Building the physique you want is more than just going to the gym a few days a week and muddling through machines, lifting some dumbbells, or getting on the first available cardio machine. To create the look you desire, you must lead a healthy lifestyle. One component is to consistently follow a structured fitness program that challenges all of your muscles, doesn’t create muscle imbalances, and allows for ample recovery time. Another component is your diet. If you are working smart in the gym but eating fast food, fried foods, processed foods such as cakes and cookies, and drinking sodas and alcohol, you are sabotaging yourself and frankly wasting your time.
In addition to eating the correct number of calories for you, and hitting your macronutrient goals every day, a key factor of proper nutrition is choosing what to eat before going to bed to maximize your muscle building efforts. When you are training in the gym, you are causing tiny tears in your muscles and when you sleep your muscles are recovering from that stress (exercise) and rebuilding and strengthening themselves. If not adequately fueled, your body is forced to turn to its own muscle protein for nourishment and convert those amino acids into glucose. Instead of creating muscle, you are losing it. For effective muscle building, this anabolic state requires a different source of energy.
Ideally you would opt for casein protein for your pre-bedtime meal. Casein protein is derived from cow’s milk and accounts for about 80% of the milk’s total protein content, with whey comprising the rest. For this reason, if you are sensitive to milk, you probably cannot tolerate casein. However it does not contain any lactose, so it remains a viable option for those who are lactose-intolerant, as well as those who are vegetarian (not vegan).
Many people are familiar with whey protein for a typical pre-workout or post-workout drink, but casein may not be as commonly used. A key difference between the two protein types is that while whey is fast-absorbing and therefore ideal to take before or immediately following a workout, casein is digested slowly. This is a result of how milk is processed which causes the casein peptides to be disturbed or become denatured. They then form a simpler structure, which is a gel-like material that is relatively insoluble.
This gel-like material is absorbed at a slow rate, over a period of up to 7-8 hours. Coincidentally, many studies have shown that at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night is needed for your body to properly repair damaged muscle tissue. This is one of many reasons why sleep is another crucial aspect of leading a healthy lifestyle.
Casein also releases amino acids into the body slowly and steadily. Amino acids are known as the building blocks of muscles. They are essential to every metabolic process, as well as for the optimal transport and storage of nutrients. With its slow digestion, casein is often taken when you would be without food for a long period of time, like overnight when you are sleeping.
Casein can be taken during the day too. Research has shown that combining whey and casein protein helped strength training participants gain increases in lean muscle . Mixing whey and casein in a 2:1 ratio is an effective post-workout choice. Casein has also been proven to increase metabolic rate which in turn helps with weight loss.
One food source of casein is cottage cheese. Although when compared with casein protein, a drawback of cottage cheese could be the additional calories, fat and carbohydrates you are ingesting, depending on the brand.
Like all protein powders, there are different quality casein products on the market, so choose wisely. In addition to its calories and macronutrients, ask about the source of the protein. Is it milk protein, calcium caseinate, or micellar casein? You should choose micellar because it is the most effective casein for your goal. It should contain amino acids such as arginine, isoleucine, leucine, and valine, and possibly others. The latter three are essential amino acids, meaning that your body cannot produce them so it is necessary to acquire them through your diet. They assist in exercise performance and reduce muscle breakdown.
Additionally, you want a casein protein with a clean and fresh taste. If it tastes “off”, it could be due to a low quality protein. Most powders have a long shelf life, so an “off” taste should not occur. Likewise, steer clear of those with an aftertaste. This is often indicative of the inclusion of artificial sweeteners, which are commonly used in sodas. High quality caseins do not clump when mixed with water.
Casein protein powder is available in different flavors, such as chocolate, vanilla, cookies and cream, banana cream, and many others. If you don’t enjoy the first flavor you try, taste another before discounting the brand you chose. It is possible that you could like all but one of their flavor choices.
Making a protein shake is easy. You can add water and mix it in a shaker bottle, or place it in a blender with water and ice for a thicker, malt-like drink. Depending on your macronutrients for the day, you can add natural peanut butter, berries, oatmeal, or even chopped spinach. If you prefer to eat something before bedtime instead of drinking it, one of the properties of casein allows it to be baked in the oven. There are many recipes to make tasty cakes and breads.
One quick way to use casein is to make a pudding by adding very cold water and hand-mixing it until blended. You can also microwave it for a hot pudding, or place it in the freezer to make “ice cream”. Another option is to mix casein with an egg and water to your desired batter consistency, and prepare like a pancake on a skillet. If you use chocolate casein protein, this will not only satisfy your chocolate cravings, but also prepare your body to rebuild its muscles while you sleep.
 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16937979, Willoughby DS, Stout JR, Wilborn CD. Effects of resistance training and protein plus amino acid supplementation on muscle anabolism, mass, and strength. Amino Acids. 2006 Sep 20)]