In the world of protein powders, whey tends to get all the attention. Occasionally, though, you'll hear about another milk-based protein: Casein.
Although it is especially popular among bodybuilders, this oft-ignored protein can have some impressive benefits for all athletes and exercise enthusiasts. If you have encountered casein before, you may have also seen mention of something called “micellar casein.”
What is it? How does it differ from standard casein and other protein powders like whey?
Curds and Whey
Both casein and whey begin their life as components of milk which separate when the milk is heated or otherwise treated. When this type of processing happens, solid curds form on the top of the pale liquid. That liquid is removed and later becomes your whey protein.
The solid portion floating on top, though? That's the casein. Why does this matter? Because this gives us insight into casein that can help us fully understand the unique benefits of casein – and micellar casein.
For one thing, it should be highlighted right away that casein comes from milk and therefore carries a small amount of lactose (though not as much as whey).
Casein is also generally the source of the problems for individuals who suffer from milk allergies – which is a separate condition from lactose intolerance.
Like whey, casein is a complete, high-quality protein. This means that casein contains all of the essential amino acids – those that your body cannot produce on its own – in addition to the nonessential amino acids.
In addition to being vital for general health, these amino acids are vital for the rebuilding work that makes you muscles bigger, stronger and generally better. Also like whey, casein is rich in other peptides that often get ignored but nonetheless confer some major health benefits.
Specifically, casein has been shown to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, while helping to induce feelings of calm. Interestingly, certain compounds in casein have also demonstrated the ability to lower blood pressure in a way that is similar to ACE-inhibitor medications.
Micellar Casein and Digestion
Do you remember how casein parted from the whey? It clumped up. This trait is exactly what makes casein unique among protein powders. When it's exposed to your system the powdered micellar casein will do that same thing – it will form clumps.
And, while that sounds awful and unpleasant, it's sort of exactly what you want to happen. The tendency means that it will take your system hours to completely breakdown and metabolize all of that protein, keeping you nourished the entire time.
For those looking to build muscle, this makes casein a superior option. In fact, casein has shown itself to be more effective and encouraging muscle growth than whey in several studies.
And, when you combine that with the calming effects that we mentioned above, it makes sense that many bodybuilders will take casein immediately before going to sleep for the night.