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Collagen Protein vs. Whey Protein: Which Is Better for You?


Collagen protein vs. whey protein – it’s an interesting match-up and one that some people may think doesn’t matter. But the truth is that collagen and whey protein are just about as different as they are similar. And when it comes to protein powder that you use every day, the little differences do matter.

Protein powder has been popular for years now, and its popularity is only growing. And it’s no wonder since protein powders and shakes can help a variety of people:

  • Athletes use it to fuel and refuel quickly.
  • People with food sensitivities – like allergies, eating disorders, or sensory difficulties - can achieve a balanced diet more easily with protein powders.
  • People recovering from injury or illness may find that protein helps speed up their recovery. 

  • Even people with full schedules can benefit from protein powder as an on-the-go snack!

With so many uses, it’s no wonder people are talking about protein powder - but which is the best kind to take? 

When you start shopping, you’ll find there are two big names: collagen and whey protein powder. 

The next step is deciding on collagen protein vs. whey protein. So what are they, what’s the difference, and which one is best for you? Today we will take an in-depth look at collagen protein vs. whey protein so you can make that decision for yourself. 

What is collagen?

To understand the differences between collagen protein vs. whey protein, it’s important to know what they are. First, let’s talk about collagen. 

Collagen is one of the building blocks that makes up every tissue in our bodies – from our skin and hair to our muscles and bones. 

How can one protein be so flexible? 

Collagen contains distinct amino acids, all of which are necessary for the building and repair of tissue. In fact, collagen protein includes 8 of the 9 essential amino acids (only missing tryptophan), as well as several non-essential amino acids.

“Essential” amino acids are chemical compounds that the body can’t create on its own. You can only get them through food. “Non-essential” amino acids are compounds your body can create on its own.

One of the important amino acids collagen contains is hydroxyproline - something that doesn’t appear in other proteins. 

Hydroxyproline is one of the most critical chemical compounds for protein synthesis. This means that without it, your body absolutely cannot build or repair tissues. It’s considered a “semi-essential” amino acid. 

“Semi-essential” amino acids are chemical compounds that your body can create but that take a lot of resources. Without an adequate amount of essential amino acids, your body can’t create semi-essential ones. 

When considering collagen protein vs. whey protein, keep the role of essential and semi-essential amino acids in mind. Without these compounds, it doesn’t matter how many benefits a protein powder has – your body will still struggle to build and repair tissues.

Where can you find collagen?

Collagen is a connective tissue material. This means that you can’t find collagen in any plants, only in animals. 

In the past, people were more conscientious about using the entire animal for food, like making bone broth, or slow roasting beef, so the tissue would melt into the meat. This meant that their diet was much higher in collagen than ours is today.  

Today, we don’t typically use connective tissue or bones in our everyday diet, favoring the meatier cuts of an animal. 

Collagen protein is often sourced from the parts of the animal that would otherwise go unused - like the connective tissue and bone left over after a cow is butchered. This means collagen supplements promote more sustainable meat production and consumption, as well as bringing this crucial protein back into our diets. 

This is something to consider when weighing the benefits of collagen protein vs. whey protein. The livestock industry produces more than 1.4 billion pounds of waste each year. This includes the parts of the animal that can’t be sold as cuts of meat but can be used to create collagen. 

Now that you understand what collagen is, and where it comes from, let’s discuss whey, so you can understand the difference between collagen protein vs. whey protein. 

What is whey?

Whey is one of the two main proteins found in milk. It contains all 9 essential amino acids, as well as a number of non-essential amino acids. 

Whey has fallen in and out of favor over time. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates praised it as highly nutritious. In the Middle Ages, whey was considered medicinal and used to treat a variety of illnesses. However, most of the time, it was simply discarded or used in animal feed.

In modern times, we’ve studied the variety of benefits that whey has to offer. Whey can help you feel more satisfied and has powerful anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

But, because it comes from milk, it also contains a limited amount of lactose. This makes it difficult to digest for those who struggle with lactose intolerance or dairy sensitivities. 

When you’re researching collagen protein vs. whey protein, you might notice more studies have been done on whey than on collagen. 

Whey has been studied in some capacity for thousands of years. Today, that translates to a large body of scientific research. The effects of whey on everything from weight loss to cancer prevention and even bone density have been studied over and over again. 

Collagen is different. Where whey is a physical by-product that has been part of the human diet for thousands of years, collagen is primarily non-visible. It was incorporated naturally into our diets, so as a result, there’s little modern scientific research on it. 

But it would be incorrect to assume this means collagen is less beneficial. It just means that when it comes to collagen vs. whey protein, the research on collagen is still catching up. 

Where can you find whey?

Whey is a by-product of the cheese-making process. You can only get whey from dairy, so like collagen, there aren’t any vegan options. If you’ve ever noticed a watery liquid at the top of your yogurt or gotten mozzarella packaged in a liquid, that’s whey. 

Whey is created due to a chemical reaction that separates soluble from insoluble proteins in milk. The insoluble proteins harden into a solid – cheese, butter, or yogurt – and the soluble proteins are drained off as varying forms of whey.

The whey is then dried out to make your protein powder. 

So you understand the general difference between collagen protein vs. whey protein now - but which is better for you? And what benefits can you expect from each?

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of collagen protein vs. whey protein. 

