Whey protein vs. collagen protein, pinned against one another in a winner take all analysis. Whether you’re a fitness aficionado working on building lean muscle, or someone simply trying to bolster your overall health, the notion of the perfect protein powder likely looms large in your daily routine. Many protein powders are whey-based, but today, collagen proteins also are emerging as a viable alternative to whey for athletes, muscle mass, and health seekers. What are the differences between whey and collagen protein powders, and which is the right one for you?
What is whey protein and where does it come from?
Whey, a water-soluble protein complex derived from milk, is a highly functional food with many of health benefits. Whey protein is one of the two proteins found in milk, with the other being casein. When a coagulant (usually renin) is added to milk, the curds (casein) and whey separate. This was the very thing that Miss Muffet consumed on her tuffet in the days of old.
What are the health benefits of whey?
The biological components of whey, including lactoferrin, beta-lactoglobulin, alpha-lactalbumin, glycomacropeptide, and immunoglobulins, demonstrate a veritable rainbow of immune-enhancing properties. This is the major difference between whey protein and plant proteins like hemp protein. Whey contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein that is absorbed quickly into the gut. This is unlike soy protein, which is a skewed glutamate profile and higher allergy risk.
Pea protein and sprouted brown rice protein, however, have the closest amino acid profile to whey but still not as high. This is why whey protein is popular for those seeking to gain lean muscle mass or use it as a meal replacement shake. This superstar protein also as the ability to act as an antioxidant, as well as an antihypertensive, antitumor, hypolipidemic, antiviral, antibacterial, and chelating agent. It is believed that whey protein supplementation works its magic by converting the amino acid cysteine to glutathione, a potent intracellular antioxidant.
Whey proteins may lower blood pressure in individuals with high blood pressure, due to bioactive peptides called lactokinins. A number of clinical trials have successfully been performed using whey in the treatment of HIV, cancer, hepatitis B, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and as an antimicrobial agent. Whey protein also has shown great benefits in the arena of exercise performance and enhancement. It is very useful for hitting targeted daily protein goals.
Whey is absorbed faster than other forms of protein, which means it also increases muscle protein synthesis used to break a fasted state. Whey also confers a large dose of the amino acid L-cysteine, which can alleviate deficiencies that occur during aging and diabetes, as well as other conditions. Whey itself does not reduce fat, but taking in more protein often assists with fat loss efforts. Whey does not harm the kidneys or liver, but it can magnify pre-existing damage. People with damaged livers or kidneys should exercise caution when increasing protein intake quickly and without a physician’s guidance.
What is the difference between whey concentrate and whey protien isolate?
There are three main types: whey concentrate, whey protein isolate and hydrolysate. Whey concentrate is the most popular and least expensive and is popular amongst athletes and bodybuilders. Whey is rich in a branch-chained amino acid called leucine, which promotes muscle growth.
- Whey protein concentrate contains low levels of fat and low levels of carbohydrates. Protein percentages range from 30% to 90%.
- Whey protein isolate is more processed than whey protein concentrate to remove all fat and lactose, and offers 90% protein.
- Whey protein hydroxylate in considered “predigested” in that it has already undergone partial hydrolosis- a process necessary for the body to absorb protein. It requires the least amount of digestion of the three types.
What are the side effects of whey protein?
A majority of side effects occur primarily with excessive use. According to Harvard Medical School’s Health Blog, a person prone to kidney stones should the limit the use of protein to a safe margin. Excessive use of whey protein can promote kidney stones in susceptible individuals. Weight gain can also result, as can stomach cramps, nausea, and acne.
Whey protein is likely safe for most adults when used in amounts recommended by the manufacturer. Whey protein is possibly safe when taken by mouth as a single dose of up to 50 grams, or when 30 grams is taken by mouth daily for six months.
