Protein Supplements: What You Need to Know (Beginners & Experts)

Updated: May 24, 2020

Whey vs. Casein

Which One Do I Choose?

Whey and casein are amongst the two most popular forms of protein used by fitness buffs. They are both derived from milk; however, each protein different in absorption rate along with bioavailability, thus there is a possibility that each protein contributed differently to the adaptation elicited through resistance training such as weight lifting (Wilborn et at.). In the Research article, The Effects of Pre- and Post-Exercise Whey vs. Casein Protein Consumption on Body Composition and Performance Measures in Collegiate Female Athletes, Wilborn et al., investigated the potential effects of ingestion of two types of protein in conjunction with a controlled resistance training program. In this double-blinded study, the participants of each group consumed 24 g casein protein and 24 g of whey protein respectfully.

According to Campbell et al., in response to resistance training, an individual experiences muscle activation and damage that stimulate protein turnover. If the body is lacking sufficient levels of amino acids, which is an organic compound that combines to form proteins, both pre- and post-exercise, the result is a negative protein balance. According to Biolo, this resulted in detrimental side effects such as muscle wasting and delayed exercise recovery.

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In light of this, it is crucial that athletes consume sufficient amounts of protein while also appropriately timing their protein consumption in order to experience a positive nitrogen balance and eventual muscle hypertrophy (Campbell et al., 2007; Kerksick and Leutholtz, 2005). With the increasing need for perfection, a vast majority of individuals has turned to protein supplement to answer the excess demand on the body. With varying amounts of information given to this population, researchers need to test various protein timing options to best address the publics' needs.

Countless studies have been performed attesting the positive impact of protein consumption pre- and post-exercise. These studies are a validation component of the importance of protein time as an intricate part of one's overall performance. The benefits associated with protein timing include: muscle maintenance and hypertrophy, improved exercise recovery, improved body composition, and enhanced immune function during periods of intense training (Andersen et al.) Furthermore, these benefits are also documented by The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) (Campbell et al., 2007) pre- and post-exercise.

In addition to timing, the type of protein consumed has also been shown to affect the overall benefits experienced by athletes and measured by researchers. Numerous types of protein are utilized by athletes, including whey, casein, milk, and soy- or egg-based varieties, and each type possesses a varying level of amino acid bioavailability upon consumption (Campbell et al., 2007; Wilson and Wilson, 2006).

According to the ISSN position stand, whey and casein proteins have the highest bioavailability when compared to protein alternatives. These two forms of protein are both milk-derived protein substrates. Still, the amino acid availability differs in absorption time, composition, and length of time upon consumption. Whey protein is water-soluble and is quickly digested in the body, earning it the "fast protein" title. Amino acids are immediately available in large quantities after the consumption of whey protein (Campbell et al., 2007; Wilson and Wilson, 2006).

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Alternately, the consumption of a casein supplement results in a slower availability of amino acids labeled a "slow protein." Casein is water-insoluble and coagulates, resulting in a slow-release mechanism of amino acids that is sustained at increased levels in the body for a longer period of time (Campbell et al., 2007; Wilson and Wilson, 2006). This difference between whey and casein proteins could affect the response seen in conjunction with training. Further research is needed to substantiate if one protein type is more beneficial than another.

The study found that both groups experienced significant improvements in body composition, strength, and anaerobic performance when consuming either protein supplement pre- and post-exercise. Both the casein and the whey protein supplemented groups experienced a marked decrease in body fat throughout the eight-week study. Casein and whey supplement groups both experienced statistically significant strength gains between the onset and the culmination of the research for both 1RM leg press and 1RM bench press. Additionally, there was no significant between-group difference in strength gains. Both study groups experienced improved performance in all three power and agility tests, including increased height on the vertical jump.

This study found no significant difference in the type of protein consumption on overall performance gains during an eight-week undulating resistance training and conditioning program. These findings were similar to those seen by Tipton et al. (Tipton et al., 2004), who tested femoral arteriovenous blood samples for leucine and phenylalanine concentrations in study participants consuming either a placebo, a casein supplement, or a whey supplement one-hour post-leg-extension exercise bout.

The overall result indicated that the total protein synthesis response after consuming either a whey or casein protein supplement post-exercise was beneficial and that neither supplement displayed a significantly superior response. In addition to information on the effects of protein-type and its impact on exercise response, the present study also added to the body of knowledge regarding the benefits of protein consumption and exercise. Like many other studies, the evidence of improvements in body composition, strength, power, and agility highlights the benefit of appropriately timed protein ingestion in conjunction with a strength-training program.

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Biolo, G., Maggi, S.P., Williams, B.D., Tipton, K.D. and Wolfe, R.R. (1995) Increased rates of muscle protein turnover and amino ac- id transport after resistance exercise in humans. American Jour- nal of Physiology 268, E514-520.

Esmarck, B., Andersen, J.L., Olsen, S., Richter, E. A., Mizuno, M. and Kjaer, M. (2001). Timing of postexercise protein intake is im- portant for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in eld- erly humans. Journal of Physiology (London) 535, 301-311.

Solheim, S. A., Nordsborg, N. B., Ritz, C., Berget, J., Kristensen, A. H., & Mørkeberg, J. (2017). Use of nutritional supplements by Danish elite athletes and fitness customers. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 27(8), 801–808.

Mooney, R., Simonato, P., Ruparelia, R., Roman, U. A., Martinotti, G., & Corazza, O. (2017). The use of supplements and performance and image enhancing drugs in fitness settings: A exploratory cross-sectional investigation in the United Kingdom. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical & Experimental, 32(3), n/a-N.PAG.

Wilborn, C. D., Taylor, L. W., Outlaw, J., Williams, L., Campbell, B., Foster, C. A., Smith-Ryan, A., Urbina, S., & Hayward, S. (2013). The Effects of Pre- and Post-Exercise Whey vs. Casein Protein Consumption on Body Composition and Performance Measures in Collegiate Female Athletes. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 12(1), 74–79.

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