Protein Powders: What you need to know when supplementing with the three most common. Casein, Whey Concentrate, and Whey Isolate.

When it comes to choosing what kind of protein powder to use to build muscle it all depends on the time of day, what your goals are, and trial and error to see which suits you best. The three most common protein powders/shakes weight lifters/bodybuilders supplement with are Whey Concentrate, Casein, and Whey Isolate.

Whey Concentrate Protein Powders

Let’s start with Whey Concentrate Protein. A little bit of a background on Whey Concentrate it comes from milk, it is the liquid that separates from the curd during the cheesemaking process. Whey Concentrate is high in protein but contains lactose, a milk sugar that many people have difficulty digesting, not a bad thing just depends on your tolerance, this will be trial and error. Whey Concentrate Protein has the most amount of leucine in it, out of all protein powders. Leucine is considered one of the best branched chained amino acids because it is associated with the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis. Leucine is actually the main BCAA it is the one responsible for all of the muscle-building effects, It is an anabolic trigger.

protein shake

I know we’re talking about Whey concentrate here but a little more on Leucine (it is very important to whey concentrate and actually it’s what makes whey great). Research shows that in order to activate the muscle-building trigger, a threshold of leucine should be reached which is 3-5 grams depending on body weight. One 20-gram scoop of whey concentrate protein powder contains about 3 grams of leucine. So that is enough to produce an anabolic trigger (muscle building effects/ high muscle protein synthesis). Some studies show that whey even has a lot more leucine than steak and chicken.

The reason that Whey concentrate protein powder has such high muscle protein synthesis is due to the leucine it contains. Muscle protein synthesis means that your muscles absorb the protein very quickly, by absorbing it very quickly, your muscles absorb most of it, letting very little of the protein go to waste. So when it comes to choosing when to drink whey protein it is best suited after a workout due to how fast it is absorbed. You need this fast absorption after a workout, so it repairs the muscle fibers you just caused minor tears to while working out, to help build more muscle. 

Studies show different outcomes as to when you should consume protein powders/drinks after a workout. Some studies give a two- hour window, some give a forty-five-minute window. It is up to you but the sooner you drink a shake after a workout the better. The closer after a workout you consume one the better because that is when your muscles need it most and the absorption rate is going to be the highest (muscle protein synthesis).

Although whey concentrate protein powder can be consumed at any time, keep in mind it is fast absorbing. It causes a spike in muscle protein synthesis and feeds your muscles the necessary protein, but it only lasts about 3 to 4 hours in the bloodstream. Meaning after about 3 or 4 hours your muscles are not being fed amino acids anymore and you may start becoming catabolic if you don’t consume more protein.

Casein protein powder

A little background on casein protein is found in milk, however, it is digested and absorbed very slowly. Casein protein forms a gel when it interacts with the stomach acid, slowing down stomach emptying which delays your bloodstreams absorption of amino acids. This results in a gradual, steadier exposure of your muscles to amino acids reducing muscle protein breakdown. Being that Casein Protein is slowly digested, it does not have the amount of leucine than whey does. Not having as much leucine as whey does, does not allow it to cause as much muscle protein synthesis as whey does. But it does keep leucine levels and all other amino acid levels in your bloodstream for longer. By keeping leucine levels and all other amino acid levels in your bloodstream for longer it protects your muscles for longer and prevents you from becoming catabolic.

Casein can maintain amino acids in your bloodstream at levels that prevent muscle breakdown for about 8 hours. So when choosing when to take casein protein powder, it can be taken at any time but it is best to take at night before bed because it will continue providing you the amino acids you need throughout the night. If taken in the right amount it will prevent you from becoming catabolic overnight.

Whey Protein Isolate Powders

A little background on Whey Protein Isolate Powder ), is derived from whey protein concentrate, it is just processed more to remove the fats and carbohydrates. Whey Protein Isolate has the same benefits as whey protein concentrate. Meaning that they are both fast-absorbing and have the same types of amino acids to build muscle. But if you are dieting or watching your carb intake it is best to use whey protein isolate powder, since more fats and carbs are removed. Also due to it being processed more whey protein isolate has less lactose in it.  The less lactose in whey protein isolate makes it easier on your stomach, the lactose in whey concentrate has been shown to cause bloating and stomach discomfort to many people, but again this is trial and error(all depends on you) there are some people who are fine with whey concentrate. So when it comes to whey protein isolate although it is a bit more expensive consider the benefits

In Summary

Whey Protein Concentrate is a great pre or post-workout due to the amount of leucine in it. It is exactly what you need post-workout to repair and build muscle. Casein Protein is great before bed due to its slow absorption, which feeds your muscles all night. Casein protein prevents muscle breakdown, and you don’t really need whey overnight because you are sedentary and not breaking down any muscle. So the high muscle protein synthesis is not really needed. Keep in mind all these benefits are realized only if you take the proper amount you should be taking for your bodyweight etc. Think about whey concentrate protein as the sprinter and casein protein as the marathon runner.  As far as Whey Protein Isolate it has the same exact use as whey concentrate, just with lower carbs, fats, and lactose. It is considered a bit higher quality than whey concentrate by most fitness guru’s. Remember also you want to always have amino acids in your bloodstream if you want to build muscle and want to prevent from becoming catabolic. So always have a protein shake with you or look for a gas station or a vending machine, that may have protein shakes.

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