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 has 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, well-balanced and optmized training and nutrition plan for your specific goals (which if you're reading this is likely building muscle mass as a hardgainer/skinny guy).
To do that there's essentially 3 paths you can take, each with their pros and cons:
Path A: Design Your Own Mass Gain Program (cheapest)
Learn all the crucial basics, principles and over-arching strategies you need to know about planning the best well-balanced, science-based, all-natural mass building program for your specific goal and workout/diet preferences with our pillar 7-step comprehensive guide for beginner lifters and future heros. If you don't want to spend any money at all, this is how you do it, but be sure to thoroughly research all aspects of your DIY muscle gain program as an unbalanced/bro-science/straight-up-bad program can mean little to no gains at best, and bad posture, injuries and a whole lot of having to backtrack later at worst.
Path B: Follow A Proven Mass Gain Program ($)
To save time having to research and plan the best muscle building program for your specific goals as a hardgainer/skinny-guy/skinny-fat-dad-bod/whatever, there are indeed some excellent pre-made online programs out there that have stood the test of time in getting guys great results. It can give you a great head-on your transformation journey, and will make things simpler for you as it's simply a matter of executing a specific eating and workout program and not having to worry about getting all the little important details of your program on-point.
Sean Nal's hardgainer transformation program (you can see my full review and before/after pics using the program here) is the complete all-in-one online program I'd recommend to most people and especially beginners, and is the one I personally got the most out of when I first started.
Ignore any slick marketing, this guy's the real deal and easily one of the smartest hardgainers-turned-fitness-models I've come across online. Vince Delmonte's Mass Gain program comes in at a close second, who's another smart guy with the real-world results to back it up, who has another effective and proven step by step online program that's helped thousands of guys transform over a few months (rather than years).
Path C: Find a (Good) In-Person Trainer ($$$)
The most expensive option to achieve your dream physique, but if you have the money to spend (1 on 1 coaching can quickly add up in costs) then ensure you pick a trainer who understands the science behind muscle gain, fat burning, supplementation, nutrition, etc, and most importantly choose one who practices what they preach and has similar results to what you want. If you're a hardgainer, ideally you'll want a trainer who has been in your shoes before and started out as a skinny hardgainer themselves and managed to build muscle successfully, otherwise they may not understand the best course of action for you and give you unhelpful generic advice.
Whichever path you choose - stick with it for long enough, don't give up, and your success in transforming your body, strength, health, posture, and confidence will simply be a matter of when, not if. I'd say good luck, but you understand that last sentence I said you won't need it ;)
Mad-Scientist of Hardgainer-to-Hero Transformations for 12+ Years
Last and Definitely Least: Certified Fitness Instructor (real-world experience > school)