Casein is one of the two major types of protein found in milk. It represents about 80% of proteins in cow milk. Because it has low solubility in water it exists in a micellar form, as a suspension of tiny particles called micelles and is often known as micellar casein. When taken as a supplement organic micellar casein is a valuable source of slow release amino acids. It is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all the essential amino acids and it plays an important part in maintaining a positive protein balance and a long-term anabolic state by preventing muscle protein breakdown. Organic micellar casein is particularly beneficial when taken first thing in the morning.
The muscles in your body are made out of proteins, which in turn are made up of amino acids. Proteins taken in the diet are broken down to free amino acids, which are then used to synthesise protein in the body. To gain muscle mass you must have a positive nitrogen balance, and consume enough proteins to provide the amino acids to support a high rate of protein synthesis.
In addition to being the building blocks of proteins, some amino acids have special signaling roles. Especially interesting is the branched chain amino acid leucine, which stimulates protein synthesis by acting through the mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) pathway. Because of its leucine content, organic micellar casein can increase the rates of protein synthesis. However, it is its role in preventing protein breakdown that makes it a particularly good supplement to take in the morning.
The night is the longest time your body goes without food. When you wake up in the morning you have probably depleted your glycogen stores, and your body needs to find other ways of producing glucose. Of course you can obtain energy at this time by burning fats, a very good thing, but you still need glucose. It is one of the very few fuels that the brain can use, and your body quite rightly gives priority to nourishing the brain. This is why, when carbohydrate stores are used up, you go into a catabolic state, muscle proteins are broken down, to release free amino acids. These are transported to the liver where they are turned into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. Although your brain might be happy about having its supply of glucose ensured, gluconeogenesis is obviously bad news for your muscles and seriously prevents you from building up muscle mass.
First thing in the morning also coincides with a peak in cortisol release, which compounds the catabolic state. Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone, its function is to help survive immediate danger, at the expense of the long-term benefits for the body. One of its main actions is to increase blood glucose levels to prepare the body for the fight or flight response. Although cortisol is released as a response to sudden danger and stress, its release is also controlled by a circadian rhythm, with highest levels in the morning. Other hormones are on a day-night release cycle as well. For example growth hormone, an anabolic hormone, naturally peaks right after you fall asleep, but its levels fall by the morning. High levels of cortisol and low levels of growth hormone, contribute to the catabolic state. Having carbohydrates for breakfast simply makes the hormone situation worse.
To prevent protein breakdown the solution is to ensure that you always have a high level of free amino acids so your muscle proteins don’t have to be sacrificed. This is known as having a positive protein balance. This is actually more effective than having carbohydrates for breakfast.
Of course there are several different protein supplements that you can take in the morning. However, none are as effective at providing long-term protection against a catabolic state as organic micellar casein, and this is due to its special particulate form.
When micellar casein comes in contact with the acidic stomach environment it precipitates and forms a coagulated gel. This is difficult to digest and releases amino acids slowly into the bloodstream.
At first glance that might look like a negative property, but slow digestion does not necessarily mean low bioavailability. In fact casein protein has exceptionally good bioavailability, but It is released slowly. Because of the insolutble gel-like structure it forms, it stays in the stomach for a long period of time. In technical language this is known as a slow gastric clearing rate. In practice this means that you will obtain the amino acids in your organic micellar protein drink, but you will get them over a prolonged period of time. If you have your organic micellar casein drink first thing in the morning, it will keep your amino acid levels elevated for several hours afterwards, preventing protein breakdown and maintaining an anabolic state. This is in contrast to fast-digesting protein supplements, such as whey isolate. These cause a big peak in amino acid levels soon after taking them, and a big jump in protein synthesis, but the effects are transient and don’t last very long.
The truth is that you get the most benefits from both types of protein supplements, the fast release ones at particular times, mainly right after a workout to stimulate maximum muscle gain, and the slow acting micellar casein in the morning to keep amino acid levels steady throughout the day and prevent protein breakdown. A 1997 study, published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA (PNAS) compared the effects on amino acid levels and protein synthesis of casein and whey proteins. The researchers found that whey produced a dramatic but short-lived peak in plasma amino-acid concentration. In contrast casein resulted in a prolonged moderate amino acid elevation and the effect lasted up to 7 hours after ingestion. Whey was better at stimulating protein synthesis, causing an increase of 68% compared to 31% with casein. However taking a micellar casein supplement caused a 31% reduction in whole protein breakdown, an effect that was not seen with whey. As you can see the two different milk protein forms have quite different, but complementary, effects on protein metabolism, and when taken together can work synergistically to create the perfect anabolic state.
The effect of micellar casein on protein breakdown:
Milk proteins give superior results in muscle anabolism: