If your diet or fitness regimen includes daily vitamins and supplements, you’re likely familiar with the benefits of collagen peptides and whey proteins. While both are beneficial to your joint and muscle health (especially if you work out often), many people often wonder: what exactly is the difference between collagen protein vs. whey protein?
The main difference between collagen and whey lies in the amino acid profile. Each contains different levels of essential amino acids, meaning you will receive different benefits depending on which one you take.
Let’s take a look at both protein sources, their benefits, and their specific differences:
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What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, making up around 30 percent of your total body protein and 70 to 80 percent of your skin. It helps your body form the connective tissue found in your skin, bones, muscles, tendons, and cartilage. Collagen helps these body parts stay strong—without it, they lose elasticity and the ability to function properly.
Collagen protein, which is naturally produced by the body, is made up of 18 beneficial amino acids—the molecules that combine to form proteins. Three key amino acids found in collagen include glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, which account for 57 percent of its total amino acids. The reason they are so important? Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which your body needs to maintain functionality and good health.
Types of Collagen
While there are around 28 different types of collagen, supplement options are typically comprised of three main types:
- Type I Collagen: Makes up 90 percent of your body’s collagen and helps maintain healthy skin, hair, nails, bones, tendons, and ligaments.
- Type II Collagen: A main component of elastic cartilage that helps maintain healthy joints.
- Type III Collagen: Benefits your muscles, organs, and arteries.
Along these lines, you may be wondering—what are collagen peptides? Collagen peptides are basically collagen protein in a more broken-down form. They are small pieces of animal collagen that are more easily digestible. Often, the two phrases “collagen peptides” and “collagen proteins” are used interchangeably.
The Natural Decline in Collagen
Collagen production starts declining around the age of 25 and continues to decline as you age. This is why so many people turn to collagen supplements to help maintain younger-looking skin and healthy joints.
Certain lifestyle factors can also damage collagen production, such as:
- Sun exposure
- Excess alcohol
- Lack of sleep and exercise
A decrease in collagen can lead to wrinkled or sagging skin, hollowing of the eyes, weakened muscles, stiffer joints, digestive issues, and problems with blood flow.
To naturally boost collagen through your diet, these high-protein foods are the best options:
- Beef such as brisket and pot roast
- Chicken, beef, or fish bone broth
- Poultry such as chicken and turkey
- Fish and shellfish
There are also specific nutrients that help your body produce collagen, such as:
- Copper (beans, chickpeas, cashews)
- Protein (egg whites, beans)
- Vitamin C (citrus fruits, leafy greens, bell peppers)
- Zinc (nuts and seeds)
- Manganese (shellfish, whole grains, nuts, black pepper, spinach, pineapple)
Of course, supplements are also a popular option among those looking to boost collagen production.
Benefits of Collagen Protein Supplements
Research shows collagen supplements may improve skin elasticity and joint mobility, and also decrease joint pain in athletes and those with conditions like osteoarthritis.
You will typically see collagen types I and III packaged together in supplements, focusing on your skin health, hair, nails, and bone health. Type I collagen is known for keeping skin supple and firm, while type III may benefit your gut, muscles, blood vessels, and uterus, and prevent inflammation. Bovine (or cattle) products are the most common sources of type III collagen.
Type II collagen, on the other hand, supports your cartilage and joint health. It may aid in reducing popping knees, while also supporting your jaw and back. Many assume that joint pain, popping knees, and weakened cartilage is an unavoidable part of the aging process—but it’s actually a lack of type II collagen, which can be improved through a healthy diet and the right collagen supplements.
Collagen peptides are known for improving aging skin and osteoarthritis, along with repairing damaged collagen. Research suggests collagen peptides may also help reduce the risk of heart conditions by keeping your arteries healthy, prevent the loss of muscle mass, and help keep your skin hydrated and flexible.
What is Whey Protein?
Milk is comprised of two proteins: whey and casein. Whey is the liquid left behind during the cheese-making process. It is extracted and concentrated into a powder, which can be found in protein supplements such as shakes, drinks, powders, gels, and energy bars.
