Best Casein Protein Powder
Protein powder is the most popular supplement for gaining strength and building mass. But typically, when the average athlete or weight lifters talks about protein powder they're referring to whey protein powder.
And while, this isn't necessarily a bad thing - if I were to take one or the other, I'd only take whey powder there are certain benefits to casein protein and even more when you start to mix whey with casein protein.
What Is Casein Protein?
Casein protein powder is a complete protein meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. It contains a relatively low percentage of Branched Chain Amino Acids. It also has a lower biological utilization rate than whey powder, which is to say the less protein is absorbed by our bodies.
At this point you might be wondering, if casein has a lower biological utilization rate and it results in lower levels of protein synthesis why wouldn’t you just take whey powder?
Unlike whey powder, casein is a slow digesting protein which means you’ll get a slow release of amino acids. As a result protein synthesis will peak 3 to 4 hours after you take it.
The difference in peak protein synthesis and blood amino levels between casein and whey protein powder allows them to be used at different times for optimal gains (or together for even better results).
Whey Powder or Casein Powder?
You should know by now, the question isn’t should you take whey powder OR casein protein powder it’s when should you take whey powder versus casein powder.
We know a diet high in protein is necessary if you want to pack on muscle. But volume isn’t everything, timing is also important.
Depending on which study you read you might believe 20g-30g of protein will maximize protein synthesis. Of course there are a lot of variables at work here, how large you are, how difficult your workouts are, the source of the protein etc.
But the point still stands - there is a peak when you maximize protein synthesis and piling back scoops of whey powder isn’t doing anything except increasing your caloric intake.
So, if we were trying to decide on the ideal times of when to take whey protein or casein protein powder, what would that look like?
Pre/During/Post Workout: Whey Powder and Casein Powder
The most common time for the average athlete to consume a protein shake is post workout. If you consume a protein shake pre-workout or during your workout, you can still use the advice below.
There is compelling evidence that taking both whey powder and casein powder will produce the biggest gains.
Whey protein powder causes a dramatic spike in protein synthesis but it’s short lived. Casein protein releases slowly and it doesn’t result in nearly the same levels of protein synthesis as whey does.
By combining the two, it results in the best of both worlds. Mixing casein and whey will result in nearly the same levels of protein synthesis, as just whey and it’ll last for hours longer leading to increased strength and muscle mass.
Ideally, In addition to mixing the two powders, you’re able to eat a meal to increase your insulin levels immediately following a workout, which would then be followed by a protein shake.
After reading dozens of studies I do wonder how important it is to increase insulin levels. From what I concluded, it helps but if you’re on the go and only have your whey + casein protein shake available not having eaten immediately beforehand won’t dramatically impact protein synthesis.
Again, ideally you get some carbs to increase your insulin and then consume protein within thirty minutes. But if a meal is unavailable, go forth young grasshopper and fire back that casein & whey protein shake.
What Is the Ideal Blend of Casein and Whey Powder
I have a tremendous respect for Jim Stoppani and what he’s found is that the ultimate blend is 40% whey powder, 50% micellar casein powder and 10% egg white protein powder. The egg white protein releases faster than micellar casein powder but slower than whey which makes for an optimal protein shake.
Micellar Casein Protein Powder
You’ll often see me refer to casein protein powder or micellar casein protein powder. I’m using these two interchangeably but it should be noted not all casein protein powder is micellar and you should be using micellar casein protein.
It’s going to taste worse (borderline awful) but you’re not slugging back protein shakes for the taste.
Micellar casein protein powder is the purest form of casein protien and as a result micellar casein protein is easier to digest and absorb.
Casein protein powder that isn’t micellar, refers to a caseins which have been exposed to alkali or acidic processing - they do this to make it taste better. And as you might expect micellar casein protein’s biological value is much higher than processed casein’s BV.
You’ll want to avoid products that contain calcium caseinate. Calcium caseinate is more water soluable than micellar meaning it mixes easier. That said, it requires an alkaline substance to react with the protein.
Micellar casein protein powder will generally be more expensive than casein protein powder. Just as you’d expect grass fed beef to be more expensive, it’s usually harder to extract something without the aid of harsh processing. It’s also usually more beneficial if it’s extracted without the aid of harsh processes.
