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Collagen Protein vs Whey Protein: Which Protein is Better?

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If you’re looking for a protein supplement, you might be wondering whether you should be taking collagen protein vs whey protein.

Without a doubt, both are healthy ways of optimizing your protein intake. Collagen and whey both contain amino acids that are essential for life (*).

However, not all protein is equal, which means that one protein supplement is better than the other depending on your goals.

This article will show you which supplements to take for muscle synthesis, skin health, joint health, and reducing inflammation. It also answers common questions on collagen vs whey protein.

What is Collagen Protein?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It’s found in your skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones. The four common types of collagen are types I, II, III, and IV.

Collagen provides structural support to your tissues, aids in tissue repair, and helps with immune response (* , *).

As we age, our bodies tend to produce less collagen, which results in skin thinning, increased wrinkles, and diminished function of the sweat glands. In fact, research shows that after a person reaches the age of 20, collagen production in the skin decreases by 1% each year (*).

For this reason, older individuals turn to collagen supplements and creams for their anti-aging properties.

Additionally, certain foods contain collagen and help boost collagen protein production in the body. These include egg whites, bone broth, chicken, seafood, and berries.

Those who prefer to supplement with collagen orally can buy powders that may be consumed as a standalone drink or added to their coffee, smoothie, and dessert recipes.

In addition to improving the skin, numerous studies demonstrate that collagen peptides reduce activity-related joint pain, and increase lean body mass in elderly men and premenopausal women (*).

One study also found that combining collagen peptide supplementation with resistance training improves body composition and muscle strength in elderly males with sarcopenia or muscle loss (*).

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You may have heard of the benefits of collagen protein for the gut. Some health sources claim that collagen supports gut health by maintaining and repairing the intestinal mucosa, thereby reducing leaky gut (*).

What is Whey Protein?

Whey protein is one of the most studied supplements in the world. So, it’s not surprising that athletes, bodybuilders, and anyone who wants to improve their weight loss and body composition.

Fitness enthusiasts usually take whey protein after an exercise session to enhance recovery by minimizing muscle damage and increasing protein synthesis (*). It can also be a good option in between meals to control hunger and cravings, instead of a carb-heavy snack.

Whey protein supplement comes in three primary types which have nutritional differences.

They include:

  • Whey protein isolate: This type of whey is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates since it undergoes more processing. Also, it’s more expensive than whey concentrate.
  • When protein concentrate: Compared to isolate, concentrate undergoes less processing, has less protein, more carbohydrates, more fat, and more lactose. This makes it a less optimal choice for people who are lactose intolerant. However, it’s cheaper than isolate.
  • Whey protein hydrolysate: Research shows that hydrolyzed protein has a greater effect on insulin than whey protein isolate. It’s also easier to digest since its long protein chains have been pre-broken into shorter ones (* , *).

Perhaps the most interesting fact about whey protein is that it’s a complete protein source. Meaning, it contains all nine essential amino acids. The word “essential” means that your body cannot make these amino acids, so you need to obtain them from your diet.

Aside from whey protein, foods that contain all nine essential amino acids include beef, eggs, poultry, and fish.

Collagen Protein vs. Whey Protein

Between collagen vs whey protein, what’s the best option?

A lot of people tend to get confused about the two, which is why we’ve outlined some of their similarities and differences. Keep in mind that you can actually take both if you have specific needs that require getting more collagen or whey in your diet.

collagen vs. whey

Sourcing

The first thing you need to know is that while collagen and whey are proteins, they come from different sources.

Collagen protein powders are derived from animal sources such as the connective tissue (skin and bones) of beef, pork, chicken, duck, and fish.

Marine collagen (collagen derived from fish) is relatively new in the collagen supplement space. Whether you choose marine collagen or other collagen sources, you still reap the same benefits for your skin, bones, and joints. However, people with shellfish allergies would be better off taking bovine collagen instead.

Whey protein, on the other hand, is a result of manufacturing cheese, such as cheddar or Swiss cheese. Enzymes are added to milk, which consists of casein and whey. Milk then forms lumps or curds and whey (in liquid form). The curd is strained while the whey is filtered and spray dried to create a powder.

In a nutshell, collagen and whey are animal-derived proteins. (Also, while animal collagen is popular, some vegan-friendly products are available that claim to boost collagen production.)

Amino Acid Profile

When it comes to the amino acid profiles of collagen protein vs whey, whey is the obvious winner. Here’s why:

Whey has a very high nutritional value in that it provides 20 amino acids (essential and non-essential amino acids). Of these 20 amino acids, whey has all of the 9 essential amino acids — phenylalanine, valine, tryptophan, threonine, isoleucine, methionine, histidine, leucine, and lysine (*). 

On top of that, whey has a high concentration of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) which are valine, leucine, and isoleucine. Research shows that BCAAs have protein anabolic properties — meaning, they stimulate muscle growth (*). 

In addition, BCAA supplementation reduces fatigue during exercise (*). Leucine, in particular, is known for suppressing appetite and decreasing body fat (* , *).

Contrastingly, collagen has a low biological value, which means that it is missing at least one essential amino acid. Regardless of its source, collagen has only 19 amino acids. Of these 19 amino acids, it has only 8 essential amino acids. It has low BCAAs (*).

However, while collagen contains low amounts of amino acids for muscle synthesis, it has relatively high amounts of the amino acids glycine, proline, and arginine. It also provides high amounts of hydroxyproline, which is rarely found in other proteins (*). This unique amino acid profile makes collagen protein supplements beneficial for wound healing, bone health, protection against intestinal disorders (leaky gut, for example), and anti-aging effects (* , *, * ).

