How does Casein work and what are the benefits?
If you purchase a standard casein protein powder you will typically find that it contains Micellar casein or casein Caseinate, and it is this form of casein that digests very slowly.
The reason for this is that it coagulates or forms a kind of gel in the gut, resulting in a trickle-down effect as the proteins are slowly digested and released into your bloodstream.
This type of casein is ideal for everyday use because it ensures a steady supply of amino acids into your bloodstream while also helping you to feel fuller for longer between meals. The texture of this kind of protein is also very well suited to items such as protein pancakes or protein brownies because casein is not very water soluble and retains a pleasant grainy or chalky texture.
Hydrolyzed casein or casein hydrolysate is very different in the sense that it is pre-digested.
This pre-digested state allows casein hydrolysate to essentially bypass the process of digestion and be taken up into the bloodstream far more rapidly.
Rather than using this pre-digested protein for everyday use, it is typically more applicable in the context of an intra-workout or post-workout drink, allowing you to access an immediate supply of amino acids when your body needs them most.
It is worth noting that casein hydrolysate supplements are not nearly as common as Micellar casein products, and they are also a fair bit more expensive. For this reason, we recommend opting for the more common slow-digesting form until you feel the need for a more elaborate intra-workout protocol.
Related: Top Soy Protein Powders
Who can benefit from using Casein and how?
Anyone who is looking to supplement their existing diet with a convenient source of quality proteins would stand to benefit from using casein.
The most obvious benefit of a slow-digesting protein is that it allows you to stave off hunger for longer periods of time; whether or not this is going to make a significant different to your appetite will depend on your own metabolism and digestive system but a decent casein powder will definitely keep you fuller for longer than something like whey protein isolate.
Intermediate to advanced bodybuilders who are looking to take advantage of an intra-workout nutrition protocol to boost performance and recovery in the context of a high-volume, high-frequency training setup would definitely stand to benefit from using a pre-digested protein such as casein hydrolysate.
As we touched on above, hydrolyzed proteins in general can be quite expensive, and casein hydrolysate is not as widely available as whey hydrolysate, which is itself a highly effective pre-digested protein source.
Do any foods contain Casein? Which ones are the best?
The most obvious source of casein that we have already mentioned is cottage cheese, but of course milk in general is a decent source of casein.
Drinking large quantities of milk is not ideal for a lot of people due to digestive issues, not to mention the high lactose and fat intake that may be undesirable to some people.
This makes low-fat or non-fat cottage cheese more suitable as a food source of casein; there is nothing necessarily wrong with dairy fat but if we are talking about a hard-and-fast protein source then this will be a more favorable option.
Does Casein have any side effects?
Many people who are diagnosed with milk allergies are actually directly allergic to casein, and in this case you will of course find it far more preferable to use a whey protein powder rather than a casein equivalent.
It should be noted that only a very small fraction of the population are allergic to casein, and aside from this there are no notable immediate side effects to speak of.
As with any dietary supplement, we recommend that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding consult their doctor or physician prior to use. This also applies to people under the age of 18 and individuals who suffer from pre-existing medical conditions or who are taking any kind of prescription medication.
Note: We recommend speaking to a doctor before taking any supplements.
How and when should I use Casein?
As it is a milk protein, casein is essentially food which means that you can use it at any point during the day.
Having said this, you should always refer to the manufacturer’s usage guidelines.
Slow-digesting Micellar casein is great for use as part of a meal replacement shake or in between meals, while fast-digesting casein hydrolysate should be used during your workouts.
How much Casein should I use?
The amount of casein you use is going to depend largely on your own personal requirements, the type of casein you use, and the context you use it in.
One or two scoops are typically the prescribed amount for a regular protein shake, and this applies equally to casein.
Having said this, hydrolyzed protein powders are typically far higher in protein on a gram-for-gram basis, so you may only need a single scoop of casein hydrolysate during your workouts unless you are a heavier, more advanced bodybuilder.
If in doubt, refer to the manufacturer’s usage guidelines.
How Can I Make a Protein Brownie?
Casein is excellent for use in protein brownies, and all you need is the powder itself, some eggs, and a microwave oven.
In a small bowl or large coffee mug, add 1 – 2 scoops of protein powder (chocolate and vanilla flavors are usually best for brownies, and banana is especially tasty with casein).
For each scoop of protein you use, add one egg white and then stir until the two ingredients are mixed thoroughly. Feel free to add some 100% pure cacao powder if you have some available, but you might need to add an extra egg white if the mixture comes out too dry.
Once combined, put the mixture in the microwave and heat on a low-to-medium setting for 10 – 20 seconds at a time, stirring it at each interval.
This should only take 60 – 90 seconds of total cooking time depending on the strength of your microwave oven, and you’ll be left with a cake-like consistency with practically no fat or carbs!
If you prefer a softer or gooier texture then simply cook the brownie for less time; after making it a few times you’ll find a method that suits your tastes.
Related: Top 10 Whey Protein Powders
How To Pick a Good Casein supplement
By now you should have all the information you need to decide whether you need a fast- or slow-digesting casein protein, or even both.
The vast majority of people are going to use Micellar casein supplement for its slow rate of digestion, and as we discussed this form of casein is fantastic when used in homemade protein products such as pancakes and brownies.
It is also worth noting that casein is a highly heat-tolerant protein, able to withstand temperatures up to and including 100C without being denatured.
Companies such as Optimum Nutrition (ON) and Dymatize make high-quality casein protein powders, so the main question to ask yourself is that of digestion speed.
If you plan to use casein during your workouts, you need a hydrolyzed protein; if you plan on using it outside of your workouts during your everyday diet then a slow-digesting Micellar casein product will be the one for you.
Please note: This FAQ has not been written or reviewed by a doctor or medical professional and is therefore not to be used to prevent, diagnose, or treat any disease or illness. Nor should it be used as medical reference.