While there is a ton of marketing hype and gimmicks in the supplement industry; this is not one of them. If you’re going so far as mixing whey powder with casein powder, you’d be well served to make sure it’s micellar casein protein powder.
Should You Eat Casein Protein Powder Before Bed?
According to some studies, the body is able to absorb up to 10g of protein per hour. I’m not going contest the number, nor should you. The important thing is, there is some limit to the amount of protein our bodies can absorb in a given hour.
That means if you last ate at 6pm your body will have finished processing the protein before you’re even asleep.
Remember when we talked about casein protein powder being a slow release protein and whey being a fast release. The slow release allows our bodies to maintain higher levels of protein synthesis through out our sleep.
Of course, by now we know protein synthesis plays a crucial part in building muscle. So while the idea that our bodies are cannibalizing our muscle while we sleep is complete nonsense, if we are working to create an optimal environment for muscle growth casein protein before bed makes a lot of sense.
Personally, I’ll use the 50/40/10 of casein/whey/egg white protein blend that I mentioned earlier. It’s not as important that we mix our proteins before bed as it is pre, during or post workout.
However, whenever there is a chance to create the optimal environment for building muscle or mass (outside of questionable substances) I’m going to take it.
We work hard in the gym and probably even harder on our diets. Drinking a shake before bed is easy. I also don’t want to cook a second dinner at 9:30pm, so a shake is a go-to.
Should You Eat Casein Protein Powder When You Wake Up?
The first thing I do when I wake up every morning is drink a tall glass of lemon water.
Our body is dehydrated we’ve been sleeping for (hopefully) eight hours and it needs water.
The second thing I do when I wake up? I drink a green smoothie with a 50/40/10 blend of protein powder. Disclaimer, it doesn’t taste great.
Honestly, it’s for convenience. If I could eat a whole foods breakfast every morning I would, but like most people time is often a luxury. Whipping up a hearty scramble really isn’t in the cards during the weekdays.
In the morning, in the evening and before/during/after your workout are the optimal times to get a little more protein than your diet may otherwise provide.
I’m not suggesting you need to have three protein (or even four) protein shakes a day. It really depends on your schedule.
For example, on weekends I rarely ever have protein shakes, I prefer to get my protein from whole foods but when that’s possible supplementation is a great way to ensure I’m still getting my macronutrients.
As I mentioned earlier, we work hard in the gym and on our diets – supplements are a convenient way to make sure we’re always hitting our dietary goals.
Casein Protein Powder Dosage Guidelines
I’m not going to go into a long-winded answer. There have been numerous studies, which have suggested 20g of protein is an ideal amount.
Protein synthesis only increases marginally after the initial 20g. Keep in mind, if you’re eating well you’re getting protein from other sources. I’m assuming your diet doesn’t consist exclusively of multi vitamins and protein shakes.
20g of protein – you’re not getting any benefit from slamming down 8 scoops of protein. When I’m comparing products below, this is the number I’ll be using as a serving size to ensure we’re offering a fair comparison of the product.
Of course some companies that may advise you to take more but generally speaking 20g is a solid amount.
The Top 4 Micellar Protein Powders
- Banana Creaam
- Chocolate Cake Butter
- Chocolate Peanut Butter
- Chocolate Supreme
- Cookies & Cream
- Creamy Vanilla
- Mint Chocolate Chip
- Strawberry Cream
- Chocolate Cream
- French Vanilla
Cost Per 20g of Protein $1.08
If you like the taste of chocolate this will be a winner. Although you shouldn’t be basing your selecting off of taste (it’s protein powder, not a milkshake) all of the products I list will be high quality – so what’s left?
Brand preference - in this case optimum nutrition is a giant in the supplement industry and generally speaking they make an excellent product.
Cost – $1.08 per 20g of protein is one of more expensive micellar casein protein powders on the market.
Taste and consistency. The powders on this list will mix well with the exception of the unflavored powders, however not everyone will enjoy the taste. Personally I like chocolate to a fault so this is a flavor I can get behind. If you’re not interested in chocolate there are 10 other flavors you can try.
Cost Per 20g of Protein: $0.89
Disgusting is the term frequently used when describing this casein protein powder. Remember when I said, it’s not about taste? If you don’t want to put in a bunch of garbage into your body and are looking for pure micellar casein protein this is a strong bet.
Unlike other brands which have artificial flavoring, soy, salt and sugar this container contains no such thing.
