Whey has been the more popular tried and tasted choice for athletes to get their protein needs to gain muscle. Conversely, collagen is more renowned for its cell-regenerating and skin-improving benefits, though evidence suggests that it can also give a hand in muscle building.
This article will tackle the differences between collagen protein vs. whey protein and the truth about what they offer.
- Collagen Protein Vs Whey Protein
- What Is Collagen Protein?
- What Is Whey Protein?
- Collagen Vs. Whey — Who Offers More?
- Amino Acid Profile
- Better Absorption
- Building Muscle
- Recovery From Injuries
- Bone Density
- Gut Health
- Skin Health
Collagen Protein Vs Whey Protein
While whey protein has the upper hand in supporting faster muscle growth than collagen, the latter appears to be more efficient in injury recovery and rebuilding connective tissues and structures in the body.
Ultimately, both improve muscle growth and recovery, but the choice ultimately depends on which area you want to focus more.
→ Whey could be for you if you’re seeking a faster, more assured way to build muscle.
→ Collagen would be the ideal choice if you’re aiming for additional health benefits.
What Is Collagen Protein?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, found abundantly in humans and all mammals. It’s an important building block in bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles and plays a big role in your hair, skin, and nail health.
As with all protein structures, collagen is built from amino acids. Collagen contains 19 amino acids and 8 essential amino acids, such as:
- Glycine – Glycine contributes to cellular growth and health and prevents muscles from breaking down by boosting creatine levels in the body. It can also protect the liver from alcohol-induced damage and improve sleep quality.
- Proline – Proline works with other amino acids and vitamin C to form collagen, which is important in building tissues. It’s also integral to wound healing, antioxidative reactions, and immune responses.
- Hydroxyproline – Like proline, hydroxyproline is a major collagen component and contributes to its stability. When used topically, it helps decrease fine lines and wrinkles and is added as an ingredient to anti-aging skincare products to help increase skin penetration.
- Arginine – An amino acid naturally found in red meat, poultry, fish, and dairy, it’s integral in making proteins, is commonly used for circulation, and has been shown to protect the kidney against toxic or ischemic injury.
While taking a collagen supplement offers a trove of health benefits, collagen contains only 8 of the 9 essential amino acids, which the body cannot produce independently. A person needs to get these essential amino acids from outside sources, such as animal products like meats, low-fat dairy, whey, casein powders, and plant-based protein sources.
What Is Whey Protein?
Whey is one of the two main proteins found in milk (the other being casein). It is produced during cheese production, where the milk fat coagulates and leaves behind whey. Once the milk passes quality tests, enzymes are added to separate the curd from the liquid whey. The liquid whey is then pasteurized, and the protein is concentrated and isolated.
Whey is also the watery film found in yogurt, giving it its familiar tang and health benefits.
Whey contains 20 amino acids, all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source. However, these essential amino acids can’t be made by the body and must be obtained from diet or supplementation. The essential amino acids include:
- Histidine – An amino acid used by the body to make histamine. It’s used to grow and repair damaged tissues, make blood cells, and helps protect nerve cells.
- Isoleucine – A vital amino acid used in physiological functions of the whole body, such as growth, immunity, fatty acid metabolism, glucose transportation, and protein metabolism. It can also improve the immune system, including immune organs, cells, and reactive substances.
- Leucine – This particular amino acid helps in healing skin and bones. It can increase muscle growth, lean body mass, and the production of human growth hormone (HGH) production. It can also help manage blood sugar levels.
- Lysine – Lysine helps the body absorb calcium and plays an important role in forming collagen, which benefits the bones and connective tissues, including skin, tendons, and cartilage.
- Methionine – Also an antioxidant, methionine detoxifies harmful substances in the body, such as heavy metals, and aids in the breakdown of fats by preventing accumulation in the arteries.
- Phenylalanine – Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid in plant/animal foods. It promotes the production of norepinephrine and dopamine neurotransmitters, which are essential for brain function and the nervous system. It likewise also helps with the production of the pigment melanin, which gives color to the skin, hair, and eyes.
- Threonine – Threonine maintains the proper protein balance and aids with digestion, metabolism, and preventing fat buildup in the liver. It also keeps the connective tissues and muscles throughout the body strong and elastic.
- Tryptophan – Through its metabolite serotonin, tryptophan can significantly impact muscle mass. It also promotes better sleep, relieves anxiety and depression, and helps manage pain tolerance.
- Valine – Valine aids muscle metabolism and repairs muscle tissue. It increases endurance and stimulates faster muscle recovery and repair, whether from a strenuous workout or a sustained injury. It likewise boosts mental focus and emotional calm.
Whey is also low in fat and lactose, making it good for those monitoring their fat intake or those sensitive to regular dairy products.
Collagen Vs. Whey — Who Offers More?
How do collagen and whey differ from each other? In what aspect does one fare better than the other? Based on our research, this is what they have to offer based on certain factors:
Amino Acid Profile
When it comes to amino acid content, whey fares better. Of the animal-based proteins, whey protein has the highest essential amino acid content of 43% and contains all 9 essential amino acids (collagen only has 8). It also contains more BCAA’s (branch-chain amino acids), vital in muscle recovery and synthesis.
However, if you’re seeking amino acids that mainly support collagen production, relieve joint pain, or achieve healthy skin, collagen protein would be the more suitable choice. It contains three amino acids generally lacking in whey and plant-based proteins and is not usually found in most meat products.
