Whey vs Casein vs Plant-Based Protein

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The following article is taken from http://www.coachmag.co.uk/nutrition/1160/protein-shakes-explained

By Rory Manningand Sam Rider

21 Dec 2016


When to take it: After a workout

Why: The most popular type of protein shake, whey is a fast-release protein, which means it's quickly digested and so gets into your bloodstream – and therefore your muscles – fast.

It’s ideal for rapidly replenishing your muscle tissues after training and kick-starting protein synthesis (the process where new muscle fibres are built), resulting in bigger and stronger muscles. It also has a higher concentration of essential amino acids than whole milk, which can help to minimise muscle protein breakdown immediately after exercise.

What you consume after training is one of the most important meals you eat, so make sure you buy a high-quality product with all 20 essential amino acids, added vitamins, and barely any sweeteners.

How: It's commonly believed that your muscles are most receptive to nutrients as soon as you finish training. If possible, drink a protein shake as soon as your final rep is completed. However, the golden period of time is thought to be the 15-minute window after exercising. You still don't have to panic if you miss that – your body will still absorb and use the protein if you have it later, although it may be slightly less effective at aiding recovery. Either way, aim for a minimum of 40g of whey protein powder.

What are the different types of whey protein powder? Whey protein powders come in one of four main types, which are typically flagged up on the product’s label. Here’s exactly what those four terms mean.

  1. Concentrate whey protein is typically lower in fat and cholesterol than other forms and has higher amounts of carbohydrates from lactose, the type of sugar found in milk products, and bioactive compounds. Protein content by weight can be anywhere between around 30% to 90%.
  2. Isolate whey protein has been processed to remove fat and lactose, but it’s also lower in health-boosting bioactive compounds. Protein by weight content is 90% or higher.
  3. Hydrolysate whey protein is pre-digested and partially hydrolysed, which means water is added during the production process to break down the constituent compounds. This makes it easier for your body to digest, but also increases the cost.
  4. Native whey protein is the purest form because it is extracted directly from skimmed milk rather than being a by-product of cheese production process like concentrate and isolate. It is very low in fat, lactose and bioactive compounds, and protein by weight content is typically 95% or higher.


When to take: Before bed or first thing in the morning

Why: Casein is a form of protein commonly found in dairy products – it makes up around 80% of cow’s milk, for example. It’s a slow-release protein which means its larger molecules take longer for your body to digest, so you get more of a ‘drip-feed’ effect of protein into your bloodstream over a longer period. This makes it unsuitable for taking immediately after your workout when you need an instant hit, but ideal for consuming before bed or when you first wake up.

Having casein before bed helps your body continue to repair and grow muscles while you sleep, which sounds so good it's almost like cheating. Alternatively, knocking back a casein shake first thing in the morning means your body gets a steady supply of protein throughout the day.

How: Have it in a shake with water before turning in for the night. This means your muscles will receive quality protein while you sleep, which is when they are repaired and rebuilt. Alternatively, have one in the morning – not as a breakfast replacement though, you still need the nutrients provided by real food.

Plant-based protein

When to take it: Throughout the day (if you’re vegan)

Why: Being vegan makes it tougher to get enough protein in your diet to make really impressive gym gains. However, it’s still possible. There are a fair few companies that make plant-based protein powders. Some shops sell individual serving packets so you can give them a try without shelling out for an entire tub. Compared with whey or casein, most have a gritty or chalky texture that isn’t great, but if you add it to a smoothie, pancake batter or baked goods such as brownies or cookies, your taste buds won't have much to complain about. Also, like anything you get used to it over time, and considering the positive physical response it creates, you may start craving it after your workouts and wondering what the problem was in the first place. 

How: Vegans have less opportunities to get protein in their daily diet so we recommend having a morning shake and a post-workout shake, as well as adding plant-based protein powder to baked goods that you can snack on in the afternoon or have for pudding after your evening meal.