Whey protein may cause abnormal heart rhythms, changes in cholesterol levels, headache, increased diabetes risk, increased fracture or osteoporosis risk, kidney dysfunction, liver damage, stomach or intestine symptoms (acid reflux, bloating, constipation, cramps, gas, increased bowel movements, movement problems, nausea, reduced appetite, swelling of limbs, and upset stomach), and thirst.
Whey protein may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in people with low blood sugar, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Blood sugar levels may need to be monitored by a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist, and medication adjustments may be necessary.
Whey protein may increase the risk of bleeding. Caution is advised in people with bleeding disorders or in those taking drugs that may increase the risk of bleeding. Dosing adjustments may be necessary.
Whey protein may interfere with the way the body processes certain drugs using the liver’s “cytochrome P450” enzyme system.
Whey protein may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in people with low blood pressure or in those taking drugs or herbs and supplements that lower blood pressure. Avoid in people with known allergy or sensitivity to milk or milk products, including cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, and mare’s milk.
Can you use whey protein during pregnancy and breastfeeding?
There is a lack of scientific evidence on the use of whey protein during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Only approved sources of whey protein should be used in infant formulas. Allergic reactions have been reported with exposure to whey protein, including diarrhea, failure to thrive, infant colic, and rash.
What is collagen protein?
Another popular form of protein powder is collagen protein. Collagen is naturally found in bone broth. Collagen protein powder is derived from beef hide. It contains 19 amino acids. Collagen is the key structural protein that ensures the cohesion, elasticity, and regeneration of all of our connective tissues; its the essential glue holding our bodies together.
The peptides in collagen, when digested, are quickly drawn to cells called fibroblasts that synthesize collagen in the human body. New collagen fibers grow in both density and diameter, potentially improving the strength, elasticity, and moisture of the skin.
Whey protein vs. collagen protein. What’s the difference?
Collagen is composed of 3 chains to form a triple helix. The primary difference between collagen and whey proteins are the amino acids: collagen is very high in proline and glycine, and glycine combines with glutamine and cysteine to support the production of glutathione, your body’s most powerful antioxidant. Glycine also stimulates stomach acid production, which leads to better digestion.
This is what makes bone broth so healing to the gut along with the naturally occurring gelatin. Collagen, however, only has 8 out of the 9 essential amino acids whereas whey has all the essential amino acids. Whey also has a higher level of the BCAA’s leucine, isoleucine, and valine for building muscle.
What are collagen peptides?
Collagen peptides are small bioactive peptides created by breaking down the molecular bonds between individual collagen strands to peptides, or hydrolysis. Collagen peptides are a cold-soluble, easily digestible and highly bioactive form of collagen. Bovine collagen provides significant doses of types I and III collagen, the major components of nails, skin, tendons, ligaments, bones, gums, eyes, hair, teeth, blood vessels and nails.
Collagen is high in glycine, which is crucial to building healthy DNA and RNA strands and forming creative. It provides proline, an amino acid which promotes joint and cardiovascular health.
The absorption rate of hydrolyzed collagen is said to be over 90% compared to only 27% or less in food. Collagen makes up to 90% of bone mass, and taking it can improve bone metabolism. The arrival of collagen peptides on the scene also stimulates osteoblasts, the cells responsible for bone formation. Bones are living tissues, and collagen helps contribute to their continued strength and flexibility.
What are the Differences between the Types of Collagen?
The collagen family comprises 28 members numbered with Roman numerals (I–XXVIII), with I-IV being the most studied. Approximately 90% of collagen in the body is Type I and found in bovine collagen as well as Type III. Vitamin C, zinc and copper are all co-factors.
Type I collagen is found in the skin, tendons, corneas and in 95% of bone.
Type II collagen is mainly found in cartilage, protecting your joints.
Type III is found in skin, blood vessels, the aorta (main artery that carries blood away from your heart) and 10% of cartilage.
Type IV collagen is a type of collagen found primarily in the skin and helps expedite wound healing.
