Complete Guide to Whey Protein for Bodybuilding

Looking for an efficient way to boost your muscle-building efforts, and think whey may be the way to go? You’re right.

Whey protein is an excellent way to supplement your fitness routine and help you achieve your desired results. It’s an incredibly versatile substance that can be used in many different ways.

This guide will explore how whey protein powder can help you reach your fitness goals. We’ll cover everything from its various benefits to how much you should take and when to take it. So whether you’re just starting or you’ve been working out for years, there’s something in this guide for everyone.

So, let’s get straight into it.

What is Whey Protein?

What is Whey Protein

Whey protein is a complete, high-quality protein derived from whey – the watery part of milk.

It is a fast-digesting protein that quickly supplies all nine essential amino acids to the body. The supply of all nine amino acids and other nutrients makes it ideal for lean muscle growth, post-workout recovery, and general health and wellness.

Chemical Formulation of Whey

For those who like to get technical, whey protein is a mixture of: 

  • Beta-lactoglobulin
  • Alpha-lactalbumin
  • bovine serum albumin
  • immunoglobulins

Is Whey Dairy?

Whey is a dairy product.

It is a by-product of cheese production made from the liquid that separates from the curds.

Whey is also that liquid you’d sometimes see at the top of yogurt or other dairy products.

What is Whey Protein Made Of?

As briefly mentioned, whey protein is made from whey.

The liquid is then pasteurized, concentrated, and dried to create whey protein powder.

Most of the lactose (milk sugar) is removed during production, making it suitable for lactose-intolerant people.

Whey protein with the least or no lactose is whey protein isolate.

What is Whey Protein Isolate?

Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) is a type of whey protein that has been further processed to remove more fat, cholesterol, and lactose. It is the purest and most concentrated form of whey protein available, containing at least 90% protein by weight.

The formulation of WPI is the same as whey protein concentrate, just filtered more precisely. The result is a product that is high in essential amino acids, low in carbohydrates and fat, and easy to digest.

What is Hydrolyzed Whey Protein?

Hydrolyzed whey is protein powder that is processed even further and even more concentrated than WPI. It also has more protein per serving, with 95-98% of each scoop containing pure protein content. Many people find that hydrolyzed whey works better for them if they get bloating or stomach upset from WPI or whey concentrate formulations.

However, the one downfall of hydrolyzed protein is it comes at a cost. It’s the most expensive type of whey. Also, some claim that hydrolyzing whey takes some of the nutrients out of it that are necessary, but that hasn’t been scientifically proven to be true.

Why Should You Take Protein Supplements?

You should take protein supplements because they’re a convenient way to increase your protein intake – especially if you have a busy lifestyle or have difficulty getting enough protein through your diet.

Protein is an essential nutrient that plays many vital roles in the body, including building and repairing tissues, producing hormones and enzymes, and helping to maintain a healthy immune system.

If you want a more direct answer, here are three:

To Increase Your Protein Intake

It takes a lot of work to hit your daily protein goals through food alone. Protein supplements are a convenient way to ensure you have the protein your body needs. This is vital for folks who engage in a lot of physical activity or want to build muscle.

To Support Muscle Growth and Repair

As gym-goers, bodybuilders, and athletes know, protein is essential for muscle growth and repair. Getting enough protein can help you build lean muscle tissue, recover from workouts faster, and maintain muscle mass as you age.

To Aid in Weight Management

Studies have found that high-protein diets can help with weight loss and maintenance, as protein can help increase feelings of fullness and reduce appetite. [1]

It does so by managing hormone levels in your body. More precisely, it facilitates the production of appetite-suppressing hormones such as GLP-1, peptide YY, and cholecystokinin while decreasing your levels of ghrelin – a hormone responsible for stimulating hunger. [2]

What Whey Protein Doesn’t Do: Replace Good Nutrition

With all said, it’s important to note that whey protein is a supplement. It won’t replace a healthy and balanced diet. You should still focus on eating plenty of whole foods and getting most of your macronutrients, minerals, and vitamins while supplementing with whey protein to hit your daily protein goals.

Benefits of Whey Protein

Benefits of Whey Protein

Whey protein is not only a great source of complete, high-quality, and easily digestible protein, but it also provides other essential nutrients that have many health benefits.

Common benefits of whey protein are: 

  • Improves muscle mass
  • Supports muscle recovery post-workout
  • Increases energy levels
  • Promotes weight loss
  • Helps reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Promotes healthy skin and hair growth
  • Along with many other benefits (there are too many to list)

Let’s take a deeper dive into the many benefits of whey. 

