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Many years ago, I thought protein powder was just that—powdered protein. Now, with an education in nutrition and an interest in building muscle, I’ve found not all protein powders are the same. Supplement shops offer whey, casein, soy, pea, and collagen supplements, and if you don’t know the difference between them, this can cause some confusion. In this article, we’ll compare collagen protein vs whey protein to determine if either of these choices suits your health and wellness needs. 

I’ll explore similarities, differences, benefits, and intended users of each product. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’ll also speak to the nutritional benefits of the different types of protein so you can understand just how it may impact your overall wellbeing and fitness. 

Medical disclaimer: This article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. For health advice, contact a licensed healthcare provider. 

What is Collagen Protein?

Collagen protein is the most abundant protein in the human body, creating structure for many bodily tissues, including ligaments, tendons, skin, and muscles. According to the Cleveland Clinic1, it makes up approximately 30% of the total protein in the body. 

The body naturally makes collagen using amino acids, but as you age, collagen production declines. Therefore, incorporating a collagen supplement into your routine may provide advantages that keep you feeling and looking better. Collagen in supplements is mainly derived from cow or fish connective tissues, such as bones, skin, and cartilage.

Best Collagen Supplements

Researchers2 have identified 29 different types of collagen that offer varying health benefits. Of those, only a few are commonly used in dietary supplements: 

  • Type I: Makes up 90% of the body’s total collagen1. Provides structure to skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments
  • Type II: Provides joint support
  • Type III: Found in connective tissues, bones, and skin 
  • Type IV: Found in layers of the skin
  • Type V: Found in the corneas of the eyes, skin, and hair

Depending on the purpose of the supplement, these types are often combined to offer specific benefits of collagen protein powder. That said, collagen protein is popular for its ability to support bone, hair, nail, joint, and skin health. It may be of particular interest to individuals wanting to reduce wrinkles, improve skin elasticity, strengthen bone density, and decrease joint pain.

Collagen can’t be absorbed in its whole form and must be broken down into smaller peptides or amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Collagen protein powder is typically sold as collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen for easy digestion.

Unlike many other types of protein powders, collagen doesn’t contain all nine essential amino acids and, therefore, isn’t considered a complete protein. It’s lacking tryptophan, an amino acid the body must consume because it doesn’t synthesize it on its own. Because collagen isn’t a complete protein, it’s generally not used solely for the purpose of muscle building. 

RELATED: Best Protein Powder for Muscle Gain

What is Whey Protein?

Whey protein is one of two protein families (the other being casein) found in dairy milk. Whey is a byproduct of cheese-making. Specifically, it’s the liquid part of milk separated during the cheese-making process. It undergoes processing to remove carbohydrates, fat, and water, leaving behind mostly protein. This protein concentrate is then dried into a powder.

Whey comprises several proteins that help support a healthy immune system3 and protect against disease, including beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, bovine serum albumin, and immunoglobulins. 

RELATED: What is Whey Protein

whey protein powders

Recognized as a complete protein, whey contains all nine essential amino acids, including the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Notably, leucine, a BCAA found in higher concentrations in whey when compared to other protein powders, plays a crucial role in activating muscle protein synthesis4, which is needed for muscle growth. 

Furthermore, whey is categorized as a “fast” protein because of its rapid absorption rate, meaning the amino acids in whey become available to the body and muscles very quickly after ingestion. Many bodybuilders take whey protein after a workout to give their muscles a quick supply of amino acids for optimal recovery and growth. 

Side-By-Side Comparison

Here, we compare a 20-gram serving of collagen protein vs a 20-gram serving of whey protein.

Collagen ProteinWhey Protein
Calories71 kcal71 kcal
Protein17 grams16 grams
Carbs0 grams 2-3 grams
Fat0 grams<1 gram
Fiber0 grams<1 gram
Iron0 milligrams<1 milligram
Calcium41 milligrams79 milligrams

Key Similarities Between Collagen and Whey Protein

There are three key similarities between collagen and whey protein.

Sources

Both whey and collagen protein powders are derived from bovine (collagen can be derived from fish, too). Whey is obtained from milk during the cheese-making process, while collagen is derived from connective tissues such as bones and skin. They are both animal proteins and are not suitable for strict vegan diets.

