In this post, we will compare collagen vs. whey protein to determine which one is right for you. Both collagen and whey supplements have become popular supplement choices – but you might be surprised to find out that they are quite different.
It’s no secret that eating a diet high in protein can be beneficial for our overall health and fitness goals. Some may find it difficult to reach their recommended daily allowance through meals alone, turning to protein supplementation for a boost.
With the vast number of different protein powders out there, it can be confusing trying to figure out which one to take. Whey protein and its’ benefits have been widely researched – but lately it seems collagen is reigning supreme in the supplement market. Does collagen deserve the hype? Let’s discuss!
This post does contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I receive a small compensation if a purchase is made.
Understanding Collagen Protein
What is Collagen?
Collagen is a protein found in the skin, muscles, bones, ligaments, and blood. As we get older, our collagen production decreases. This leads to decreased skin elasticity, and fine lines and wrinkles emerge. Factors such a sunlight, smoking, environmental pollution, alcohol abuse, and nutrient deficiency can accelerate the process (1).
Most supplements contain a digestible form of collagen like collagen peptides or a hydrolyzed form of collagen. They are usually made from the tissues of cows, pigs, chickens or fish.
There are also vegan collagen powders made of bacteria and yeast, but it is not understood if these offer the same benefits as collagen from animal sources.
Can We Consume Collagen From Foods?
Collagen is produced by the amino acids glycine, proline and lysine. Consuming foods likes fruits, vegetables, beef, chicken, fish, eggs and bone broth or other foods that contain these amino acids can boost collagen synthesis.
What Are the Benefits of Consuming Collagen?
It’s important to note that scientific research is lacking in regards to the benefits of collagen supplementation.
However, some studies have shown these potential benefits:
- Improved skin hydration and elasticity, slowing down formation of wrinkles (2).
- Decreased hair thinning and increased growth (3).
- Faster nail growth and reduction of brittle nails (4).
- Increase bone density (5).
- May increase muscle strength and mass (6).
Understanding Whey Protein
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is a protein made from whey, the watery portion of milk after it has been curdled and strained.
You can typically buy it as whey isolate, concentrate or hydrolysate. The most common form is whey protein concentrate, while isolate contains less lactose. Whey hydrolysate has a pre-digested form of protein and is absorbed more quickly.
What Are the Benefits of Whey Protein?
- Enhances muscle protein synthesis and improves post-workout recovery (7, 8).
- Fast absorption rate: whey is considered a “fast-acting” protein – meaning it is absorbed quickly. Its’ absorption rate has been estimated to be 10 grams per hour. Compare that to an egg, which is about 3 grams per hour (9).
- High biological value: whey protein contains all of the essential amino acids, and is one of the best sources of dietary protein.
- May increase fat loss and spare lean muscle tissue (10).
Comparing Collagen vs. Whey Protein
Amino Acid Profile and Protein Content
Whey protein has the highest biological value, which is the concentration of essential amino acids. They are considered essential because our body does not make them, and they are needed to perform many of the body’s vital functions.
Both collagen and whey protein supplements typically contain at least 18 grams of protein per serving.
However, whey protein reigns supreme in terms of protein quality.
Body Composition Changes
A study published in 2019 concluded that whey protein concentrate has the potential to reduce body fat, food intake, and improve secretion of hormones in overweight women.
Post-Workout Muscle Gains
Collagen contains lower amounts of branch chain amino acids, which play an important role in building and repairing muscles.
The number one selling protein powder for post-workout and recovery product on Amazon is Vital Protein Collagen Peptides. However, collagen protein isn’t considered as effective as whey protein in regards to building muscle and strength.
Whey protein is a much better source of the amino acids which are effective in post-workout recovery and gains. More research is necessary to determine collagen’s potential to boost muscle mass.
Side Effects: Collagen vs. Whey Protein
Both collagen and whey protein are considered safe – with side effects being very rare.
Some people have complained of mild side effects such as heartburn, bloating and feelings of fullness when consuming collagen supplements.
Whey protein may cause stomach cramps, increased bowel movement, and bloating when taken in high doses. This is typically due to a lactose intolerance.
Food allergies must be considered when taking either of these supplements.
Supplements Are Not Highly Regulated
It’s important to understand that neither whey or collagen supplements are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, their safety and efficacy have not been verified.
Therefore, it is recommended to select supplements that have been third-party tested. This means that an unrelated, third-party organization performs product testing to confirm that the actual contents of the supplement product match what is on the label.
They also check to make sure there are no unlisted ingredients or potentially harmful levels of impurities.
Supplement labels might say “NSF”, or “USP”, or “Informed Sport”, which just specifies the third-party that has reviewed the product.
Comparing Popular Third-Party Tested Collagen Supplements
Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides Powder: 20 grams of collagen peptides and 18 grams of protein per serving. Made without gluten and dairy. 4.6 rating on Amazon. Unflavored and can be added to water, smoothies, soup, etc.
Physician’s CHOICE Collagen Peptides Powder: 7 grams of hydrolyzed grass-fed bovine collagen and 6 grams of protein per serving. This powder comes in vanilla, chocolate, and unflavored. It has a 4.3 rating on Amazon. This supplement claims it has enhanced absorption due to the addition of digestive enzymes.
My Opinion: Vital Protein has the NSF certification on the label, ensuring it has been third-party tested. While Physician’s Choice claims it has used a third-party, there is no USP or NSF certification. This brand also markets the product as “post-workout and recovery”, which is misleading after reviewing the research on collagen. It also does not contain much protein compared to other brands.
For more information on collagen supplements, Very Well Health breaks down the top 10 in this article.
Comparing Popular Third-Party Tested Whey Protein Supplements
Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Protein Powder: 30 grams of protein per scoop, with 12 branch chain amino acid’s for muscle recovery. NSF certification. Comes in a variety of flavors with a 4.5 rating on Amazon. The downside? It contains sucralose (or Splenda) as the sweetener. NOW Sports Whey Protein Isolate: Verified through Informed Sport, one scoop provides 25 grams of protein. The ingredient list is short, and no artificial sweeteners are used.
My opinion: Both options provide large amounts of high quality whey protein, NOW Sports might be a better choice for those wishing to stay away from artificial sweeteners.
Choosing the Right Fit For You
Collagen vs. whey protein: figuring out your goals will help to determine which one is right for you.
Are your goals building muscle, gaining strength, or increasing your protein intake? Then collagen is likely not the best choice.
If you’re a woman in your 30’s or 40’s looking to improve your skin, hair and nails then it could be a great option. There are thousands of reviews with people raving about their results after taking collagen for just a few weeks.
You could also try a combination approach: whey protein powder for your fitness goals, and collagen as a supplement for its’ skin and hair benefits.
However, if you’re an evidence-based person, I would recommend waiting to spend the money on collagen supplements until more research verifies its’ claims.
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet can also provide the amino acids to synthesize collagen in the body.