How important is protein? You can live your entire adult life without carbohydrates, up to six months without dietary fat, but only about seventy days without protein. Protein, one of the three main macronutrients in food, has amino acids, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and usually sulfur. The very word protein is derived from the Greek “prōteios,” meaning “holding the first place.”
Protein is essential to life due to its amino acids, nine of which are essential, and their nitrogen content. The body requires twenty amino acids to function, nine of which (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine) must be sourced from your diet or through supplementation.
There are many protein forms out there. There’s whey protein, egg white protein, plant-based protein, and casein protein. Basically put, whether your goal is to build muscle, lose weight, tone-up, or just be healthier, there’s a protein powder specifically designed to help you. This guide will focus on casein proteins, what to look for in a casein supplement, when to take your casein, the proper amount of protein for you, and (of course) our recommendations for the best casein protein powder on the market today.
If you feel like you have a solid understanding of what casein protein powder is and does, feel free to scroll to the bottom of this guide for our list of best casein protein powders. Otherwise, let’s get started!
Dietary protein is found in lean meats, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs, nuts and seeds, legumes, soy, and other plant-based foods. Animal proteins are considered complete proteins. They contain all the amino acids essential for life. In contrast, plant-based alternatives, gaining popularity, are typically missing or deficient in at least one of the essential amino acids, making them incomplete proteins. Manufacturers combine two or more types of plant in their protein powders to correct this deficiency to deliver a complete amino acid profile.
Although we now have egg, beef, collagen, soy, and a myriad of plant-based proteins, including pea protein, hemp, pumpkin, rice, and quinoa, the king of protein in supplementation remains milk. There are two types of protein in milk, whey protein, and casein, with casein being the more predominant, representing some 80% of the protein content. Whey and casein, being animal-derived, are quality proteins, complete proteins delivering all nine essential amino acids. Although both types contain high levels of branched-chain amino acids, the real difference is how your body digests them. Whey, like that found in Biochem Whey Protein and 1UP WHEY Protein, is the faster-acting and breaks down in the body quicker, making it the preferred post-workout protein, whereas casein has a more delayed-release. Either way, protein is highly beneficial and necessary for optimal health.
Casein Protein Powder Explained
As mentioned, casein is a slower digesting milk protein powder that releases amino acids in a slow-acting, almost time-released manner, increasing satiety over a longer period. Casein protein powder is frequently used before bed to facilitate overnight muscle protein synthesis and prevent muscle wasting (catabolism) while you sleep. Casein is what curdles in milk and helps create the texture in yogurt and cottage cheese. We often recommend a serving of cottage cheese (low-fat) in lieu of protein powder at night for its casein content.
There are two main forms of casein powder, micellar and hydrolysate. Micellar is the more natural form and used for its slower absorption. Hydrolysate is predigested, more rapidly absorbed, and can be used instead of whey protein or whey isolate. In our experience, the hydrolysate is used in products designed for pre-or post-workout and in protein blends, more than as a sustained release protein.
One segment of our Best Of selections will include blends and gainer products that feature some combination of whey isolate, whey concentrate, egg, casein hydrolysate, micellar casein, and in some instances, additional protein sources. The concept is to provide a faster acting protein (whey isolate), mid-range delivery (egg protein), and slower digesting (micellar casein) for muscle growth, energy, and recovery.
What to Look for in a Casein Protein Powder
As with any nutritional supplement, several basic requirements are that the product is made in a cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) facility, that the company engages a third-party lab for quality and purity testing, and that the product is certified by NSF, NSF Safe for Sport, Informed Choice, USP or other body. When selecting a casein powder, we recommend very limited, or possibly only one ingredient (other than in blends or gainer products), and that your selection be appropriate for your usage, micellar for a nighttime application. Prices vary widely by brand and depending on where you purchase your product, generally in the $1.08 – $1.55 per serving (20 – 25 grams of casein) range and up to $80.00 per tub, based on size.
We prefer all-natural ingredients, organic certified, grass-fed, with no artificial sweeteners.
A word about grass-fed – although there is no formal USDA definition, the operative phrase is no antibiotics or added growth hormones (rBST/rBGH). The animal, raised on pasture without confinement, should have a 100% grass-fed diet, substituting hay or alfalfa when fresh grass is not available.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
This remains an area of great debate among dieticians, nutritionists, athletic trainers, and strength athletes. The US RDA, Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for adults. The RDA is the amount of protein you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements.
Since athletes expend more energy per day than the average person, they have different nutritional requirements for muscle repair and recovery. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes. For a 180-pound man, this equates to between 98 – 163 grams of protein. Other sources quote that endurance athletes need 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram (2.2lbs) of body weight, and strength athletes about 1.4 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. WebMD tends to occur with these requirements and increases the RDA for strength athletes to 1.7 grams, about 150 grams for a 200-pound lifter.
