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Whey vs. Collagen: Health Benefits and How to Choose

Whey protein is a staple when it comes to fitness and health, but there’s plenty of buzz these days about collagen protein.

How do these two protein powders compare, and is collagen better than whey?

Read on to learn the pros and cons of whey vs. collagen supplements, how they work, and which one’s the best choice for your goals and lifestyle.

What is Whey Protein?

Whey protein is a blend of proteins derived from whey, a watery byproduct of cheese production.

High-quality protein powders made from whey have a mild, milky taste. Many people find that grass-fed whey protein tastes better.

As a dietary supplement, whey protein is sold in both concentrate and isolate forms.

Whey concentrate contains more leftover fat, cholesterol, and lactose than the isolate form. As a result, whey protein isolate contains more protein per serving than whey concentrate.

The main proteins in whey are called albumins and globulins. These proteins contain up to 20 amino acids, including essential amino acids (EAAs) and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)[*].

Because whey protein is a complete protein (it contains all the essential amino acids), it’s considered superior to other protein supplements.

The most common uses of whey protein are as a meal replacement, post-workout and recovery drink, and for adding more protein to cooked or baked foods.

Studies show that whey protein can decrease your appetite, boost muscle protein synthesis, improve recovery from exercise, and help you maintain lean muscle during fat loss[*][*][*][*][*][*].

The most common side-effects from consuming whey protein are nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea, probably due to severe lactose intolerance.

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Overall, whey protein is safe, but if you have lactose intolerance, you should avoid whey concentrate. However, some people with lactose intolerance can still drink whey isolate because there’s so little lactose left[*].

What is Collagen?

Collagen is another protein made predominantly of the amino acids glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine — a very different amino acid makeup than whey.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It gives shape and strength to your tendons, ligaments, and skin.

This protein contains 19 amino acids but has 10 to 20 times more glycine and proline than other proteins[*].

Hydrolyzed collagen from animal bones, tendons, and skin is available as a protein supplement. Your body digests this form of collagen quickly, then shuttles it to your skin, bones, and connective tissues for use[*].

People use collagen protein supplements to improve their skin quality, heal their joints, decrease inflammation, and increase their bone density.

Studies show that collagen is effective for increasing skin hydration and slowing skin aging, decreasing joint pain in athletes, enhancing bone metabolism, and helping with osteoarthritis symptoms[*][*][*][*][*]. It can also reduce your appetite[*].

Additionally, if you have ulcerative colitis, collagen may help heal your gut[*].

Side effects from collagen protein are rare but can include unpleasant taste, hypersensitivity (with some animal sources, in sensitive individuals), and constipation.

Some people choose to get their collagen protein from bone broth. Collagen can and does seep into bone broth from high-quality animal bones. However, it’s impossible to know the exact amount of each amino acid you’re getting.

Supplementation in addition to bone broth is a better approach if you want more collagen in your diet.

Whey vs. Collagen: How They’re Similar

While they are not interchangeable, whey protein and collagen protein do have a few similarities.

Studies show that both types of protein can reduce your appetite[*][*]. These effects may be due to the release of GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide 1), which slows gastric emptying and inhibits food intake[*][*][*][*].

There’s also evidence that whey and collagen can both improve your bone health, although the evidence is stronger for collagen protein[*][*][*].

Whey vs. Collagen: How They’re Different and Why You Need Both

Whey protein and collagen protein are more different than similar. Your selection and dosage will depend primarily on your goals, lifestyle, and health history.

Here are ways that whey and collagen are different and why you might need both.

#1: Different Amino Acid Profiles

Unlike collagen, whey protein is a complete protein source. Whereas whey includes 20 amino acids and all nine essential amino acids, collagen protein has 19 amino acids and eight of the nine essential amino acids[*][*].

And while whey protein offers a high concentration of BCAAs, the main components of collagen are glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline.

#2: Whey is Better For Muscle Building

Whey and collagen can both help you build muscle when paired with strength training, but whey protein causes a higher increase in markers of protein synthesis[*][*]. Researchers think that’s due to the greater concentration of leucine in whey.

#3: Both Are Good For Aging, But For Different Reasons

When it comes to age-related muscle-wasting, whey and collagen protein are both beneficial, but because senior citizens lose a lot of collagen, collagen protein appears to work better for older adults[*].

#4: Collagen May Reduce Inflammation

Multiple studies show that hydrolyzed collagen can reduce inflammation and pain and accelerate healing in conditions like exercise-related joint pain, osteoarthritis, and tendinopathy [*][*][*]. These anti-inflammatory effects may be due to its high glycine content[*].

#5: Collagen is Great For Your Skin

Another standout feature of collagen protein is that it helps your skin stay moisturized and may result in slower skin aging[*]. One study suggests it can even improve the appearance of cellulite[*].

#6: Collagen May Help Improve Insulin Sensitivity and Heal Your Gut

Collagen appears to improve insulin sensitivity through the release of GLP-1[*][*][*][*].

Glycine, one of the primary amino acids in collagen, can improve vascular health, stabilize platelets, and reverse the damaging effects of fructose[*].

If you have ulcerative colitis, leaky gut, or stomach problems, you can use collagen protein to heal your gut lining and improve digestion[*][*].

Can Collagen Replace Your Whey Protein Powder?

In a word: no.

Collagen can’t replace your whey protein powder. They’re both protein supplements, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

Some people may benefit more from either collagen or whey, but combining them is a good strategy, depending on your goals and activity level.

If your goal is lean muscle growth or increasing bone density, a whey protein shake is your best bet because it contains all nine essential amino acids plus more BCAAs than collagen.

To recover from an injury, age more gracefully, heal your gut lining or reduce pain and inflammation, collagen is the clear winner.

That’s why you might want to take a combination of both.

Adding whey protein powder along with a scoop of collagen protein to your protein shake will support more lean muscle mass, better bone density, and increase collagen production, which is great news for your skin, joints, tendons, and ligaments.

Adequate protein intake, along with a healthy diet and resistance training, can help with everything from gut health to muscle mass, to better skin elasticity and joint health.

So, grab your whey and collagen protein powders and enjoy your shakes before or after your next workout, as a meal replacement, or midday snack.


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