Improves Lean Muscle Gains

When it comes to lean muscle gains, whey protein has been found to enhance performance during resistance training by increasing strength, power, and endurance. Studies have shown that whey protein will increase lean body mass when added to a regular resistance training program.

High in BCAAs for Exercise Recovery

Whey is also rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which boost muscle growth and repair. BCAAs are rapidly absorbed into the body compared to other proteins and can help decrease exercise-induced muscle damage. This is also the reason why you don’t need separate BCAA supplementation if you’re taking protein, so stop wasting money.

High in Calcium to Improve Bone Health

In addition to its effects on muscle building and performance, whey protein has also been found to have positive effects on bone health due to its high calcium content. [3] Calcium is an essential element for bone formation and may help reduce the risk of bone fractures. WPI can be exceptionally high in calcium, providing up to 15% of your recommended daily calcium per serving.

Improves Glycemic Control and Insulin Sensitivity

In addition, research suggests that supplementing with whey protein may benefit those who have type 2 diabetes or are pre-diabetic as it improves glycemic control and insulin sensitivity.

Reduces Inflammation

Additionally, due to its anti-inflammatory properties, it could also reduce inflammation associated with chronic diseases such as arthritis or Crohn’s disease and aid in wound healing because of its high concentration of essential amino acids needed for tissue regeneration processes in the body. [4]

Whey Might Benefit Mental Health

Finally, whey protein may also benefit people struggling with anxiety or depression because it can lower cortisol levels and indirectly improve serotonin production.

Whey Protein Has Countless Benefits

As you can see, countless benefits are associated with taking a daily dose of whey protein. From sports performance enhancement to maintaining a healthy lifestyle – whey protein covers it all.

Will Whey Protein be Beneficial for Beginners?

Whey protein will be the most beneficial for those lacking enough protein in their daily diet, regardless of their status in the gym.

Coincidentally (or not), it is usually the beginners of the fitness journey who most need a nutritious and calorie-dense protein source that can easily be incorporated into their meals, so yes, whey protein will be beneficial for beginners.

But seasoned gym-goers should still take whey protein since it benefits everyone. 

Is Protein Powder Good for You?

Drawing from everything we’ve said so far, whey protein is incredibly good for you. It is an excellent source of complete, high-quality, and easily digestible protein that can also provide other essential nutrients and minerals. It will help you reach your fitness or lifestyle goals, whether your want to gain muscle, lose fat, or generally live a healthier life.

With that being said, there is such a thing as too much protein in the diet. So be sure to stay within your recommended daily intake when taking whey protein, but we’ll get to that shortly.

How to Use Protein Powder

How to Use Whey Protein Powder

There are about a million ways to incorporate protein powder into your daily routine.

Some are more traditional, like shakes and smoothies, while others are more creative. The simplest way is to mix it with water or plant-based milk and sip it like a regular shake. This is arguably the most convenient and effective way to increase your protein intake.

What you can also do is add it to food. You can create fun recipes like protein pancakes, cookies, waffles, or even ice cream. You can also sprinkle it over your regular meals, as long as you’re using flavorless powder, because we hardly doubt cookie dough would taste good on a steak. But in all honesty, we are not fans of this method.

Is it Better to Drink Whey Protein with Milk or Water?

One isn’t better than the other. They’re just different.

Water will provide a lighter texture and contain fewer calories, while milk provides a creamier texture and contains more nutrients and calories.

So, it’s really a matter of preference and your specific goals.

However, if you have a sensitive stomach, you may want to use water rather than milk because it is easier on your digestive system, but that’s about it.

When to Take Whey Protein

Many would argue that the best time to take whey protein is immediately after a workout. Several studies also back up this claim, as arming your body with amino acids right after intense exercise is incredibly beneficial for muscle growth and repair.

However, other studies suggest that timing doesn’t matter. If you stay within your daily protein goals, it won’t make much difference.

As long as you meet your daily protein needs and spread out your doses throughout the day, your body should be adequately supplied with the necessary building blocks for muscle growth and repair.

Is it Ok to Take Protein Powder on an Empty Stomach?

It is perfectly okay to take whey protein on an empty stomach. Just be wary if you have any underlying issues that would cause you to feel uncomfortable if you do so.

Some will argue that this is the best way to take protein powder, and others will claim the exact opposite, but the truth is, it doesn’t really matter.

As long as you don’t take too much protein in one sitting and keep up with your daily goals, it won’t make much difference whether you have something in your stomach beforehand.

How Much Protein Powder Should You Use Per Day?

In terms of general health standards, it’s recommended to get 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, which is equal to 0.36 grams per pound. However, this doesn’t hold true for optimal muscle growth.

For muscle growth, you should triple the dose and get 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day.

That said, this isn’t ironclad. You don’t have to follow this rule blindly.

