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 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.
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 make its own, collagen production slows down with age.
Certain lifestyle factors like a diet high in sugar and processed foods, UV sunlight exposure, and smoking damage collagen in the body.
Collagen supplements have become popular mostly for skin joint health, specifically related to signs of aging.
Supplemental collagen is often made from animal tissues. Some people prefer to drink bone broth to boost collagen.
Pros of Collagen
Here are some of the benefits of collagen.
Taking a collagen supplement may help to alleviate joint pain and inflammation.
Collagen helps to increase elasticity in the skin. This can help prevent and decrease signs of aging, like wrinkles. Multiple studies have shown that taking a collagen supplement can improve skin elasticity and hydration, but there’s plenty of room for more research.
Collagen is important for bone structure too.Taking collagen can prevent loss of bone density that commonly occurs with age.
Collagen 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.
Cons of Collagen
Here are some reasons why collagen may not be for you.
Not a Complete Protein
Collagen lacks tryptophan, which is one of the nine essential amino acids required to be considered “complete.” Collagen’s amino acid profile is also heavily weighted in 3 specific amino acids: proline, hydroxyproline, and glycine.
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 benefits of collagen as whey protein.
Why is Collagen Important
Collagen is the most abundant type of protein in the body, making up over 30% of your total body protein.
There are several types, but their most important role is structure. Collagen 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 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 provides 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 is specifically important for bone density. Likewise, collagen is the most prominent type of protein in the joints.
Amino Acid 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 things like joint or skin health, go for collagen.
Winner: It depends
Collagen provides structure and improves the permeability of the intestinal lining. Supplemental collagen is also a little easier on the digestive system than whey for most people.
Like the gut, collagen is the type of protein that provides structure in the 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 provides 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 collagen 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 from solely collagen.
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 Collagen vs. Whey Protein?
When you take collagen vs. whey protein depends on your goals and your routine. Most people prefer to take collagen 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 collagen 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 collagen protein vs. whey protein to ensure you’re making the safest choice for your needs.