Two ingredients: Micellar Casein Protein Powder and Sunflower Lecithin.
It also won’t mix as well as some of the other products on this list. Generally speaking additives are for preserving the product, flavoring the product or creating a product that mixes well.
If you’re not interested in bad tasting protein powder, this isn’t for you.
Cost Per 20g of Protein: $0.96
We talked about how “clean” NOW’s casein protein powder is. NAKED protein takes it one step further.
It has no preservatives, no soy, no GMOs, no sugar, no hormones and no gluten. The only downside is you have to buy massive quantities and even then it still as expensive as some of the other bigger brands on the market.
The casein powder comes in a 5lb tub and 76 servings (with 26g of protein each) is a lot of protein powder to work through.
It also will mix even worse than NOW (Lecithin is added to help a product mix), which is to say it won’t mix well at all.
The other upside is NAKED is manufactured and packaged in the US. Personally, I don’t care but I know some customers will find this appealing.
Overall, consumers love this product. That being said, there customers are generally going to be more concerned than the average consumer about by-products and other garbage. If you don’t care if Lecithin is in your powder or not and would prefer it to be tasty and mix well stick with ON.
- Banana Cream
- Chocolate Milk
- Cookies N' Cream
- Orange Creamsicle
- Triple Berry
- Mint Chocolate Chip
Cost Per 20g of Protein: $0.65
This is one of the cheaper options on the market. Even though there serving size may be a bit overkill it’s still a very cheap micellar protein powder.
Like Optimum Nutrition it’s filled with all kinds of junk to help it taste and mix better. Not my place to judge, I personally stick to the bare bones.
There is some other marketing hype - digestive enzymes to help break down food to help absorb the nutrients into the blood stream. I was surprised that there actually is Lactase and Protease. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, nor do I know how much of each is contained within MusclePharms product.
That being said, I’d be surprised if it were enough to actually do anything meaningful, but as I said I’m not qualified to answer that.
As is the case with most brands, the complaints are generally towards the taste or how well a product mixes versus the quality of the product itself.
Pre-Blended Casein and Whey Protein Powders
I’ve discussed how I prefer a blend of whey, casein and egg white protein. It provides a longer, steadier increase of protein synthesis.
Fortunately there are several blended products on the market that do a good job with their blends.
Pro JYM Blended Protein Supplement Review
- Chocolate Cookie Crunch
- Cookies N' Cream
Cost Per 20g of Protein: $1.18
Pro JYM is by far the most expensive product on this list. That being said, it’s also one of the highest quality blends. This product blends: Whey Protein Isolate, Micellar Casein, Milk Protein Isolate and Egg Albumen (Egg White).
Compare that to any of the other blend and you’re going to realize it’s a premium product, which is why it comes with the premium price tag.
It’s not as clean, as say NAKED or even NOW Food’s product because it flavored and contains a wide range of additional ingredients including soy lecithin, a non-dairy creamer (those are usually awful for you), sugar along with a long list of other ingredients.
That being said, if you’re not concerned about the other ingredients and are primarily focused on the main ingredient – the protein this is an excellent product.
The Cheapest Micellar Casein/Whey Protein Blend: Muscle Pharm Combat Powder Advanced Time Release Protein
- Chocolate Milk
- Chocolate Peanut Butter
- Cinnamon bun
- Cookies N' Cream
- Orange Creamsicle
- Triple Berry
Cost Per 20g of protein: $0.62
The first that you’ve probably noticed, is it’s the cheapest protein powder on this list. The reason being, is it’s a blend of whey, micellar casein protein and egg white protein.
Whey is a cheaper option than casein, so anytime you blend micellar casein protein powder with whey it’s going to be cheaper to produce than just micellar casein protein powder.
I’ve discussed the benefits of a blended protein powder at great lengths and while I doubt this has the ideal ratio I’ve talked about it’s still a solid option.
As with other flavored protein powders there is going to be flavorings and fillers which are unavoidable unless you buy a product like NAKED’s casein.
A few very popular products which contain calcium casein instead of micellar casein protein are:
Cytosport Muscle Milk Protein Powder
Personally, I'd stick with a blend that contains the cleanest protein available which are 1. JYM and 2. Muscle Pharm Combat Time Release
Alternatively, if you want to avoid the fillers buy NAKED whey, casein and egg white protein and mix them in the proper amounts.