Other factors can affect how much protein you need, like your gender, activity level, age, metabolic rate, etc.

There’s also a matter of how much protein per meal you need. Ideally (and anecdotally), you should have 20g-40g of protein per meal for best results. But then again, this was never proven, and how much protein you can absorb varies greatly from person to person. [5]

Therefore, it is best to consult a professional nutritionist or doctor to determine how much protein you need for optimal results.

Is it Ok to Have Whey Protein Every Day?

It is absolutely ok to have whey protein every day. In fact, it is recommended as long as it fits within your daily calorie and macronutrient goals and requirements.

Protein is not just a fitness feature but an essential macronutrient for our overall well-being, and quite frankly, most of us are not getting enough of it.

Can I Take Whey Protein on Days When I Don’t Workout?

Yes, you can, and you probably should.

As mentioned earlier, proteins are an essential piece of the puzzle for our overall well-being. Therefore, whey protein shakes should be part of your daily diet if you can’t satisfy your needs for protein from food alone, regardless of whether or not you are working out.

What Happens After You Stop Taking Whey Protein?

What Happens After You Stop Taking Whey Protein

Nothing really happens after you stop taking whey protein.

Simply put, your body won’t suddenly start losing muscle after you stop taking it.

All the gains you made while using it should remain for the most part unless you make drastic lifestyle changes like completely stopping training or suddenly eating a significantly worse diet. 

However, you could experience a decrease in overall muscle mass if you fail to hit your daily protein goals, but that’s true for anyone, regardless of whether or not they have taken whey protein.

As far as side effects go, there won’t be any.

Whey Protein Side Effects

There are little to no side effects associated with whey protein use. The only potential issue that could arise is an allergy or intolerance to the protein itself, but this is not something we often see.

That said, if high doses of whey protein are taken, one could experience:

  • Upset stomach
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Acne
  • Cramps
  • Fatigue

As always, if you experience any adverse reactions after taking whey protein, it is best to consult your doctor.

Who Should Not Take Whey?

The only people that should not take whey are those who are allergic or intolerant to it and vegans.

Those allergic or intolerant to whey will experience adverse reactions after taking it and should avoid whey protein.

Vegans, on the other hand, should avoid it because whey protein is derived from milk.

Thankfully, there are some vegan alternatives we’ll discuss later.

Does Whey Protein Make You Gain Weight?

Does Whey Protein Make You Gain Weight

Yes, whey protein can make you gain weight. But don’t stress – whey protein won’t automatically make you gain weight from taking it alone.

Whether you’re bulking up or slimming down, it all comes down to calories.

It’s rather simple, really. If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight and vice versa.

So, how does whey protein fit into this equation?

Let’s assume you’re taking 50 grams of lean whey protein daily. That is 200 extra calories from protein alone. Not a protein shake – just lean protein in that 30-gram scoop you’re about to use for your shake. The remaining five grams could be carbs, fats, minerals, or vitamins. If it’s a gram of fat and a gram of carbs, that’s additional 13 calories per serving or 26 calories per day.

Also, if you’re mixing the whey powder with milk, that’s another 100-120 calories per shake, so it’s about 500 extra calories a day from two shakes.

There are also protein powders with many more calories per scoop, leading to an even greater increase in calories, but we’ll tackle those in a bit.

Anyway, if you add that to your diet and end up in a caloric surplus, you’ll gain weight.

But you’ll also lose weight if that ends up being fewer calories than you burn.

The great thing is, if you’re smart about this and you maintain your caloric surplus or deficit within a reasonable range (10% above or below maintenance), you can ensure that the weight you’re gaining is lean muscle, not body fat.

What is Weight Gainer Protein?

Weight gainer protein, also known as a mass gainer, is a type of protein powder specifically designed for those looking to gain weight.

It is a very high-calorie powder with a large amount of protein, carbs, and fats (mostly carbs), designed to help you meet your caloric goals.

A WPI shake made with water contains about 100-150 calories.

Weight gainers, however, range from 500-800 calories per serving, though some even go up to 1000+ calories per serving.

These are usually utilized by those who have difficulty gaining weight or are trying to gain a lot of mass. They could also be used as fuel for those who burn a tremendous amount of calories in a day – like professional athletes, marathon runners, strongmen, etc.

Is Whey Protein Good for Weight Loss?

Is Whey Protein Good for Weight Loss

Yes, whey protein is good for weight loss. In fact, it’s essential.

In order to preserve muscle mass on a calorie-restricted diet, you need to increase your protein intake to feed those hungry muscles.

Since you have to both exercise and eat fewer calories to lose weight efficiently, you must understand the following.