Collagen speeds exercise recovery time
High-quality protein from collagen speeds up recovery time for torn muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments: Did you know collagen is required to heal connective tissue and muscle injuries? Scientists have identified collagen as the key component for regenerating strength and flexibility in torn joints, muscles, and ligaments.
Collagen synthesis rates in connective tissue and muscles during healing of an injury have been shown to be significantly higher during the first three weeks immediately following injury. Therefore, collagen supplementation has benefits for proper healing of joints, muscle, and ligaments.
Collagen boosts athletic performance
Collagen protein powder is ideal for post-workout nutrition due to its high amino acid content: Collagen protein powder supports the body’s protein needs during and after exercise. Supplementation products such as collagen contain 18 amino acids and 8 of the 9 essential amino acids that can only be found in dietary proteins. Collagen contains 20% glycine and 8% arginine, which are key amino acids for the synthesis of creatine- an important molecule for muscular contraction.
Collagen promotes weight loss
Collagen protein helps with weight loss and is more filling than other types of protein. Research has shown collagen protein is more satiating than other protein types, keeping you full longer so you eat less. One clinical trial found collagen to be 40% more filling than the same quantity of whey, casein or soy.
Another study among obese and diabetic patients found intake of hydrolyzed collagen stimulated the release of satiating hormones into the blood. Individuals who supplemented with collagen consumed 20% less at their next meal than those who consumed other types of protein.
Collagen bolsters bone and joint health
Collagen builds stronger bones and prevents bone fractures: We lose up to 50% of our bone strength during aging due to collagen breakdown. Scientific studies show that it’s the collagen in our bones that absorbs the energy from any bone impacts. The more collagen present in our bones, the tougher our bones are, which decreases fracture risk.
Supplementation with collagen improves bone strength by stimulating new bone cell growth to replace worn and damaged bone cells. Improves joint mobility and flexibility. Supplementing with collagen can improve flexibility in movements such as knee extension and total mobility throughout daily activities.
Clinical studies have shown collagen peptides improve mobility and flexibility in both arthritic patients and in athletes. After collagen supplementation, subjects have been able to exercise for longer durations before experiencing joint pain.
A 24-week clinical trial showed potential improvement of joint pain in athletes who were treated with the dietary supplement collagen hydrolysate. The results of this study have implications for the use of collagen hydrolysate to support joint health and possibly reduce the risk of joint deterioration in a high-risk group. Despite the study’s size and limitations, the results suggest that athletes consuming collagen hydrolysate can reduce parameters (such as pain) that have a negative impact on athletic performance. Future studies are needed to support these findings.
Collagen alleviates arthritis symptoms such as joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation
Multiple clinical studies have shown supplementation with collagen leads to significant reductions in arthritis that causes joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation. One trial demonstrated a 70% response rate for significant or noticeable improvement in joint pain among patients who supplemented with collagen, and in another study, collagen proved 25% more effective in reducing osteoarthritis pain and stiffness compared to other anti-inflammatory supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.
Collagen strengthens joints and ligaments and prevent injuries
Daily collagen supplementation improves the strength and size of our tendons, joints, and ligaments. Studies have shown collagen supplementation decreases tendon and ligament injury rates. One study that measured effects of daily intake of collagen peptides on the structure of the Achilles tendon found a significant increase in collagen fiber diameter, suggesting improved strength of the tendon as a result of collagen supplementation.
Collagen prevents ulcers and heartburn
Collagen is critical for proper digestive system function. By regulating stomach digestion, it can help prevent heartburn and ulcers. Additionally, collagen peptides in the GI tract pull in water and attract acid molecules, aiding in the breakdown of food particles and helping move food through the GI tract.
Collagen is also an important component in the process of repairing lesions in the intestinal lining. Proper intestinal healing requires an increased collagen supply, and studies have found decreased collagen levels in individuals with digestive imbalances. Additionally, glutamine, one of the amino acids in collagen, has been recognized as the key amino acid in preventing inflammation in the gut lining and healing leaky gut syndrome.
