People tend to view sleep as a time of complete inactivity, during which your body is simply resting from the previous day. Perhaps because of this perceived slow-down, some individuals are hesitant to eat anything soon before bed for fear that it will somewhat automatically get packed away as fat.
Here's the thing, though: that's not an accurate picture of sleep. And, because of this false impression, many are losing out on the true benefits of micellar casein – a sometimes overlooked milk protein.
But what makes casein so special? Why is it specifically useful before bed?
Compared to Whey
As mentioned, casein is derived from milk. The same source gives us whey – which as firmly dominated the arena of protein supplements for years. In truth, however, this idea that whey and casein are in competition is deeply flawed since they really complement each other incredibly well.
For one thing, both whey and casein are quality sources of complete protein. But the nutrients in whey are absorbed and put to work at an impressively fast rate – making it ideal for recovery after a strenuous workout. This very trait, though, means that whey is less suited for things like meal replacement which requires you to stay fed and full for several hours. And this is where casein comes in.
When milk is processed to separate whey and casein, micellar casein clots up into solid chunks that float on the liquid whey. Casein does the same thing in your stomach. Which sounds weird and unpleasant but it's exactly what you want to happen. This tendency of casein to form gel-like structures means that it will be digested and metabolized slowly – over the course of several hours.
So, why should you take it before bed? The theory is that by throwing back a couple scoops of this quality protein right before going to sleep, you give your body all the protein it needs to rebuild and repair your muscles. Remember: sleep does not equal inactivity.
When you work out, you are actually damaging your muscle fibers. In response, your body fixes them up to be bigger, stronger and better prepared for the next challenge. This all happens while you’re sleeping but can't be done properly if adequate levels of protein aren't present.
This approach has been back up by several studies, showing that casein is not only absorbed while you’re sleeping but that it also improves muscle recovery.
But, just like whey, casein is about more than the protein. Specifically, casein contains other compounds that have been shown to lower blood pressure and just generally have a calming effect on the brain.
Ingesting micellar casein right before bed, then, may help you to fall asleep more quickly and could potentially improve the quality of your sleep.