As we know, proteins are the primary structural component of muscle tissue. When you work out, you create tiny tears in your muscle fibers, which your body repairs and rebuilds, making them bigger and stronger. This process is called muscle protein synthesis and requires a mighty supply of amino acids – building blocks of protein.

But protein is also utilized in other places.

Therefore, if you do not consume enough protein, your body may not have the necessary building blocks to repair and rebuild your muscles and keep everything else in check.

So, it’s not a matter of your body “burning muscle” instead of fat. That rarely happens.

It’s just a matter of giving your body enough protein to retain the muscle mass you currently have and use the remaining protein for other functions (making enzymes, hormones, etc.).

If you don’t do that, your body will prioritize the latter, and you’ll lose muscle as well as fat.

Best Whey Protein Supplements

With all that out of the way – let’s check out some great whey protein powders.

Best Natural Whey Protein 

Transparent Labs 100% Grass-Fed Whey
Transparent Labs Whey Protein

With 28 grams of protein per scoop, Transparent Labs’ Whey Isolate is one of the purest and most natural forms of whey protein you can get at just 120 calories per scoop.

It’s made with hormone-free, non-GMO grass-fed cows’ milk, and it’s also free of any artificial sweeteners or dyes.

It’s also super low in calories, as it contains 0 grams of fat and just 1 gram of carbs.

Best Whey Protein You Can Buy in Bulk

MyProtein Impact Whey
MyProtein Whey Protein Isolate

If you like the best bang for your buck, MyProtein’s Impact Whey is one of the top contenders.

It contains 21 grams of protein per scoop and just 103 calories with just 1 gram of carbs and fats.

Plus, they have a wide range of flavors that many adore, so you probably won’t regret buying a 5-pound bag of Cookies and Cream whey protein.

Best Weight Gainer Protein

Transparent Labs Mass Gainer
Transparent Labs Weight Gainer Whey Protein

With 53 grams of protein and staggering 790 calories per serving, this is one of the best mass gainers you can get.

It’s made with 100% grass-fed whey concentrate and contains a mighty mix of 114 grams of carbs (only 17 grams of sugars) and fats (0 g trans fats), making it the perfect pre and post-workout shake for those looking to bulk up quickly.

Best Whey Protein for Weight Loss

Isopure Whey Protein Isolate
Isopure Whey Protein Isolate

At just 100 calories per serving, Isopure’s Whey Protein Isolate is one of the leanest protein powders out there without sacrificing protein content. In fact, a scoop of Isopure’s powder contains 25 grams of protein, which is a substantial amount. Also, 0 grams of both carbs and fats.

Best Cheap Protein Powder

Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey

While not as affordable as MyProtein’s Impact Whey, Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard still offers fantastic value for the money. A scoop contains 24 grams of protein with just a gram of carbs and fats.

Plus, it has a wide range of delicious flavors that will make your shake taste amazing.

Alternatives to Whey Protein

If you’d rather try something else or you just want to know what other options are out there, here are some alternatives to whey protein:

  • Beef Protein
  • Casein Protein
  • Collagen Protein
  • Egg White Protein
  • Brown Rice Protein
  • Hemp Protein
  • Pea Protein
  • Soy Protein

Most of these are more or less decent for everyday use. If you want the best vegan protein as an alternative to whey, choosing a pea or soy protein will be the way to go. For more information, you can read our full article on the best whey protein alternatives

Alternatives to Protein Powder

There are many other options to get extra protein that don’t involve drinking 16 ounces of protein shakes a day. Protein bars, chips, cereals, and cookies are just a few examples of snacks that can provide you with quality protein.

Most gym-goers usually stick to protein bars as they’re easy to carry around and eat on the go. Just make sure you check the ingredient list carefully, as some bars may be packed with sugar, which could be an issue if you’re on a strict diet or in a caloric deficit.

The same goes for cereals. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to end up with a breakfast full of unnecessary carbs.

Get Protein From Real Foods

Finally, you ought to get your protein from real food sources. Meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and nuts are all great sources of quality protein – and they’re much healthier and more satisfying than protein shakes.

A juicy salmon filet or chicken breast is much more delicious and nutrient-dense than protein powder, so please, don’t neglect your diet. It’s beyond essential.

Extra benefits such as essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals come along with these whole foods, so make sure you take that into account when structuring your diet and fitness plan.

As we’ve said earlier, whey protein is a supplement – not a replacement for your meal. It could be a snack, but it certainly couldn’t replace a steak with some grilled veggies and steamed rice.


There you have it.

We’ve covered all grounds when it comes to whey protein – from what it is and how it works to the best alternatives out there.

Ultimately, all that’s left is for you to decide which fits your needs best.

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