Is collagen the fountain of youth?
Reduces skin wrinkles and hydrates skin: Collagen is the essential component of the dermis layer of skin. Supplementation with collagen has been shown to increase skin flexibility and hydration and reduce the depth of facial wrinkles. In a study among women ages 40 to 60, supplementation with collagen for eight weeks showed a 28% average increase in skin moisture levels, and 91% of subjects reported less dry skin after supplementation.
Additionally, science has shown oral collagen supplementation more effectively improves skin than topical creams and lotions. Collagen molecules in topical products are too big to be absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream. Studies have shown oral ingestion of collagen peptides is immediately absorbed into the blood and then delivered to skin cells to increase skin-collagen expression.
Collage builds strong, healthy hair, nails, and teeth
The growth of hair follicles is dependent on the collagen matrix in the dermal layer of our skin. Without adequate collagen, the total number and thickness of hair follicles can be reduced. Loss of collagen as we age may be a significant contributor to hair loss. Collagen is essential for healthy nail growth and the major structural component of teeth and the connection between teeth and gums. Collagen loss with age can cause increased tooth sensitivity and decreased tooth strength.
What are the side effects of collagen protein?
The most commonly reported side effects of collagen supplements are hypercalcemia- too much calcium in the body (this occurs primarily with marine sources, however), constipation, bone pain, abnormal heart rhythms and allergic reactions in some since animal collagen is not exactly the same as human collagen.
So which one is better? Whey protein or collagen protein?
By now you can see that there are numerous benefits to each one, and there is no reason you can’t rotate both. If you are trying to decide between the two, an easy way to make the decision is based on your goals. Are you trying to build muscle, increase glutathione and immunity? Then whey protein is the best choice. Are you trying to improve collagen production, skin, hair, gums, joint pain or expedite muscle injury recovery? Then collagen protein is the best choice.
The Best Whey Protein and Collagen Products
Promix is grass-fed, cold-processed, antibiotic free, hormone free, no artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, preservatives and tested exceedingly low in heavy metals. This is your checklist when choosing a whey protein. Buying in bulk allows you to get grass-fed whey at $1.00 a serving. You can see a longer list of whey protein options here.
Price: $43.00 for 28 servings of 20g of collagen and 80mg of hyaluronic acid
Vital proteins use high quality, grass-fed beef collagen from Brazil and New Zealand that also contains hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is synergistic with collagen, and has been found to help retain moisture in the skin, improving the appearance and healthy glow of the skin. A 2015 study found that collagen, hyaluronic acid, vitamins and minerals lead to a significant improvement in wrinkle depth and noticeable improvements in elasticity and hydration of the skin.
Due to what appears to be storage issues at Amazon, the link will take you directly to Vital Proteins where I recommend purchasing it.
Clicking through the link and purchasing helps support The Health Beat’s free content at no cost to you.
Price: $28.99 for 38 servings of 12g of collagen
Great Lakes Gelatin Co. is a company that has been around since 1922 and are the original pioneers of collagen hydrolysate. This is actually the first collagen product I remember carrying in our nutrition practice before other companies also jumped on the bandwagon of collagen products. I have used this product off and on and continue to go back to it.
This product contains Type II collagen, best for addressing cartilage and joint issues. If you are a runner, or you are experiencing joint pain from wear and tear, this would be an excellent product.
This collagen is from wild fish and almost 3x lower in glutamic acid while still giving an excellent dose of glycine and proline. This makes it a great choice for people who have to slow of a conversion of glutamate (stimulating neurotransmitter) to GABA (calming neurotransmitter) as found in the Nutrition Genome Report. You can read more about glutamate and GABA here.
If you have multiple food sensitivities and/or fish allergies, I do not recommend this product.
Due to what appears to be storage issues at Amazon, the link will take you directly to Vital Proteins where I recommend purchasing it. Clicking through the link and purchasing helps support The Health Beat’s free content at no cost to you.
