If you’re a lifter of any kind or a CrossFit athlete, chances are you’re familiar with protein powder. Maybe you carry it in your gym bag to fix up a post-workout shake, or like to have it on hand to add to smoothies or carry on travel trips.
But while most people are familiar with the ultra-popular whey protein, it’s casein protein that can be a true game-changer for athletes. Want to build muscle, lose weight or curb hunger? Consider adding casein protein to your daily regimen.
What makes it different then whey protein, pea protein or even a protein staple like chicken breast? The timing.
While whey is a fast-acting protein, which is why it’s ideal for post-workout when your body needs to quickly replenish energy stores, casein has a much slower absorption rate. That means there’s a much longer time its amino acids stay in your bloodstream. Because of this, your body’s muscles have more time to use those free amino acids for repairing and growing your muscles.
The slower delivery is extremely anti-catabolic, meaning casein isn’t just good for muscle building: it also does an excellent job repairing and preserving the muscle you already have.
Timing is important when determining what protein is best. It’s similar to what we talk about with fast and slow digesting carbs. You want to fuel your body with foods that absorb quickly during and after workouts (fast-acting carbs), while other times —such as between meals— you’re better off with slower digesting carbs.
Think of protein sources the same way. Whey protein is fantastic for helping your body recover and enter muscle synthesis within that workout window, but if you take it in a smoothie before bed your body will run through those amino acids in no time.
Casein, on the other hand, would slowly release into your bloodstream and give you a longer period of muscle synthesis.
You want to buy micellar casein, which is the slowest absorbing form of casein, to get maximum benefits. It will also keep you full longer and help ward off late-night bingeing. Aim for 20-30 grams.
So, forget what you heard about not eating at night. It’s perfectly OK —and ideal, really—as an athlete to have some sort of bedtime snack.
A 2012 study conducted by the Department of Human Movement Sciences at NUTRIM School for Nutrition found that casein protein taken immediately before going to sleep was not only effectively digested and absorbed, it helped stimulate muscle protein synthesis and improved “whole body protein balance” during post-workout recovery time.
EASY CASEIN RECIPES
Can’t stomach a shake? Would rather eat a snack ? Here are three go-to casein recipes to help ward off nighttime hunger or keep you full between meals. Remember, these are not for pre or post-workout- (that’s when whey protein works wonders). Casein is also really thick, so try these with whey at your own risk as textures may be different.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Casein Brownie
This is also called mug cake and it’s a really popular casein dessert. It’s super easy and customizable depending on what you’re in the mood for and/or what macros you have remaining.
Mix all the ingredients well in a bowl and pour into a mug sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.
Wrap with plastic wrap and heat for 45 seconds. (Watch it though- depending on your microwave, it could be a little longer or shorter.)
Turn it over onto a plate and top with 1 Tbsp natural peanut butter and a few Enjoy Life Chocolate chips. Or get really crazy and add some chocolate chips to the batter for all that gooey goodness pictured right.
30-second Casein Cookie Dough
This literally takes no time, hence the name. Again, you can play around with different protein flavors and mix-ins.
1 heaping scoop casein (I’ve used chocolate for double chocolate cookie dough. It also works well with vanilla flavored casein)
1/3 c unsweetened almond milk (or milk of your choice)
1 Tbsp nut butter of your choice. (I use almond). Or PB Fit if you’re trying to make it low fat.
1/4 c Enjoy Life chocolate chips. (or PB chips, or cocoa nibs, or cereal. The possibilities are endless!)
Whisk the first three ingredients together until they’re evenly blended, adding the milk slowly so it forms more of a thicker “dough.” Stir in the chips. Can also top with a couple Tbsp of non-fat whipped topping.
Casein Candy Bar with Greek Yogurt
When you’re super low on protein, this is a great option. And it also works well for when you’re on the go. Just use what you have for the yogurt topping.
1 Trifecta casein bar
1 cup plain nonfat greek yogurt
1 Tbsp PB Fit
1 Tbsp honey
Scoop out the yogurt and whisk with the PB Fit. Drizzle in the honey over top. Pop the premade Trifecta bar into the microwave for 30 seconds and either layer on the bottom of the yogurt or crumble over the top.