Whey protein is a longtime staple in the world of fitness. Collagen has recently exploded in popularity, appealing to people in and out of the fitness space.
If you’re on the fence about which supplement to take, this article will help you gain an understanding of collagen and whey proteins.
We’ll discuss their pros and cons, and ultimately help you decide which one, or if both, is the best option for you.
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey protein is likely the most common and abundant type of protein powder you’ll see on the market.
Made from dairy, whey is separated from milk during the cheese-making process before it’s pasteurized and dried into a powder.
The Pros of Whey
These are some of the benefits of using whey protein.
It’s a Complete Protein
Whey contains all nine essential amino acids, which makes it more readily available for functions like muscle building. That's a major component to consider.
Your Body Absorbs Whey Quickly
Whey is great for post-workout recovery because your body can digest and absorb it quickly compared to other types of protein.
It’s Less Expensive than Other Proteins
Compared to egg white protein and plant-based proteins, whey is relatively inexpensive.
It’s Ideal for Muscle Building
Whey is rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are particularly helpful for muscle building.
Cons of Whey
Here are the most common reasons some people choose not to use whey protein.
It May Cause Digestive Issues.
Most types of whey protein contain lactose, which a lot of people are sensitive to. This might cause digestive issues like bloating and an upset stomach.
It May Cause Acne.
Dairy is linked to acne, and the same link has been reported for some people who take whey protein.
It Has a Distinct Flavor.
Many people don’t like the aftertaste of whey. Some brands try to cover the taste with artificial flavors or sweeteners, but this isn’t always ideal either.
What is Collagen Protein?
Collagen is a specific group of proteins known for its role in connective tissue. Although the body can produce collagen on its own, collagen protein production slows down with age.
Certain lifestyle factors like a diet high in sugar and processed foods, UV sunlight exposure, and smoking damage collagen fibers in the body.
Collagen supplements have become popular mostly for skin joint health, specifically related to signs of aging.
Collagen supplements are often made from animal tissues. Some people prefer to drink bone broth to boost collagen production.
Pros of Collagen Peptides
Here are some of the health benefits of collagen.
Taking a collagen supplement may help to alleviate joint pain and inflammation.
Collagen peptides help to increase skin elasticity. This can help prevent and decrease signs of aging, like wrinkles. Multiple studies have shown that taking collagen supplements can improve skin elasticity and hydration, but there’s plenty of room for more research.
Collagen peptides are important for bone structure too. Taking a fast-absorbing hydrolyzed collagen powder can prevent loss of bone density that commonly occurs with age.
Collagen protein supports the integrity of the cells that line the gut. Improved structure here helps with permeability, which is important for gut health as a whole. More collagen intake leads to more resources for your body to heal itself.
Cons of Collagen Supplements
Here are some reasons why collagen may not be for you.
Collagen Peptides are Not a Complete Protein
Collagen peptides lack tryptophan, which is one of the nine essential amino acids required to be considered “complete.” Hydrolyzed collagen's amino acid profile is also heavily weighted in 3 specific amino acids: proline, hydroxyproline, and glycine.
Original Collagen Peptides are Animal-Based
All of actual collagen supplements are derived from animal sources, like whey.
Any vegan collagen products you see on the market are simply nutrients that support natural collagen production within your body, rather than actual collagen.
Not as Much Evidence Available
There isn't as much research available on the health benefits of collagen protein vs whey protein.
Why is Collagen Important
Collagen protein is the most abundant protein type in the body, making up over 30% of your total body protein.
There are several types, but their most important role is structure. Collagen protein provides structure in your skin, hair, skeletal muscle, smooth muscle, connective tissues, and bones.
Since collagen production slows as a part of aging (this can happen as early as your 20’s), finding ways to support natural production, preserve the collagen you have, or supplement collagen can impact many downsides of aging.
Some of these are purely for vanity, while others affect wellness and function.
Collagen Peptides vs. Whey: Which Protein is Right for You?
Let’s do a little collagen vs. whey showdown, based on some common desired outcomes of using one or both supplements.
Since whey is a complete protein, it has all of the amino acids your body needs ready to get to work. This makes it slightly more bioavailable than collagen.
Is Collagen or Whey Better for Building Muscle?
Both collagen and whey contribute to your overall protein intake that will support muscle building. However, whey is a complete protein and a great source of BCAAs, which help stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
Whey provides important amino acids for muscle protein synthesis, which is important for injury recovery. Collagen supplements provide not only protein, but specific amino acids that may help repair joint or tissue injuries.
Bone and Joint Health
Overall protein intake is important for bone health, but collagen protein is specifically important for bone density. Likewise, collagen is the most prominent type of protein in the joints.
Amino Acids Profile
If you're looking for the most amino acids, whey is the best option. If you're looking for a better source of BCAAs, whey wins again. If you're looking for the amino acids you need to support collagen production and to relieve joint pain or to support healthy skin, go for collagen protein.
Winner: It depends
Collagen peptides provide structure and improves the permeability of the intestinal lining. Collagen supplements are also a little easier on the digestive system than whey for most people.
Like the gut, collagen is the type of structural protein in human skin. It improves elasticity and hydration, and helps with wound healing.
Can You Count Collagen Towards Your Daily Protein Macros?
Some people prefer to count collagen towards their total protein macro, and some people don’t. If this is confusing to you, you’re not alone! A quick Google search likely leads to conflicting advice.
Here are the facts. Collagen supplements provide calories, which means it's giving your body energy that should be allocated somewhere in your macros. Also, collagen does provide protein, and even shows this on a nutrition label.
The reason why some people don't count some collagen forms towards their protein macros is because collagen is not technically a “complete” protein. It lacks an essential amino acid and is low in others compared to complete protein sources.
Technically this is no different than most plant-based protein sources, which are also considered incomplete.
The most important thing is to avoid getting your protein solely from collagen peptides.
As long as you’re eating additional sources of protein, you can be sure that you’re getting all of the essential amino acids necessary for protein to function in the body. And in that case, there’s no reason not to count collagen towards your protein goal.
When to Take a Collagen vs. Whey Protein?
When you take collagen vs. whey protein depends on your goals and your routine. Most people prefer to take collagen hydrolysate first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, as this could help with absorption. Since it's flavorless and usually mixes easily into hot or cold beverages, it's common to mix hydrolyzed collagen peptides into coffee or smoothies.
Whey is a little more dependent on your goals. If you’re just looking to increase your overall protein intake, you can take it any time. Some people like to mix it into morning smoothies or oatmeal, or a smoothie or basic shake as an afternoon snack.
For muscle building, it’s often best to take whey protein post-workout. This helps with recovery and to optimize the process of repairing and building muscle tissue.
Can You Mix Collagen with Whey Protein?
Yes! They may seem like completely different supplements, but when it all comes down to it, they’re both protein. However, most people who take both take them at different times in the day to spread out protein intake and/or avoid an upset stomach.
Talk to your medical provider before you make a final decision on taking supplements like collagen protein vs. whey protein to ensure you're making the safest choice for your needs.