1. “Age-related Changes in the Collagen Network and Toughness of Bone.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12110404>.
2. Anderson, By Stephanie Selene. “Cancer: A Collagen Disease, Secondary to a Nutritional Deficiency? – Selene River Press.” Selene River Press. <https://www.seleneriverpress.com/historical/cancer-a-collagen-disease-secondary-to-a-nutritional-deficiency/>
3. Asseran J, Elian L, Toshiaki S, Prawitt, P (2015). The effect of oral collagen peptide supplementation on skin moisture and the dermal collagen network: evidence from an ex vivo model and randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, (In press)
4. Campbell, B. et al., 2007, International society of sports nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4:8 doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-8
5. Clark, KL. 24-Week Study on the Use of Collagen Hydrolysate as a Dietary Supplement in Athletes with Activity-related Joint Pain. National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18416885>.
6. “Collagen Analysis in Human Tooth Germ Papillae.” Collagen Analysis in Human Tooth Germ Papillae. Brazilian Dental Journal <http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0103-64402006000300006>.
7. “Collagen Hydrolysate for the Treatment of Osteoarthritis and Other Joint Disorders: A Review of the Literature.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 10 Oct. 2006. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17076983>.
8. Elam, R.P., 1989, Effect of arginine and ornithine on strength, lean body mass and urinary hydroxyproline in adult males. Journal of Sports Nutrition. 29:52-56.
9. Graham, MF. Collagen Synthesis by Human Intestinal Smooth Muscle Cells in Culture. National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3792777>.
10. Koutroubakis, IE. Serum Laminin and Collagen IV in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14600124>.
11. Lin, M. L-Glutamate Supplementation Improves Small Intestinal Architecture and Enhances the Expressions of Jejunal Mucosa Amino Acid Receptors and Transporters in Weaning Piglets.National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25368996>.
12. Tanaka, M. “Effects of Collagen Peptide Ingestion on UV-B-induced Skin Damage.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19352014>.
13. “Osteoblast-related Gene Expression of Bone Marrow Cells during the Osteoblastic Differentiation Induced by Type I Collagen.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11134967>.
14. Proksch, E., and M. Schunck. “Oral Intake of Specific Bioactive Collagen Peptides Reduces Skin Wrinkles and Increases Dermal Matrix Synthesis.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
15. “Safety and Efficacy of Undenatured Type II Collagen in the Treatment of Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Clinical Trial.” International Journal of Medical Sciences. Ivyspring International Publisher <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2764342/>.
16. Tanaka, M. “Effects of Collagen Peptide Ingestion on UV-B-induced Skin Damage.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19352014>.
17. “Undenatured Type II Collagen (UC-II®) for Joint Support: A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study in Healthy Volunteers.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine,<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24153020>.
18. T, Hurme, Kalimo H, Sandberg M, Lehto M, and Vuorio E. Department of Pathology, Paavo Nurmi Center, University of Turku, Finland.Localization of Type I and III Collagen and Fibronectin Production in Injured Gastrocnemius Muscle.
19. Varani, J. “Decreased Collagen Production in Chronologically Aged Skin: Roles of Age-Dependent Alteration in Fibroblast Function and Defective Mechanical Stimulation.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine,.
20. Wienicke E., 2011. In: Performance Explosion in Sports – an anti-doping concept. Meyer&Meyer Fachverlag und Buchhandel GmbH., ISBN-10: 1841263303
21. Zague, Vivian, Vanessa Freitas De, Marina Rosa Da Costa, Geórgia Castro Álvares De, Ruy Jaeger G., and Gláucia Machado-Santelli M. “Collagen Hydrolysate Intake Increases Skin Collagen Expression and Suppresses Matrix Metalloproteinase 2 Activity.” Journal of Medicinal Food 14.6 (2011): 618-24. Web.
22. “24-Week Study on the Use of Collagen Hydrolysate as a Dietary Supplement in Athletes with Activity-related Joint Pain.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18416885>.