Collagen protein vs. whey protein – pros and cons

In a head-to-head battle of collagen protein vs. whey protein, who would win? The answer is… complicated. 

By and large, the research is behind whey, but that’s mostly because collagen research is still in its early stages. 

Existing research on collagen shows that it knocks whey protein out of the ballpark

Medical grade collagen is already being used in hospitals, and collagen wound healing supplements are being used in healthcare and private settings.

Both collagen and whey have research-backed benefits like: 

  • Muscle strengthening
  • Satiety 
  • Reduced inflammation 

Like any food or supplement, collagen and whey protein powder both have their pros and cons. But to get an accurate picture of which one is best for you, you’ll need to know and understand which proteins can have which effects. 

Whey pros and cons

First, let’s look at the pros of whey protein. Whey is naturally a complete protein. This means that it has all the essential amino acids your body needs to stay healthy and strong. 

For some people, pursuing health means working out, and whey is an excellent post-workout supplement. Its naturally higher carb and sugar content is energizing, especially after intense training. 

For other people, though, pursuing health can mean weight loss. Whey has been proven to help with weight loss by keeping you feeling full for longer. 

Unfortunately, this is where we slide into our cons. Whey can cause some people to feel uncomfortably full. A whey protein upset stomach is usually caused either by sensitivity to lactose or by the dense nature of whey proteins.

Another one of the cons of protein powder when it comes to whey is the absorption rate. Whey proteins can only be absorbed at a rate of about 8 - 10 grams per hour. Whey protein powders contain up to 23 grams of protein per serving, meaning your body literally can’t absorb it all. 

You can offset this by taking digestive enzymes for faster absorption, but in the case of collagen protein vs. whey protein, it’s worth noting that collagen can be absorbed without extra help. 

Collagen pros and cons

So how does collagen measure up? 

For starters, when comparing collagen protein vs. whey protein, collagen is much easier to digest. That’s because it’s quite easy to find hydrolyzed and even nano-hydrolyzed collagen protein.  

What is hydrolyzed collagen? Also known as “collagen peptides,” hydrolyzed collagen has gone through the chemical process of hydrolysis to break the collagen molecules down into more easily digestible pieces. 

And, a nano-hydrolyzed collagen supplement has gone through the process of hydrolysis more than once. That means the molecules in the supplement have been broken down to just 1% of their original size - making them extremely bioavailable. 

But the benefits don’t stop there. 

Collagen peptides benefits have been studied in skin health and shown to increase skin elasticity and hydration. This matches up with the anecdotal evidence hundreds of people have shared of collagen having an unparalleled effect on their skin health.

Collagen helps beneath the surface, too. The positive effects of collagen on joint health and muscle mass and strength have also been studied with positive effects. 

Collagen can also help reduce body fat by suppressing the accumulation of fat and boosting metabolism. 

When it comes to collagen protein vs. whey protein, collagen dodges the problems whey has. Collagen has no lactose at all. This, together with its lower carb count, make it an ideal protein powder for sensitive stomachs

The biggest con of collagen is something we’ve already mentioned – there’s no vegetarian or vegan option. Collagen can only be sourced from animals.

If you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, however, the biggest con of collagen is the need to double-check the label.  

Choosing collagen and whey protein powder

So what should you look for in collagen protein vs. whey protein powder?

First, check the sugar content – especially in whey protein powder. Whey protein tends to have a very bitter, unpleasant taste. Some companies mask this taste with huge amounts of sugar. 

While the sugar doesn’t cancel out the benefits of your protein powder, it certainly doesn’t help you on your health journey. 

Next, check for disclaimers. Supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, so any protein powder worth its salt should have objective research backing the product up. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and that’s where you’ll find the fine print: “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.” 

This throws up a red flag – they aren’t willing to back their claims.

Those with shellfish allergies will need to make sure their collagen is sourced from 100% beef or chicken. And, since collagen isn’t a complete protein on its own, you’ll need to make sure that your protein powder is fortified with the missing amino acid.

As long as your supplement is sugar- and additive-free, comes from a reputable source, and doesn’t contain any allergens, you should be good to go. 

Collagen vs. whey protein powder – which should you use?

So who wins in the comparison of collagen protein vs. whey protein? 

Like any part of your health, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. 

Think of it like a visit to the doctor’s office. When you present a symptom, the doctor doesn’t give you one thing with a guarantee that it’s the only one for you. They have you try a round of medication and visit them again to see how it holds up. 

The same is true for protein powder. The only way to know for sure is to check in with your body while you’re using it. 

Do you feel sluggish or energized? Bloated or strengthened? Uncomfortably full or perfectly satisfied? 

If whey protein has you feeling less than your best, it might be time to try hydrolyzed collagen protein. 

Whey has been a standby for so long that the side effects have been brushed to the side. But collagen has a growing body of research to support its benefits – without the side effects. 

When it comes to collagen protein vs. whey protein, collagen seems to be coming out on top. It doesn’t affect digestion, it has increased benefits for skin, hair, and healing, and people with lactose intolerance can take it without worries. 

OP2 Labs even provides a medical-grade hydrolyzed collagen protein, which is FDA-approved and chosen for use in medical nutrition by thousands of medical facilities across the nation.

While whey is undoubtedly great for bulking up muscles, if you’re searching for the best supplement for injury prevention, muscle recovery, wound healing, joint pain, gut health, or even anti-aging - collagen just might be the answer you’re looking for.