Molecule Size & Solubility

Collagen molecules have a triple helical protein structure comprising three chains with repeating sequences. For instance, type I collagen, which is the most abundant collagen that’s found in your skin, tendons, bones, and ligaments, and has a diameter of 1.6 nm and a length of about 300 nm (*).

Regarding solubility, collagen is insoluble; however, breaking it down into amino acids — as in the case of hydrolyzed collagen supplements — makes it dissolvable in water.

Whey protein has a complex structure with globular protein molecules (*). Whey molecules are small and one of their unique properties is that they’re soluble in water, which makes whey great for beverages (*).

One important thing to note is that whey is sensitive to heat and will denature when mixed with high temperature water[*]. Boiling water, for example. If you’ve tried adding whey protein powder directly to hot water, you may have noticed clumps forming.

Absorption

If you’re interested in taking a collagen supplement, choose hydrolyzed collagen. This is because hydrolyzed collagen, which is composed of small peptides, can be easily digested and absorbed in your body (*).

Some hydrolyzed collagen supplements have added vitamin C to boost collagen production in your body as well as healing, in case of an injury (*). This isn’t necessary to enjoy the benefits of collagen unless it’s your personal choice to supplement with vitamin C along with collagen.

There’s a reason why whey protein is a popular choice for building muscles, supporting weight loss, and promoting satiety — it’s a fast-acting protein.

Research shows that the estimated absorption rate of whey protein is 10 grams per hour. So, if you would consume a 20-gram dose of whey, it takes about 2 hours to completely absorb the entire dose (*).

Muscle Building

Between collagen peptides vs whey, whey is the best option for preserving and increasing muscle mass. Leucine, a branched-chain amino acid that directly affects protein synthesis in skeletal muscles, is higher in whey than in collagen (*).

It’s important to note that collagen is also found in skeletal muscle, therefore it can also support muscle mass. One study found that subjects over 65 years old who took collagen peptides in combination with resistance training were able to experience an increase in muscle mass and a decrease in fat mass (*).

But, overall, whey protein is better for muscle-building purposes, due to its BCAA (especially leucine) content.

Tendon and Ligament Building

Because collagen production declines as we age, our ligaments, tendons, and bones deteriorate too, making them brittle and less flexible. This affects your mobility and even increases your risk of getting injured (*).

If you were to choose between whey vs collagen for maintaining the integrity of our connective tissues, collagen protein is the better option.

Having low bone mineral density (BMD) means that you have fewer minerals in your bones. This puts you at risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures. A study found that supplementing with collagen increases bone mineral density and improves bone stability in post-menopausal women (*).

As regards to reducing inflammation, studies have found that taking collagen daily decreases joint stiffness and pain in people with osteoarthritis, as well as improving joint health and reducing pain that’s related to strenuous activity in athletes (* , *).

When it comes to whey protein, one study mentioned that it can improve tendon hypertrophy related to strength training (*).

Cost

If you want to get the best value for your money in reaching your protein goals, you’ll find plenty of affordable whey protein powders. Plus, whey is available in various flavors and types (isolate, concentrate, and hydrolysate).

But since collagen protein has become more popular these days, it’s not impossible to find collagen supplements that fit your budget and personal preferences (like the flavor and source of collagen).

Side Effects

Although collagen and whey have great benefits, certain protein supplements may cause side effects in some people who are sensitive.

For example, collagen made from marine sources may trigger fish and shellfish allergy symptoms like hives (urticaria), runny nose, stomach pain, coughing, and respiratory distress (*).

Meanwhile, whey protein isn’t ideal for people with dairy or milk allergies, since whey is a component of milk (*). Allergy symptoms can include runny nose, hives, digestive problems, and difficulty breathing (*).

The best way to not have these symptoms is to avoid collagen or whey protein if you have a history of allergy. Otherwise, look for supplement alternatives or follow a clean keto diet that includes protein-rich foods that do not contain these allergens. For instance, meat but not fish and shellfish (as is the case with fish allergies) or dairy-free foods like chicken, nuts, and seeds (for dairy allergies).

Frequently Asked Questions

Learn more answers to commonly asked questions on collagen protein vs whey protein:

Which is a better source of protein?

The short answer is that collagen and whey are equally beneficial for your body, although you need them for specific reasons. If your priority now is building muscle and optimizing fat loss, choose whey. But, if you want to maintain healthy bones and joints, get better skin, and support gut health, choose collagen.

Can I take whey and collagen together?

Yes, you can. Mixing whey and collagen powders is possible if you want to reap the benefits of both proteins. Or you may take whey protein in the morning after your workout and collagen protein in the evening or before bedtime.

How much collagen should I take daily?

If you’re taking a collagen supplement, you should be able to find the daily recommended dose on the packaging. Some collagen powders suggest consuming at least one serving per day to get 10 grams of hydrolyzed collagen and adding it to your beverage or recipes — like Perfect Keto’s collagen.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, your choice of protein supplement will depend on your unique goals.

For a complete protein source, muscle growth and maintenance, and satiety, whey is the superior choice. And of the three types of whey, isolate has more protein content and fewer carbohydrates, making it a wonderful supplemental protein for individuals on the ketogenic diet.

But if your goal is to boost your skin, bones, and ligaments, especially as you age, grab a collagen powder.

You may take both proteins for your overall health and performance — whether you’re an athlete, someone who exercises regularly, or simply wants to optimize their protein intake and get healthier no matter the age.

Additionally, those who are following a keto diet should pay attention to the number of carbs in a serving of whey or collagen protein. In that case, consider Perfect Keto’s 100% grass-fed keto-friendly hydrolyzed collagen powder and whey protein isolate with MCTs.

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