✅ Winner: Whey protein
Whey protein is considered a fast-acting protein. A 2018 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that the body can absorb 20 g of whey protein in just two hours.
However, when it comes to whey protein shakes, research shows that it takes the body about 1.5 hours to digest viscous liquids, and it may take time to fully absorb everything. On the bright side, studies show that adding digestive enzymes, which are already broken down and pre-digested, can help boost whey absorption by up to 127%.
Research on collagen absorption is still in its early stages, but so far, studies show that it appears slower to absorb than whey protein but appears to have a faster absorption rate when added with hydrolyzing collagen since it breaks it down into smaller particles, allowing the body to absorb the amino acids in less than 20 minutes after ingestion.
✅ Winner: In terms of faster and more efficient absorption, hydrolyzed collagen is the better option.
Whey is a complete protein, and it has all of the amino acids your body needs ready to get to function well, especially during workouts and intense physical activities, making it more bioavailable than collagen by a notch
✅ Winner: Whey
Whey and collagen both help the body build muscle after strength training, but whey is richer in leucine, which has been proven to significantly increase muscle mass and strength, specifically in healthy older people, initiating muscle protein synthesis after exercise, offering an additional boost to muscle growth.
In terms of nitrogen balance, which is the net difference between the intake (and the effective absorption) of nitrogen contained in the diet and its excretion, collagen has the upper hand. Since nitrogen is predominantly contained in proteins, it promotes a more positive nitrogen balance in the body than whey. Having a negative nitrogen balance would leave the body malnourished.
Other researchers have suggested that supplemental collagen may promote the synthesis of muscle proteins such as creatine, whose components include arginine and glycine.
✅ Winner: Collagen (by a notch). Both whey and collagen proteins are great options for building muscle mass. However, the additional health benefits of collagen supplementation pack a bigger punch.
Recovery From Injuries
Compared to whey, collagen is known to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, especially on injuries, thanks to its high glycine content. Several studies have found that hydrolyzed collagen leads to a faster resynthesizing of tendons and soft tissue. It has also been shown to reduce pain associated with joint pain, osteoarthritis, and tendonitis.
Collagen also appears to be more effective than whey when it comes to the rebuilding of connective tissues and structures in the body.
✅ Winner: Collagen
Studies have shown that daily collagen supplementation can help the bones become denser and slow down the aging process that makes them brittle. Researchers have found that hydrolyzed collagen supplements can decrease the risk of age-related bone loss and degradation and increase bone formation.
On the other hand, taking whey protein supplements has not yielded any positive or negative impact on bone health.
✅ Winner: Collagen
Whey protein is an excellent source of threonine, S-containing- and branched-chain-essential amino acids (BCAA). Threonine, in particular, is directly incorporated into intestinal mucins, which protect the intestinal cells and strengthen the gut’s barrier junction. Whey milk also has been found to have a potent prebiotic effect, which can improve intestinal health and reduce obesity.
Collagen protein helps rebuild and strengthen the digestive tract’s lining, thanks to its amino acids glycine and glutamine, which are essential for its repair, and improves the permeability of the intestinal lining.
✅ Winner: Tie
When it comes to curbing down appetite, a 2021 study done on healthy women found that neither whey protein nor collagen appeared to reduce appetite, but an earlier study found that adding whey protein to a regular diet reduced appetite levels.
✅ Winner: For now, whey protein wins this round (de-facto), but further research is needed to fully establish the claims.
Like the gut, collagen is the type of structural protein in human skin. It improves elasticity and hydration and helps with wound healing.
✅ Winner: Collagen
Pros & Cons
To give you a quick recap and help you decide better, here are some of collagen and whey proteins’ pros and cons:
|Collagen powders contain amino acids, which are needed for everyday functions.||Research in this area is limited, and the sample sizes are small.|
|Helps promote wound healing, skin aging, and arthritis symptoms.||Collagen is not a complete protein and should not replace standard protein sources.|
|Promotes bone and joint health||May contain heavy metals and toxins that can harm the body.|
|Increases strength for those who actively exercise and use collagen in conjunction with their workouts and diet.||May lead to occasional mild side effects such as bloating, heartburn, and feelings of fullness.|
|Whey is a complete protein||May cause serious digestive problems.|
|Assists with weight gain and promotes weight loss||Can result in other side effects like thirstbloating, cramps, fatigue, and headaches|
|Builds muscle and strengthens bone||Not for the lactose-intolerant|
|May help manage type 2 diabetes||Excessive intake whey intake is linked to to heart disease risk.|
Which Is The Better Option?
When combined with a healthy diet and following proper workout forms, whey protein and hydrolyzed collagen have promising benefits for athletes and bodybuilders, each with their feats. While whey protein has the upper hand in supporting faster muscle growth than collagen, the latter appears to be more efficient in injury recovery and rebuilding connective tissues and structures in the body.
Ultimately, both improve muscle growth and recovery, but the choice ultimately depends on which area you want to focus more. Whey could be for you if you’re seeking a faster, more assured way to build muscle. But collagen would be the ideal choice if you’re aiming for additional health benefits.
Whey and collagen protein supplements give athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts protein and nutrients to help build muscle mass and enhance their performance, though they have their own set of health benefits that can ultimately improve one’s overall health.
But before deciding on taking supplements like collagen or whey protein, consult your medical provider or a nutritionist to ensure you’re making the best choice for your health needs and fitness goals.
→ Whey Protein Isolate vs Concentrate