Not surprisingly, Bodybuilding.com states that 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight can be beneficial, with some authors citing up to 2 or more grams per pound. A 220-pound professional bodybuilder may be ingesting up to 450 grams per day.
Taking a slightly different approach for those dieting, we present a recommended percentage of macronutrients from protein should you be taking when following one of these regimens:
- Keto: 20% of calories from protein
- Paleo: 30% of calories from protein
- Mediterranean: 18% of calories from protein
- NOOM: 10% – 35% of calories from protein
Unless you are trying to become massively bigger in preparation for your next bodybuilding show, we recommend a middle ground of 1.2 – 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight for runners and about 1.7 – 2.0 grams per kilogram for strength athletes.
Casein Protein Powder Benefits
Starting with the most obvious, every cell in the human body contains protein, and the essential aminos in protein are required to sustain life, build muscle and bone, and produce enzymes and hormones. Protein also plays a crucial role in organ health, immune function, energy, endurance, and more.
More specifically, the slower digesting micellar casein protein protects against muscle breakdown (catabolism) after training and while fasting overnight. Pure micellar protein is low in sugars and calories to help you preserve your hard-earned muscle and burn additional fat.
Casein blends and gainers with casein are excellent supplements to build lean muscle and for muscle repair and recovery. Casein is a convenient way to ensure you are getting all the important amino acids and other nutrients your body requires to support anabolism, the muscle-building phase.
Other potential benefits of supplementing with casein:
- Aids in weight management and fat loss
- Antioxidant properties to prevent free radical damage
- May reduce high blood pressure
- Benefits the immune system
- Reduces triglyceride levels
When To Take Casein Protein Powder
Throughout this article, we have extolled the benefits of micellar casein before bed to prevent muscle breakdown while sleeping/fasting. So, what better protein to use while intermittent fasting to receive the same benefits?
We also think hydrolysate casein pre-or post-workout blended with other types of protein is an excellent strategy. Blends are great for repair, recovery, building lean muscle, and providing your body with a time-released source of protein.
Typical dosages of caseins, or blends, are in the 20 – 30-gram range. Gainer products with casein often recommend much higher protein dosages in the 50-gram range; however, many experts believe the body can only absorb 25 – 30-grams per meal.
Will Casein Protein Powder Benefit Me?
Many people eat a healthy diet and source the required amount of protein through their food intake. Others who engage in more rigorous activities find that getting the right amount of high-quality protein through meals alone is difficult and supplement protein.
Those who would most benefit from supplementation include those who are dieting, endurance and strength athletes, those who have difficulty retaining lean muscle, and older adults (to prevent sarcopenia – the age-related loss of skeletal muscle).
Is Casein Protein Powder Safe?
Other than people who are lactose intolerant or have liver or kidney disease, it seems casein protein is safe for most healthy people with minimal side effects – bloating, gas, or other digestive issues.
As always, we recommend you consult with your medical professional before adding any supplement to your regimen.
Best Casein Protein Powder
When selecting our Best Of products, we adhered to the advice we offered in how you should go about choosing a product: cGMP facility, third-party testing, and certifications (Safe for Sport, etc.). We tended to select products from established brands in the sports nutrition space. Protein powders were one of the first sports nutrition products offered, and these brands have stood the test of time. We were also very picky about formulations, limited ingredients, and the flavor was a major consideration – if it doesn’t taste great, people won’t use it. We created separate casein protein sub-categories for Best Value, Best Blends, Best Weight Gain product, Best Grass-Fed, Best RTD (Ready-to-drink), and our Best Overall.
Dymatize Elite – Best Value
Dymatize is perhaps best known for its Whey Isolate Protein, long one of the most popular post-workout proteins on the market. All the company’s products are manufactured in a cGMP facility and banned substance tested by Informed Choice.
Elite is a micellar protein manufactured using a cross-flow microfiltration process to ensure a time-released protein to sustain its muscle-building properties. Additionally, Dymatize also produces a high protein and carb blend powder called Dymatize Super Mass Gainer.GET THE BEST PRICE ON DYMATIZE ELITE
ProJYM – Best Blends
Dr. Jim Stoppani followed his career as a Senior Science Editor at Muscle & Fitness by developing the JYM brand of supplements. The brand was originally available exclusively through Bodybuilding.com but has expanded distribution to Amazon.com and more traditional brick and mortar retailers such as GNC and Vitamin Shoppe.
JYM products feature some of the most cutting-edge, science-backed products in the sports nutrition space today. These products include JYM Shred, Alpha JYM, and (of course) ProJYM, a protein blend great for pre-or post-workout or before bed.