Whey is a fast-absorbing protein that contains all nine essential amino acids your body needs to maintain good health, including building muscle, repairing tissue, and boosting your immune system. It also offers the highest concentration of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) of any protein supplement, which are important for muscle growth and maintaining lean muscle tissue. These include leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
Types of Whey Protein
The two most common types of whey protein include whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. It is often said that isolate is easier to digest, but it ultimately comes down to personal preference.
Whey isolate is further processed to remove most lactose, so it is typically the best option for those with lactose intolerance.
Benefits of Whey Protein Supplements
Whey protein powder has always been a popular choice among people who work out regularly. The benefits of taking a whey protein supplement include muscle building (thanks to those BCAAs we mentioned earlier), wound healing, and boosting overall nutrition. It is also a great option for aiding in muscle recovery and repair. Whey protein is best used within two hours after completing a workout.
A study published in Nutrition & Metabolism suggests that whey protein may even aid in weight loss, as participants lost more body fat and sustained more lean muscle compared to those who did not use whey. Other research indicates whey protein may help lower cholesterol, improve asthma symptoms in children, and reduce blood pressure.
Collagen Protein vs. Whey Protein: What’s the Difference?
Both collagen protein and whey protein offer substantial benefits, but the main difference between the two comes down to their amino acid profiles. Check out the example below (remember that 1,000 milligrams are equivalent to 1 gram):
Here, Vital Proteins Collagen contains a high value of glutamic acid (2.2 grams), hydroxyproline (2 grams), and proline (2 grams). These particular amino acids primarily benefit your hair, skin, and nails.
On the other hand, Garden of Life Whey Protein contains a high value of isoleucine (1.33 grams), leucine (2.24 grams), and valine (1.14 grams) which are very beneficial for muscle recovery.
Additionally, collagen contains eight out of the nine essential amino acids, as opposed to whey which contains all nine.
Overall, collagen and whey proteins both offer great health benefits and whichever one you choose should be based on your own personal needs. If your focus is to boost muscle growth and help muscle recovery after a workout, whey is the best option. If you’re looking to ease joint pain or improve your skin, hair, and nails, collagen is a great choice.
The good news? You can take collagen and whey protein simultaneously to maximize their combined muscle and joint benefits while boosting your overall health and nutrition.
Whey protein isolate has been further processed to remove most of the lactose and fat content, contains 90 to 95 percent protein by weight, and is said to be easier to digest.
On the other hand, whey concentrate contains 70 to 80 percent protein by weight, contains more lactose, and is higher in fat and carbs. That said, both are great sources of quality protein and your choice between the two ultimately comes down to personal preference.
Collagen supplements can be taken at any time, whereas whey protein supplements should be taken within two hours post-workout in order to receive the most benefit.
Essentially, collagen peptides are just a broken-down form of collagen protein. Also known as hydrolyzed collagen, peptides are fragments of animal collagen broken. Collagen and collagen peptides are both found in supplements. Collagen peptide supplements are more common since they are easier for your body to absorb.
Yes, taking collagen and whey protein every day is considered safe. That said, you should always speak with your doctor before starting a supplement regimen.
The biggest difference between collagen and whey proteins comes down to their amino acid profiles. While both contain essential amino acids, collagen is a better source of glutamic acid, hydroxyproline, and proline (beneficial for skin, hair, and nails), while whey protein contains more isoleucine, leucine, and valine (beneficial for muscle recovery).
Your protein intake should be approximately 0.5 grams to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, you would want to take at least 70 to 140 grams of protein, based on your workout schedule and lifestyle.
Both collagen protein powder and collagen pill supplements provide the same benefits, just in different forms! Whichever one you choose comes down to personal preference. If you prefer pills over powder, NeoCell Collagen pills are a great option.
Unfortunately, probably not. Leading dermatologists say that it’s nearly impossible for the skin to absorb collagen topically and that any results seen from these products are likely because of their moisturizing qualities, not their ability to rebuild the collagen proteins in your skin.
You’re better off consciously increasing your water intake and purchasing a great, all-natural moisturizer, and beginning a religious moisturizing routine!
While more studies are needed, promising research has shown that collagen supplements may improve skin elasticity and joint mobility, and also decrease joint pain and conditions like osteoarthritis.
In addition, collagen peptides may help reduce the risk of heart conditions, prevent the loss of muscle mass, and help keep your skin hydrated and flexible.
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