My friend told me that I should be using time-released protein before I go to bed instead of regular protein. Is this really better than regular whey protein?

There is no way to know for sure if “time-released” proteins are better than “regular” proteins because “time-released” proteins don’t exist. “Time-released” proteins fads that were popular in the late 90’s that have recently been making a comeback in popularity on chat forums. Notice I said a “fad”.

There was a time when many companies put out so called “Night Time Proteins” based on the concept that they were “time-released”. They are primarily made up of casein or variations of such as micellar casein, milk protein isolate, sodium caseinate or calcium casienate protein. Casein, like whey, is a protein derived from milk. Almost all commercially available protein comes from the milk of cows (with the exception of a few companies hawking goat protein, liquid beef protein or some other off the wall products). In cow’s milk, 80% of the protein contained is casein and 20% is whey, making casein a much more commercially available protein source. That means it’s cheaper for companies to buy (strictly based on supply & demand), which means more room in the finished product for profit. This naturally generates a lot of motivation from many big supplement brands and protein companies to figure out a way to get you the consumer to buy it.

Some companies have gotten pretty clever about how they market casein as a bed-time or time-released protein. While casein is in fact a slower digesting protein than whey, it is not time-released and it is far from ideal to use by itself at night or any time for that matter, based solely on this concept.

So where did “time-released” come from? Its simple play on words, their reasoning suggests: “slower digesting” = “time-released” and this simply isn’t true. Time-released is a marketing concept dreamed up by some supplement company out there with the intent to help them sell more casein. Once people in the industry figured out it was working and people were actually using casein before bed based on this logic, a bunch of other companies hopped on the bandwagon and copied the idea.

“Time-released” sounds highly technical and advanced for a protein powder, doesn’t it? This leads people to believe there is some sort of “secret technology” that allows the intact protein to be released a little at a time from the stomach into the blood stream over the course of the night. Although the “time released” marketing concept sounds nice, it wasn’t very well thought out and wouldn’t be applicable to real world use based on a number of points.

The biggest red flag with casein is that compared to whey, and even to soy, it stimulates muscle protein synthesis (anabolic growth) to a MUCH smaller degree (It’s true…casein has been PROVEN inferior to even soy for muscle growth at rest before resistance exercise and after resistance exercise). Casein also has a lower biological value (BV) than whey, which essentially means that your body won’t absorb and use the casein protein near as efficiently as whey. So when you slam down 30-40 grams of casein before bed, your body is not able to use this protein source as efficiently for things like muscle growth, recovery, etc. However, we already mentioned that Casein minimally stimulates muscle protein synthesis anyway when compared to whey or even soy. So the question must be asked:

Of that limited amount of casein your body will assimilate and attempt to use, what benefits will the absorbed protein actually provide?

I can hear the die-hard casein soldiers now: “But Casein keeps me from being catabolic while I sleep!” Even that may be a stretch. The reality is, that even the data that does suggest Casein is anti-catabolic was all done in the dawn of protein research (the late ‘90’s) and these studies used older technology measuring whole body protein metabolism, and not specifically muscle protein synthesis. Sure, while maintaining a healthy balance of protein breakdown between all body organs (e.g. brain, liver, kidneys, muscle, etc.) is important, newer technology measures just muscle protein balance and let’s face it this is all you care about anyway. Thus, the two processes are different and companies use this play on words to trick consumers into thinking it is the same thing…it is not. Are you buying that expensive casein because you’re worried about supplying protein to your internal organs or eyeballs? No, your main goal for doing this is to get stronger, grow bigger muscles and look stacked! To top it off, much of the scientific data that suggests casein works for even anti-catabolic reasons was done in untrained individuals or in research studies that didn’t include any form of exercise, a far cry from showing any benefit in trained athletes.

An important fact to consider is that researchers have shown that overall control over muscle protein balance is regulated more by increases in protein synthesis as opposed to changes on the protein breakdown side of things. It’s a simple scale that tips back and forth through the day. You eat the Big Mac and fries, the scale tips one way…same concept with protein balance. To promote anabolic processes in your muscles, it’s critically important to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. I won’t say it’s not important to worry about protein breakdown because it is, but more control over muscle growth is made relative to stimulating protein synthesis in your muscles. Well which of these protein sources are better at promoting increases in muscle protein synthesis? You guessed it, WHEY protein, both at rest (think during snack times or before bed time) as well as after a heavy bout of resistance exercise.

Using Casein at night based on a time-released concept is a B.S. marketing concept based on a product ingredient (time-released protein) that doesn’t even exist. Even if it did exist, it would be virtually useless for promoting muscle growth. The fact is this: there isn’t even ONE SINGLE PIECE of published scientific data that indicates using casein before bed leads to greater muscle growth than any other protein or that it leads to muscle growth at all, while in fact multiple studies have shown that using a whey protein instead of a casein protein results in greater increases in muscle strength and greater improvements in body composition.

The whole night-time/time-released protein fad is just a ploy by supplement companies to market their products more effectively to separate you from your dollars. Because of the tremendous marketing dollars available to many of these companies and their relentless ad campaigns, night-time casein is sure to live on forever, regardless of the data available. When it comes to their supplements, people hate admitting they are wrong (or admitting they were mislead) and this alone will keep them practicing inferior supplement strategies. Don’t be one of these people.

For those of you who want to get the most out of your training and want or need high quality protein through the night, the only WHEY is to get up out of bed and consume some. Drink your high quality, bioavailable, sustained assimilation protein before you go to bed, then set your alarm for four hours later and have another. It’s the most effective way to get protein that your MUSCLES will benefit from.

References:

1. Tipton, K.D., et al., Am J Physiol, 1999. 276(4 Pt 1): p. E628-34.
2. Cribb PJ, et al. International Journal of Sports Nutrition Exerc Metab, 2006
3. Tipton KD, et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2004
4. Nair KS, et al. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, 1988
5. Tang JE, et al. Journal Appl Physiol, 2009
6. Borsheim, E., et al., Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, 2002. 283(4): p. E648-57.
7. Boirie Y, et al. PNAS 1997; 94:14930-5

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