ProJYM contains four different proteins: Whey Isolate, Micellar Casein, Egg White Protein, and Milk Protein Isolate. This combination provides a time-released supply of protein to muscles, fast-digesting Whey Isolate, medium absorption Egg Whites, and slow-digesting Micellar Casein. Adding the medium and slower digesting proteins to Whey Isolate extends protein synthesis levels – just what muscles need for repair, recovery, and growth.GET THE BEST PRICE ON PROJYM
MaxPro Elite – Best Blends
Strictly available at Max Muscle Sports Nutrition franchised brick and mortar stores or online at their official website comes MaxPro Elite. MaxPro Elite is another blended protein-containing Whey Isolate, Whey Concentrate, Potassium Caseinate, and Micellar Casein. The concept remains faster digesting Whey proteins, coupled with the slower-digesting Casein Proteins for extended protein synthesis. MaxPro also contains 4.4 grams of Glutamine, making this one of our favorites for post-workout recovery.GET THE BEST PRICE ON MAXPRO ELITE
Syntha 6 – Best Blends
BSN has been a stalwart in the sports nutrition space for many years. Their Syntha-6 is one of the best-tasting protein powders on the market today. The blend of Whey Isolate, Whey Concentrate, Calcium Caseinate, Micellar Casein, Milk Protein Isolate, Egg Albumen, and Glutamine Peptides make this one of the most versatile proteins available – perfect as a meal replacement, pre-or post-workout, or before bed, versatile.GET THE BEST PRICE ON BSN SYNTHA-6
BSN True Mass – Best Weight Gainer
We return to BSN for a blended weight gainer product including a protein matrix of Whey Concentrate, Calcium Caseinate, Milk Protein Isolate, Whey Protein Isolate, Micellar Casein, Hydrolyzed Whey Protein, Egg Whites, and Glutamine Peptides.
True Mass is scientifically formulated for the hard gainer and younger athlete to supplement their food intake to meet their nutrient needs. The Nutrition Facts panel indicates a three-scoop serving delivers 165 grams, 710 calories, and 50 grams of protein in the appropriate Collegiate Protein/Carb Ratio. All BSN products are manufactured in an NSF-certified facility.GET THE BEST PRICE ON BSN TRUE MASS
MuscleFeast Micellar Casein – Best Grass-Fed
Muscle Feast Micellar Casein is sourced from pasture-raised cows, free of artificial hormones such as rBST/rBGH. The product is one of
the cleanest proteins on the market:
- Certified Vegetarian
- Certified Kosher
- All Natural – no fillers or artificial ingredients
- Stevia Sweetened – no added sugars or artificial sweeteners
The product is isolated from milk protein via a filtration process that preserves the Micellar Protein’s structural integrity. As noted, Micellar Protein is a slow-digesting protein, perfect for before bed or a fast, to provide a consistent supply of amino acids to aid in protein synthesis.GET THE BEST PRICE ON MUSCLEFEAST MICELLAR CASEIN
Labrada Lean Body – Best RTD
There are times it simply isn’t convenient to blend your own shake. Lean Body from Labrada Nutrition (founded by Lee Labrada of bodybuilding fame) is a ready-to-drink blended protein perfect for post-workout or meal replacement. The protein blend consists of Milk Protein Isolate, Calcium Caseinate, and Whey Protein Concentrate, delivering 40 grams of protein per serving.
Labrada products have been third-party, independent laboratory tested for quality and purity for over twenty years. The product is gluten-free with no added sugars, fortified with vitamins and minerals, and contains 5 grams of dietary fiber.GET THE BEST PRICE ON LABRADA LEAN BODY
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Casein – Best Overall
Optimum Nutrition, in business for over thirty years, is one of the more established players in the sports nutrition space – you could say they set the Gold Standard. Their Micellar Casein was the first 100% Casein product on the market. As the name suggests, the product uses only Micellar Casein as a protein source, making it perfect before bed or fasting. Gold Standard features 9 grams of naturally occurring EAAs (Essential Amino Acids).
The product delivers BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) for up to 8 hours after ingesting, EAAs for 7.5 hours, and Leucine for over 6.5 hours. No artificial flavors, sweeteners, or colors, all ON products are manufactured in a cGMP facility. Additional certifications include Informed Sport and Informed Choice.GET THE BEST PRICE ON OPTIMUM NUTRITION GOLD STANDARD 100% CASEIN
Stacking Casein Protein with Other Supplements
Most of the brands featured in this Best Of article offer a broad range of sports nutrition products, including pre-and post-workout supplements, BCAA and EAA intra-workout products, whey isolates, multivitamin/minerals, joint support, EFA (Essential Fatty Acids), and thermogenic diet aids. Based on your personal goals and objectives, there is a myriad of logical combinations that you might incorporate into your nutrition regimen in addition to Casein.
In Summary: Casein Protein
We acknowledge the importance of a whey isolate for post-workout; however, we love the concept of adding a casein protein and glutamine (as in the Best Of blends) for repair, recovery, and building lean muscle. Most importantly, the slow-digesting micellar casein is a must-have supplement to protect and preserve your hard-earned muscle while fasting, either at night or during an intermittent fast.