Warmer months and longer days can bring out the ambition in us. Perhaps even taking on a new Spartan virtual challenge or getting ready for a stadium race. With new challenges and adventures come new questions:
- What shouldn’t I eat?
- What should I eat?
- Do I need supplements?
- What type is best?
If your goal is to retain or increase lean muscle mass, you may be wondering about casein.
Casein is a protein found in milk that digests at a slower rate than whey, the more commonly known source of protein that is used as a supplement. Casein makes up roughly 80 percent of the protein in cow’s milk and, unlike whey protein, which is also found in cow’s milk, forms a gelatinous substance that empties more slowly from the stomach, making it essentially a slower-release form of amino acid.
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Those looking to get the most benefits of their workouts are often looking to help the body rebuild and repair torn muscles that occur as a result of strength training. The amino acids provided by casein will help facilitate this process. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends intake of essential amino acids (like those found in Casein) to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. The society further states that fueling before and after exercise supports an increase in strength and improvement in body composition (Kerksick et al., 2017).
Casein is found in milk products (milk, cottage cheese, yogurt) and can be bought as a protein powder supplement. Most resources suggest taking a combination of both whey and casein since the different rates of digestion provide muscle recovery benefits now and later. Studies indicate that having your protein before bed may be beneficial (Res et al., 2012), which makes sense when we consider that the body does most of its repair while we sleep. Although individual amounts will vary based on gender, age, and training capacity, the general recommendation of high-quality casein intake before bed is about 30–40 grams.
Taking any supplement with a goal of increasing lean muscle mass should be done as part of an overall adequate intake of calories to meet your needs. People planning to take part in any physical activity should first focus on obtaining maximum nutritional benefits from foods such as leafy greens; rich, colorful vegetables and fruits such as sweet potatoes and berries; healthy fats from foods like avocado and salmon; and a variety of protein, including plant proteins.
No matter what your goals are, the key is to start! Supplements can be great, but should remain just that: supplements to your existing healthy habits. Make sure your overall intake is full of high-quality, nutritious foods. Cut out the highly processed sweets and fried foods. And build up a strong training plan that promotes muscle growth and you’ll be screaming “AROO!” at the starting line before you know it.
Kerksick, Chad et al. “International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Nutrient Timing.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 5, no. 1 (August 2017): 18. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-5-17.
Res, Peter T., et al. “Protein Ingestion before Sleep Improves Postexercise Overnight Recovery.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 44, no. 8 (August 2012) 1560–1569. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e31824cc363.