If I was stuck in a situation where I had to choose only one supplement to use for my bodybuilding diet, I would choose whey protein. Hands down, no questions asked. Why?
It is one of the most popular supplements in the bodybuilding industry, and reasonably so. There are many benefits to including it in your daily routine and I'll explain them here.
What is whey? Whey is a form of protein that comes from milk. Milk is made up primarily of casein protein, and also whey protein. The whey part of milk is filtered out when milk is turned into cheese.
Whey protein is a complete and very high quality source of protein. It comes without the fat content that is present in other complete protein sources such as meat and eggs.
There are a few different reasons why whey is such a great source of protein for those looking to build or maintain muscle mass.
Whey is a complete protein and includes essential amino acids.
Whey protein is a complete and one of the highest quality sources of protein. It comes without the fat content that is present in other complete protein sources such as meat and eggs which makes it quicker to digest (it's one of the fastest digested sources of protein you can get - ideal for post-workout nutrition).
A complete protein source contains all of the essential amino acids and whey is no exception. These "essential" amino acids cannot be produced by the body and so need to be gained through your diet, and whey is a good way to do this.
Whey also contains decent amounts of other non-essential amino acids, and even more importantly, it delivers BCAAs (Branch Chain Amino Acids) to the body effectively.
Whey is easily digested and absorbed.
Compared to the other complete protein sources out there such as eggs, beef, chicken, milk, fish, etc, whey is protein is very easily digested by the body. It is also efficiently absorbed and used by the body.
You may have heard of the term BV before. BV stands for Biological Value, and is a measure of how well a particular protein can be absorbed and used by the body to assist muscle repair and growth. The higher the BV, the better.
Whey protein in the concentrated form has a BV rating of 104, and whey protein in isolated form can have a BV rating as high as 170. When you compare this to eggs (100 BV), milk and casein (85), and beef (75), whey is a super efficient protein source.
Whey can boost your immune system.
Those who train hard with heavy weights are putting a lot of stress on their immune system, and so they must combat this with a good diet and the right types of food, vitamins, and minerals.
Another of the important whey protein benefits is that it has been proven to help strengthen your immune system. It does this by raising the levels of the molecule called gluthathione. Gluthathione is an important antioxidant that contributes heavily to a strong immune system.
Whey is a convenient protein source.
Whey protein powders are such a useful supplement to take on a muscle building diet. Those looking to gain weight and build muscle must consume a lot of protein daily, spread over the day in 5-7 small meals.
A lot of people find it hard to reach their daily protein intake through normal foods, as it is just too inconvenient. It would take too much preparation, cooking, and even a hefty food bill each week.
That's where whey protein powders come in so handy. Instead of having 5-7 whole food meals in your day, you can split these up into a few whole food meals, and a 2-3 whey protein shakes.
This makes it much easier to reach your 5-7 high protein meals in a day because a whey protein shake is so quick and easy to take. You just add water or milk to the whey powder and shake it for 30 seconds in a shaker bottle, and voila, you just drink it.
For example, in a typical day of mine I have 2-3 whey protein shakes a day, and 3-4 whole food meals. I couldn't imagine not using whey protein, and having to come up with 5-7 high protein meals a day - that would be a total nightmare to manage over the long run.
How and When to Take Whey?
As good as whey protein is, don't get carried away though. Whole food protein sources such as eggs, beef, fish, chicken, casein and milk should generally take priority and form the base of your protein intake.
You could survive without whey protein in your diet, it would just be a major hassle and take a lot more time to prepare and eat everyday. So try to get as much protein from whole food sources in your diet, and then add whey protein here and there to help reach your daily totals conveniently.
Although, saying that, there is a time of the day where whey definitely is better than a whole food protein. Since whey is the fastest and most easily digested protein, it makes sense that you should take whey with your breakfast and also straight after your workouts.
After a workout your body is depleted of vitamins and minerals and your muscles have been damaged. By taking whey you can quickly fuel your muscles the high quality protein and amino acids that it needs to start the recovery process.
Also keep in mind that there are two main types of whey protein, isolate and concentrate. Learn more about the difference here. If you want to know which whey supplement I personally take, check out my supplement stack below:
Hopefully this article helped, but always remember to never get stuck in research land. Information is great, but what's infinitely more important and the only thing that actually matters to get results and change your life is to be hitting the gym week in week out, with a properly-structured, intelligently-crafted and well-balanced strength training and nutrition plan that's based on actual scientific principles of building muscle mass (not bro science like you'll see practically everywhere you look online).
