By now, you likely know the benefits of adding protein to your diet. From keeping you full longer to building muscle and aiding in post-workout recovery, there's no doubt protein is an important nutrient for a strong and healthy body. If you're looking to add a protein boost to your everyday routine, you may be considering powder supplements — but which one is right for you?
If you're not a vegetarian and don't have a milk allergy, cow's milk is an excellent source of protein, and can be broken down into two types: whey, the more popular option, and the lesser-known casein — which make up 80 percent and 20 percent of milk protein, respectively. While they're both high-quality proteins, containing all of the essential amino acids you need to get from food, the real difference is how your body digests them. Whey is fast-acting and breaks down in the body quicker, whereas casein has a delayed release. (Related: Proof That Whey Protein Really Is the Best for Building Muscle)
"Casein is more 'slow-acting' (casein is what curdles in milk or helps create texture in yogurt and cottage cheese, and helps make cheese solid) and digests and releases amino acids more slowly into the body for use," explains Wendy Bazilian DrPH, R.D.N, a certified exercise physiologist and sports dietitian. While whey is often seen as a better protein because it works immediately after exercise, casein actually helps long-term muscle building, since it prevents protein breakdown, she adds. Because casein releases amino acids slowly, it's often consumed before a sweat session or before bed to help with recovery and reduce muscle breakdown while you sleep.
Being animal-derived, casein features all of the essential amino acids, and contains high levels of the amino acid leucine, which helps your body build new proteins and stimulates muscle protein synthesis (translation: it repairs muscle damage caused by intense exercise), notes Bazilian. Interestingly enough, another area casein can be helpful with is controlling blood sugar. "Because it's slower acting, it may help (when combined with other foods) at modulating or balancing the blood sugar and insulin surges from eating, helping keep blood sugar (and energy) more level over time," says Bazilian.
You can use casein protein powder as a pre-workout meal or snack, timed about an hour to 90 minutes before a workout, or afterward for recovery, recommends Bazilian. However, the best part of the day to take casein is before bed. Evidence has proven that casein used as a nighttime supplement protein may help preserve muscle better. Even though using it at night seems to be most beneficial, casein won't make you sleepy or drowsy, so you can still use in during the day, adds Bazilian. (Related: The Best Protein Powders for Women, According to Nutritionists)
Ready to boost your protein intake? Ahead, the best casein protein options on the market.
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100 Percent Micellar Casein Protein Powder
It's called the gold standard for a reason: A trusted name in the field, Optimum Nutrition has been creating protein for 30 years. In addition to the company's facilities complying with the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations, its products are also Certified for Sport by NSF International, a third-party testing organization that ensures they don't contain substances banned by many major athletic organizations. This casein protein powder supplies 24 grams of protein per serving and has no artificial flavors, colors, or sugars, but shoppers say it still actually tastes good. (BTW, if you're seeing "micellar" casein on the product label, that just means it's the least-processed version of casein.)
One reviewer wrote: "I was looking for a natural protein powder, I've tried a few other brands. This one mixes well, has a good flavor *more subtle than the normal (artificially sweetened) product. But this suits my use just fine as I eat very little sugar, to begin with. Perfect for mixing in smoothies. Buy regularly."
Dymatize Elite Casein Protein Powder
Providing 25 grams of slow-acting protein per serving, this powder is specifically designed to be even thicker than usual. Why? It breaks down more slowly in the digestive system, which makes the process of releasing branched-chain amino acids (aka BCAAs, a group of three essential amino acids — building blocks of protein — that are important for muscle growth and fitness performance) even slower, helping to build muscle, relieve soreness, and keep you feeling full longer. (Consult this guide, if you're not sure how many grams of protein you should be getting in your diet every day.)
"I actually liked the taste and was sold. It wasn't grainy and it dissolved very well with my blender bottle. I do a high impact workout during the evenings for about 2 hours. As soon as I get home, I usually mix the Dymatize Elite Micellar Casein Protein powder with almond milk, a little PB2 Powdered Peanut Butter, and sometimes I add cacao powder. It's almost like drinking a thick milkshake. I sometimes use this as a meal replacement when I'm too tired to have a small meal after a workout. I usually intake half the suggested serving size if I plan to have a meal. It does reduce some of my muscle soreness," reported a shopper.
Ascent Native Fuel Micellar Casein Protein Powder
This brand is also Certified for Sport, as well as being the official performance nutrition sponsor of USA weightlifting — so you know you'll be in good company if you start drinking this casein. It has zero artificial ingredients, is gluten-free, and is an excellent low-calorie, low-sugar option to take before intense exercise or before bed to curb midnight cravings. It will keep you feeling full for six to eight hours — in case you need to use it as a meal replacement while traveling or hiking — and some reviewers even noted that they incorporated it recipes, such as pudding.
"I participated in a 12-week nutrition and fitness program, and one of the co-coaches recommended this protein," shared a customer. "I originally purchased the Chocolate Peanut Butter flavor, which is also great, but I find that the vanilla is a more neutral flavor for me. I love it. I realized how great it was when I ran out of it and switched back to another protein brand I had prior to buying this one, and I couldn't stand the fake sweet flavor it had. I could barely drink it! This is an excellent protein and I'm so grateful I found it."
Naked Casein 100 Percent Micellar Casein Protein Powder
Micellar casein is the only ingredient in this protein powder, making it a cleaner way to not only build muscle but also stay full longer. The brand sources its casein from U.S. farms, and its powder is free of additives and artificial sweeteners. Throw a scoop in a smoothie, shake, bowl, or baked good, and enjoy. (Related: 10 Healthy Foods That Fill You Up and Put an End to Hanger)
One reviewer wrote: "After trying other protein powders with fillers, soy, high carbs, high calories, etc, I was shocked and excited to find Naked! It literally has only one ingredient! No fillers! No hormone-altering soy! No carbs! Only 110 calories per serving, and 26g of protein! After doing research, I chose to get casein because it is more filling and can be used as a meal replacement. It doesn't have much of a flavor, so instead of water, I choose to use unsweetened vanilla almond milk. I also add heavy whipping cream, PB2, and Stevia. I shake it all together in my blender bottle, and it blends pretty well. I used this for a meal on the ketogenic diet, and now just use it when lifting weights at the gym."