Convenience

Protein powder is versatile and easily integrated into daily routines, providing a quick and efficient way to increase protein intake. Whey and collagen protein can be conveniently incorporated into various protein shakes, smoothies, and recipes. For those in a rush, these supplements can be simply mixed with water or milk for a quick protein boost. 

Person drinking Pure Protein Powder

Bioavailability

Whey and collagen protein powders are known for their high bioavailability, meaning the body can efficiently absorb and utilize the amino acids they contain. Their amino acid profile differs drastically, so although they are both highly bioavailable, their amino acid profiles cater to different aspects of health.

Key Differences Between Collagen and Whey Protein

There are also three key differences between collagen and whey protein.

Amino Acid Profiles

Abundant in the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, collagen plays a crucial role in the structure and upkeep of resilient connective tissues, including skin, hair, nails, and bones. As mentioned previously, collagen protein is incomplete and does not contain the essential amino acid tryptophan. 

Whey protein is a complete protein source that contains all the essential amino acids, which is ideal for muscle building. It contains higher concentrations of BCAAs, particularly leucine, which jumpstarts muscle protein synthesis. 

Myprotein The Whey

Purpose and Benefits

The amino acids in each whey and collagen protein serve different purposes in the body. Collagen protein may be beneficial for reducing wrinkles, strengthening skin elasticity, increasing bone density, and reducing joint pain. Whey protein may help build muscle mass and reduce body fat when taken in conjunction with a quality training program and balanced diet. 

RELATED: Transparent Labs Collagen Hydrolysate Review

Digestibility

Individuals with lactose intolerance may experience gas, bloating, diarrhea, or stomach cramps when they consume whey protein. These individuals cannot properly break down the lactose in dairy products, including whey protein.

RELATED: Best Lactose-Free Protein Powder

Collagen is often sourced from cows but is not derived from cow’s milk. It doesn’t contain any lactose and is easily digested. When combined with liquid, it forms a gel-like consistency that may contribute to feelings of fullness and is generally well-tolerated, even by those with sensitive digestive systems.

Which Is Better For…

Here, we will look at which protein to use depending on your goals.

Building Muscle

For muscle building, opt for a high-quality whey protein powder. A diet high in protein supplemented with whey protein reduces muscle protein breakdown and may result in a positive net protein balance needed for muscle gains5

RELATED: How Much Protein to Gain Muscle

Man scooping myprotein pre-workout

What’s more, whey protein contains potent amounts of leucine, making it highly effective at promoting muscle protein synthesis. For this reason, it’s a top-notch post-workout supplement that supports muscle repair and the rebuilding process.

Weight Loss

Whey protein is the better option if you’re interested in weight loss. Consuming whey protein may result in fat loss because it increases lean muscle mass and the thermic effect of food (TEF).

The abundant leucine content of whey protein has been shown to build muscle while reducing body fat6. Muscle growth enhances metabolism, resulting in more daily calories burned because it takes more energy to build and maintain muscle than fat. 

Lastly, whey protein draws out a greater TEF7 than other common types of protein powders, including casein and soy. This means whey protein requires more energy (calories) to be digested and absorbed, which could slightly increase metabolism, aiding in weight loss. 

RELATED: Is Protein Powder Good for Weight Loss?

Recovery

Whey protein is considered more effective for recovery because it absorbs rapidly and stimulates muscle protein synthesis. Whey protein is a complete protein, containing all essential amino acids, and is particularly rich in BCAAs. BCAAs have been shown to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness8 (DOMS) and enhance muscle recovery. 

Who Should Use Collagen Protein?

Collagen protein is a good option for those who want to improve their skin, bone, and joint health. Collagen may specifically benefit the following individuals:

  • Postmenopausal women with reduced bone density 
  • Individuals with symptoms of osteoarthritis, such as joint stiffness or pain
  • Anyone wanting to improve skin elasticity and hydration 
  • Those interested in reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles 
Woman Pouring Bubs Collagen Into Coffee

Who Should Use Whey Protein?