But here's the thing:
You don't just randomly stumble upon a highly-effective program that's designed specifically for hardgainers by simply browsing a popular mainstream bodybuilding/fitness magazine, site, or forum (or asking your average run of the mill trainer at a local gym who is highly likely to be just repeating the same old ineffective, incomplete mainstream advice they learned in a classroom).
To truly build that strong, ripped, lean muscular body that you want - and to not just leave it to chance and hope/pray that you'll get results - your training and eating program needs to be solid. Otherwise, you'll be wasting a ton of time in the gym for little return, which is unfortunately what happens to most guys who start hitting the gym as they eventually start spinning their wheels and getting nowhere due to a lack of knowledge and awareness of what actually works most effectively.
So the question remains, how do you ensure you're implementing an effective bulking program that will 100% get you the results you seek? You basically have three paths to take here, so choose whichever fits your situation best.
Path A: Design Your Own Effective Bulking Program (Recommended for Some Beginners & Intermediates)
If you're the patient type who also likes to know how every little detail works, and are willing to spend the time and effort necessary to study the most effective muscle building training and nutrition strategies out there right now to strategically piece together the best information that you find from credible sources to sculpt your own custom bulking program, consider the DIY path of creating your own program from scratch.
However, if you're a beginner, or intermediate lifter who hasn't been getting the results you want, you'll want to make sure that you get your advice from sources and people who understand what it's like to gain muscle starting out as a skinny hardgainer, which is a different beast compared to building muscle as a more naturally bigger guy with more favourable genetics. You also ideally want someone more experienced to look over your program just in case, because there are various things you could miss or do wrong, such as creating an imbalanced program that will lead to posture issues, muscular imbalances, or worse (injuries).
Up for the challenge? To get started planning your own muscle building program from scratch check out our full introduction to building muscle mass as a hardgainer which covers some important basic principles, strategies, and tips.
Path B: Follow A Proven Time-Tested Bulking Program (Recommended for Most Beginners)
If instead of creating your own program from scratch you'd rather follow an already-made complete program that has been proven to work for others in your shoes (ie skinny hardgainers) this is the path for you. Spending the few bucks to get your hands on a well-crafted, respected program that's specifically been designed with hardgainers in mind can really save you time and effort having to design your own program, and it ensures you don't miss out on the various important details that makes a good program.
This is what I'd recommend if you're just starting out or quite inexperienced in the gym, as you'll get off on the right foot to kick-start great results. Although this is also a smart path for intermediates, because if you've been training for a while and not getting great results, getting your hands on a fresh new program created by a natural bodybuilding expert could be the game-changer you need to spark the best results of your life. Sean Nal's Body Transformation Blueprint Program is currently the most comprehensive, polished bulking program for beginners on the market, and is the program that actually helped me the most when I first started out as a newbie so I can't recommend it highly enough if you're new and wanting to all but guarantee great results over the next few months and beyond.
There are other good premade mass gain programs out there that were created specifically (and scientifically) for hardgainers, but there's also a lot of overpriced, overly-marketed and low-quality programs that you should avoid out there so be on your toes when looking for the right program to follow to avoid wasting your money. I've personally used a ton of different programs and I compiled the best, highest-quality ones that I can comfortably recommend in my list of the best comprehensive bulking programs for hardgainers here.
Path C: Find a (Good) In-Person Trainer
This isn't going to be for everyone as a quality trainer who knows what they're doing, and most importantly has got great results themselves (ideally starting out in similar shoes to you) can be quite costly. This is the path you should probably consider if you have any type of injury or health problem, or obviously if you have the money to burn and want someone to carefully monitor what you're doing in the gym and be able to give you specific feedback.
Whichever path you choose, never forget the single most important thing: never give up, and your success in transforming your body, strength, health, posture, and self-confidence will simply be a matter of when, not if. I'd say good luck, but if you really understand that last sentence, you're not gonna need it, friend. I wish you nothing but success.
Mad-Scientist of Hardgainer-to-Hero Transformations for 12+ Years
Last and Definitely Least: Certified Fitness Instructor (real-world experience > school)