Protein Powders: The Whey Way and the Case for Casein

Whether you were at the gym or watching TV, the chances are that you’ve heard about the wellness benefits of protein powders. These nutritional supplements are claimed to help take your wellbeing to a whole new level, but do they work? And which one is better or are they all the same?


According to WebMD, there is a time and a place for a protein shake. Award-winning wellness writer Hope Gillette explains, ‘Protein is needed by the body to build muscle and recover muscle after exercise, so individuals who want to “bulk up”, who are still growing, those who have recently increased their fitness routine, those who are recovering from an injury, or people who eat a limited amount of meat should all consider this form of supplementation.’ However, if you don’t fall into any of these categories, you should try to get all the protein you need from a healthy, balanced diet that contains lean meats, fish and vegetarian sources of protein.


Protein powders, then, do have a purpose, but when do you want whey, and when do you want casein? According to Peter Horvath, PhD, associate professor in the department of exercise and nutrition sciences at the State University of New York at Buffalo, ‘Whey is the most commonly used [protein powder], because it’s a water-soluble milk protein. It’s also a complete protein, so it’s got all those advantages.’ If you have a milk allergy, you may be specifically allergic to whey and should consult your doctor before you try this nutritional supplement. The side effects of whey, whoever you are, may include nausea, headache, fatigue, reduced appetite, and cramping.


That said, Gillette points out, ‘Whey contains all nine of essential amino acids needed in the human diet and is typically used for individuals who have lactose intolerance…Whey is considered a “fast-acting” protein, meaning it only takes approximately 20 minutes before the whey you consume is digested and sent into the blood stream. Within 40 minutes, of ingestion, the level of amino acids in the bloodstream has reached its peak, and within 60 minutes whey protein will have been utilised for muscle building or will have been otherwise oxidated into glucose or urea.’ There are a number of benefits to using whey protein, including:


  • Weight Loss: Whey may help you to lose weight without sacrificing your muscle mass.
  • Lung Improvement: Whey has been shown to improved immune response in children with asthma.
  • Heart health: Whey has the ability to reduce high blood pressure, cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk.
  • Cancer Fighting: Whey may be able to assist in cancer treatments.
  • Diabetes Management: Whey may be possibly beneficial for individuals with diabetes as it acts as an anti-inflammatory supplement.


So that’s whey, but what about casein protein? Gillette details, ‘Casein protein, like whey protein, is isolated from milk. It is the predominant protein in mammalian milk and is found in most dairy products, including cheese. Casein is known for its long-lasting, slow release action and is therefore commonly used by athletes as a before-bed drink (so it continues helping repair and build muscle during the fasting hours of the night).’ This means that casein creates a more positive protein balance compared to whey protein for up to seven hours after exercise. There are other benefits of casein protein, including:


  • Weight loss: Casein promotes the retention of muscle mass and loss of fat, as well as a feeling of fullness between meals.
  • Oral health: Casein reduces enamel erosion in the mouth.


If you have a milk allergy, you should again consult with your doctor before taking casein protein. Other side effects include nausea, headache, fatigue, reduced appetite, and cramping.

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