Bulksupplements Casein Protein Powder
Check the ingredients on the bag, and you'll see only one: casein. The pure protein is made without artificial ingredients and is essentially tasteless, so it won't overpower other components of your smoothie or shake. The powder consistency is also quite thin, making it easy to mix into milk or water.
"This is an excellent product and I highly recommend it for those sick of being sold on sugary protein powders and simply want the real deal," wrote a customer. "The main reason I prefer this product over all others is the strict ingredients. No sugars, no sucralose, no ridiculous ingredients that only chemistry majors can pronounce. Just casein protein powder. My one-speed bump with the product is that it foams rather easily, so to avoid this all you have to do is use more of a liquid to powder ratio than stated on the packaging. And use milk instead of water since this will bring both a better flavor and consistency."
APOLLO Pure Protein Powder
A blend of three proteins — casein, whey, and egg whites — creates a low-carb and paleo-friendly powder. For those who hate the protein bloat that some supplements leave you with, know that this has preventative digestive enzymes to help you digest easier. This protein powder goes beyond shakes, too. Try baking it into pancakes and cookies. Flavors like salted caramel or birthday cupcakes with sprinkles make this a unique and yummy option.
"This is by far my favorite brand of protein powder, and I've tried them all. It does not make me feel bloated or gassy after drinking it and the taste is seriously so good. The birthday cake flavor is my go-to. I just received the pumpkin spice and it's amazing in coffee!" raved a shopper.
Kasein Micellar Casein Isolate
This premium micellar casein — made using a cold-pressed filtration method to deliver a cleaner powder — provides muscle-building amino acids your body can use for hours. If you're looking for a sweet snack in between meals or before bed, this offers a great taste without artificial flavors or gritty texture. Plus, many users said it was especially good for sensitive stomachs. (Related: This Is the Tastiest and Most Satisfying Protein Powder I've Ever Tried — and It's On Sale at Walmart)
One reviewer wrote: "Use it 100 percent to make protein pudding and it's been easy to mix and good tasting. Doesn't have the gritty sandy texture of other proteins I have tried. Also, I have a very sensitive stomach and this hasn't upset it once. So would highly recommend you try it if you are sensitive to other proteins."
Beyond Raw ISO-Casein P.M
Take this casein protein powder before bed, as Bazilian suggested, since it'll help to support a restful night's sleep and fuel your muscle recovery. This powder includes a combination of melatonin (a hormone your body naturally produces at night that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle) and suntheanine (an amino acid that promotes relaxation and sleep). Add one scoop of the chocolate- or vanilla-flavored powder with water and drink it 30-45 minutes before hitting the hay.
"I love this stuff. After a day of solid workouts, it satisfies those late-night snack cravings. The melatonin helps a lot with falling asleep and getting a good night's rest. It has helped me with physical performance, muscle gain, and weight loss," reported a shopper.
Beverly International UMP Protein Powder
Amazon reviewers compare this protein powder to a dessert, and based on that fact alone, you should already be adding this to your cart. Fun flavors — including strawberry, cookies and cream, graham cracker, and rocky road — make getting sneaking extra protein into your diet easy and delicious. Low in sugar, carbs, and with just traces of lactose, this is a healthy option for building muscle.
"I know that sometimes companies will give away products or give discounts to customers for writing good reviews, so I was initially suspicious of all of the glowing 5-star reviews," wrote a customer. "I decided to try the powder for myself and I can honestly say that it is absolutely, shockingly delicious! I've tried the chocolate and the vanilla so far. Both are creamy and smooth and mix easily with just a blender bottle and some cold water (colder the better). Add ice and some matcha powder to the vanilla and pop it in a blender for a slushy treat that easily rivals a Starbucks Green Tea Frappuccino (with a lot less calories!), I'm currently using it as a meal replacement once a day and haven't experienced any negative side effects/bloating/etc."
SKRATCH LABS Sport Recovery Drink Mix
Aimed specifically at athletes, this protein will help you refuel, rehydrate, and rebuild muscle after even your toughest workouts. Made to be shaken, not stirred, add two scoops into a glass of water for a convenient, on-the-go way to get your blood sugar up fast after a long run, hike, bike ride, or any other high-intensity exercise. With a taste like chocolate milk, this is non-GMO, gluten-free, vegetarian, and Kosher option great for almost everyone. (Related: The Best Recovery Tools for When Your Muscles Are Sore AF)
One fan wrote: "Skratch is the only recovery/protein drink I like. It has simple ingredients you can recognize, no artificial sweeteners, etc. Yes, it has real sugar. And dairy. These things are not evil, at least for my body. It's basically chocolate milk with a protein kick!"
Pro Jym Protein Powder
Studies have shown that a blend of proteins allows for optimum muscle-building potential. This powder — made for both men and women — is 50 percent casein, 40 percent whey, and 10 precent egg protein, which promotes energy, endurance, and recovery. With a great taste and texture, you can easily mix this with water, milk, nut milk, and other ingredients for a meal before or after a workout.
"My husband and I love this protein powder, it's a good mix for both of us — he works out and builds muscle and I just try to stay lean and have good protein in the am with my smoothies. It doesn't leave any funky taste, not chalky, and mixes well. We've had the vanilla and chocolate, both delicious," wrote a shopper.