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When it comes to protein, most bodybuilders agree that you need more than the average couch potato if you want to make rapid gains in muscle size
But there seems to be a lot of debate about the type of protein that works best. While the general consensus seems to be that soy is crap, casein
and whey appear to be the proteins causing all the arguments.
In fact, when I was searching for unbiased and independent information, what I found was, for the most part, a lot of hype, insults and mud-slinging from various people claiming that their protein was “the best.” But there was very little in the way of evidence to back up what anyone was saying.
To be honest, I’m very sceptical of any claims that aren’t supported by proper research
and evidence, and I don’t want to waste time and money on stuff that just doesn’t work. So, I took a look through the research to see if any scientists had come up with some definitive answers.
After hours of searching, I was very excited to find a very interesting study, published just last year, which actually put whey and casein to the test during a 10-week training routine.
Here’s a summary of what I found…
The study examined the effects of supplementation with two proteins, whey and casein, on strength and body composition during a 10-week supervised training programme.
A group of 13 male, recreational bodybuilders supplemented their normal diet with either whey or casein (1.5gm per kg of bodyweight per day) for the duration of the programme.
To qualify as subjects the men…
a) had no current or past history of anabolic steroid use;
b) had at least 2 years of resistance-training experience (and submitted a detailed description of their current training routine);
c) had not used any supplement for an 8-week period prior to the start of the study; and
d) agreed not to use any other nutritional supplements, or drugs that may affect muscle growth or the ability to train intensely during the study.
This was a double-blind study, which means that neither the researchers nor the subjects knew who was taking whey and who was taking casein. This ensured there was no bias on the part of either the research team or the subjects.
The training programme involved training 3 days per week on; Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Phase I (weeks 1-2)
Wednesday: Back & Biceps
Friday: Chest, Shoulders & Triceps
(2 sets per exercise, 1-3 exercises per muscle group, 8-10 reps per set)
Phase II (weeks 3-4)
Wednesday: Chest, Shoulders & Triceps
Friday: Back & Biceps
(2 sets per exercise, 1-3 exercises per muscle group, 6 reps per set)
Phase III (weeks 5-10)
Wednesday: Chest, Shoulders & Triceps
Friday: Back & Biceps
(2-3 sets per exercise, 1-3 exercises per muscle group, 4 reps per set)
One interesting aspect of the study is that a strength and conditioning specialist supervised each workout in a one-to-one or two-to-one fashion. The men were given training diaries to record exercises, sets, repetitions performed, and the weight used throughout the programme. This ensured there were no differences in training variables (such as volume, frequency, duration, and intensity or load), and makes the results a lot more accurate.
Body composition was assessed by dual x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) before and after the 10-week training programme. DEXA is an extremely accurate way to measure changes in body composition. It’s far more reliable than skin fold callipers or the body fat scales often used in health clubs.
So, that’s the science behind it. But what I really wanted to know is… which protein works best?
Firstly, the men using the whey protein gained 11 pounds (5 kilograms) of lean mass), compared with a gain of 1.8 pounds (0.8 kilograms) in the casein group. The full body composition results are shown in the table below.
Although this study makes it very clear that whey leads to greater gains in strength and size than casein, it’s important to remember that (as with all research), this study does have some limitations.
Firstly, one limitation was the low subject number of the groups. The more subjects taking part in a study, the more likely it is that the results will apply to a broader population.
Second, food intake was measured using food diaries. Although the authors of the study report that “no differences in energy or protein intake were detected between the groups or within the groups throughout the study,” food diaries are a notoriously inaccurate way to measure calorie intake, so it’s possible that some of the differences in lean mass gains between the two groups could be because the two groups ate differently. Without more accurate estimates of protein, carbohydrate and fat intake we don’t know for sure.
To summarise and review, this study adds to the body of research showing that whey is a more effective muscle-builder than casein. Although casein has been promoted as an “anti-catabolic” supplement, the research on which this theory is based lasted less than 24 hours, and used untrained subjects who were not even training with weights. Although the debate will still rage on Internet forums and discussion groups, most experts and researchers now believe that the majority of the slow protein in your diet should come from food, while supplemental protein should come from a high-quality whey.
Anyone that is still claiming that casein is the best protein or that their ‘milk protein’ containing micellular (or however you want to spell it), is clearly not aware of the science. For those that want a slow protein or slower digesting protein before bedtime, which is seen as a good idea, it is now common practice to mix your whey protein drink with milk as opposed to water, as the fat and the casein within the milk will slow the digestion down of Whey, without having to buy a tub of nasty tasting casein, saving you money.