Whey protein is a great choice for those who engage in regular physical activity, including athletes and bodybuilders. Whey protein may appeal most to the following individuals: 

  • Those wanting support with post-workout muscle recovery 
  • Weight lifters who want to build lean muscle mass
  • Individuals aiming to reduce body fat while gaining or preserving muscle

RELATED: The Science of Post-Workout Recovery

Collagen Protein vs Whey Protein: Final Thoughts 

The choice between collagen vs whey protein powder comes down to individual health and fitness goals. Although they both contribute to overall protein and amino acid intake, their effects are very different. Collagen protein supports joint, skin, and bone health, while whey protein is particularly beneficial for muscle building and post-exercise recovery.

  • Whey is a complete protein, and collagen is an incomplete protein 
  • Whey contains potent amounts of leucine, a BCAA that stimulates muscle protein synthesis 
  • Collagen is rich in glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, amino acids that support skin, hair, nails, and bones
  • Whey is best for muscle building, weight loss, and post-workout recovery

Collagen Protein vs Whey Protein: FAQs

Do I need collagen if I take whey protein?

Whey protein doesn’t offer the same benefits as collagen protein. Whether you would benefit from taking collagen protein powder in addition to whey depends on your diet and health goals. If you’re eating plenty of eggs, seafood, beans, nuts, and seeds, you may not benefit from an additional collagen supplement, as these foods either contain collagen or help your body synthesize it.

RELATED: BUBS Naturals Collagen Protein review

Can collagen protein replace whey?

No, collagen protein can’t replace whey. Both types of protein contribute to overall protein intake, but the effects of collagen and whey are different. Whey is ideal for muscle building, recovery, and weight loss. Collagen is best suited for improving skin, bone, and joint health. 

RELATED: How Much Protein Do I Need?

Can you build muscle with collagen protein?

Collagen protein powder may help you build muscle if combined with other protein sources. Collagen is an incomplete protein and lacks the essential amino acid tryptophan. All nine essential amino acids are required for muscle protein synthesis, which is needed to build muscle. Consider taking a complete protein, like the best whey protein, after a workout for muscle building. 

Is collagen better than protein after a workout?

Whey protein is more effective for muscle building and recovery post-workout. Whey contains higher amounts of BCAAs, including leucine, which helps activate muscle protein synthesis and recovery after a workout. 

Can I take whey and collagen together?

Yes, you can take whey and collagen protein together. However, it’s best to consume most of your protein intake from whole foods to ensure you’re getting a broad range of nutrients. Protein supplements should be used as a tool to reach your protein goals, not as a whole foods replacement. 

RELATED: The Best High-Protein Foods to Add to Your Diet Now

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic. Collagen
  2. Shenoy M, Abdul NS, Qamar Z, Bahri BMA, Al Ghalayini KZK, Kakti A. Collagen Structure, Synthesis, and Its Applications: A Systematic Review. Cureus. 2022;14(5):e24856. Published 2022 May 9. doi:10.7759/cureus.24856
  3. Madureira AR, Pereira CI, Gomes AMP, Pintado ME, Xavier Malcata F. Bovine whey proteins – Overview on their main biological properties. Food Res Int. 2007 Dec;40(10):1197–211. doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2007.07.005. Epub 2007 Aug 3. PMCID: PMC7126817.
  4. Kanda A, Nakayama K, Sanbongi C, Nagata M, Ikegami S, Itoh H. Effects of Whey, Caseinate, or Milk Protein Ingestion on Muscle Protein Synthesis after Exercise. Nutrients. 2016 Jun 3;8(6):339. doi: 10.3390/nu8060339. PMID: 27271661; PMCID: PMC4924180.
  5. Tipton KD, Hamilton DL, Gallagher IJ. Assessing the Role of Muscle Protein Breakdown in Response to Nutrition and Exercise in Humans. Sports Med. 2018;48(Suppl 1):53-64. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0845-5
  6. Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, et al. National Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:20. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
  7. Acheson KJ, Blondel-Lubrano A, Oguey-Araymon S, et al. Protein choices targeting thermogenesis and metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(3):525-534. doi:10.3945/ajcn.110.005850 2009;107(3):987-992. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00076.2009
  8. Weber MG, Dias SS, de Angelis TR, et al. The use of BCAA to decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness after a single bout of exercise: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Amino Acids. 2021;53(11):1663-1678. doi:10.1007/s00726-021-03089-2.

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