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, intelligently-crafted (based on science-backed principles) and overall well-balanced strength training and nutrition plan to effetcively build muscle as a skinny guy (AKA a lifting hardgainer). When you have a great program used by other successful hardgainers that have gone before you, you can't go wrong if you simply stick with it.
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 fitness magazine, site, or forum (or asking your average run of the mill personal trainer at a local gym who is highly likely to be just repeating the same old ineffective, incomplete mainstream advice they learned in the classroom). No, instead, to create the best weight training and nutrition program for maximum results, you must be a little more selective in the program you choose to follow.
So, here are the 3 different paths you can take to guarantee you follow a finely-tuned, effective program that will leave nothing to chance and give you the best muscle building and strength gains of your life (again, if you simply execute and don't quit after a mere week 'cause you don't notice a change...).
See our flagship 7-step introductory guide to building muscle for beginners which covers all the basics you need to know, and guides you through designing and creating an effective program for muscle gain without getting fat. If you don't want to spend any money buying a pre-made program or finding a (good) personal trainer, and/or you're the DIY type who enjoys researching every little detail and knowing about how everything works and fits together, this is probably the path for you if you have the patience.
If you don't want to take the time to plan your own natural bodybuilding plan from scratch, following an already made, high-quality, credible program from a true expert in this field can save you a ton of time.
It can give you a great head start on your transformation journey and makes things a whole lot simpler as it's simply a matter of understanding what the program involves, how to do perform all the exercises, how to execute on the included meal plans (taking into account your own perferences as you'll want to tweak any pre-made diet plan for your own needs), and then simply executing week in and week out.
Sean Nal's popular hardgainer program is the one I currently recommend most, as it's the most complete, easy to follow program for beginners that I've seen (and I've experimented with many over the years). It's also the exact program that initially changed everything for me and I owe a fair part of my overall hardgainer success (going from 132lbs/60kg to 220lbs/100kg - mostly muscle) to being fortunate enough to having stumbled upon this program when I was struggling with gaining weight and building muscle. See my full review of Sean Nal's program here.
Path C: Find a (Good) In-Person Trainer
This isn't for everyone though 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 really consider if you have any type of serious injury though.
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)