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Collagen vs Whey Protein: Which One is Right for My Goals?

Collagen and whey protein are both extremely popular protein choices, but which one is right for your goals? If you are looking to improve gut and joint health or to support healthy hair and skin collagen may be the best choice for you. For those seeking to boost lean muscle mass, enhance their metabolism, or who need additional dietary protein, whey protein may be a better option. That said, there is no reason why you can't combine both collagen and whey protein to get the benefits of each.

In this article you will learn:

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What Is Collagen Protein?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the animal kingdom and is a key component of skin, muscles, bones, connective tissues, and cartilage.

Like all proteins, collagen is made up of smaller chains of amino acids. These amino acids include proline, glycine, arginine, and hydroxyproline. In the body, collagen forms long, thin threads called fibrils. Depending on the shape of the fibril, collagen protein can be designated into one of 15 known types. In the human body, 80-90% of collagen protein is made up of types I, II, and III collagen as these are found most abundantly in the skin, muscles, and other tissues.

Collagen supplements are made by hydrolyzing (breaking down) the naturally occurring collagen found in other animals such as cow hides or fish scales. Hydrolyzing collagen also makes it easy to digest and prevents it from gelling like gelatin, which is an unhydrolyzed type of collagen.

Pure collagen supplements are generally odorless and flavorless and can be easily added to coffee, tea, smoothies, soups, baked goods, and other foods to enhance their protein content.

How Much Protein is in Collagen Peptides?

Some collagen users may be surprised to learn that collagen is a protein, so if you consume 10 grams of collagen, you are consuming 10 grams of protein!

Benefits of Using Collagen Protein

Collagen supplementation works by providing your body with the amino acids it needs to efficiently build its own collagen. The average modern diet is deficient in collagen specific amino acids like glycine, hydroxyproline, and proline so it is easy to become deficient without regular supplementation.

With sufficient dietary collagen, however, these are the benefits you can expect:

  • Supports joint health: Taking collagen has been proven to improve bone and joint health. In a 24 week study at Penn State University, researchers took a group of athletes who were at high risk for joint deterioration and gave them daily doses of collagen supplements. By the end of the study, the athletes reported experiencing less joint pain and inflammation.
  • Strengthens hair, skin, and nails: Collagen is able to increase the elasticity and hydration of your skin as well as fortify your hair and nails. Its beauty benefits are thanks to one of collagen’s principal amino acids called proline. Proline is a precursor to keratin, the structural protein that makes up the nails and hair.
  • Helps heal the gut: The same way collagen strengthens and firms your skin, it creates similar results for your gut. The lining of our digestive tracts consists of the same amino acids that are found in collagen peptides. These amino acids are responsible for stimulating cell renewal and repairing your intestinal walls. Additionally, if you have leaky gut or ulcerative colitis (inflammation in the large intestine), the anti-inflammatory effects of collagen may significantly improve your symptoms.
  • Boosts exercise recovery: 90% of our connective tissue consists of collagen protein. Collagen is the ideal post-exercise nutrition that’s able to quickly help in the repair of muscles and ligaments that have been broken down during exercise.

Why You Should Use Collagen Protein

If you are still on the fence about collagen supplementation, consider this: aging, stress, high sugar diets all contribute to the breakdown of your body's collagen. And, unless you are regularly eating "nose-to-tail" your diet is most likely deficient in the amino acids required to rebuild this collagen.

Thankfully, collagen supplements are an easy and effective way to counteract this decline in your body's collagen health. Adding just 5-10 grams (1-2 teaspoons) of collagen per day to your diet is enough to start seeing improvements in your joints, skin, hair, and bones.

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What Is Whey Protein?

Whey protein is naturally found in milk and is abundant in the liquid that is formed during cheese production. Prized by athletes, nutritionists, and bodybuilders for decades, whey protein boasts an impressive nutrient profile and numerous health benefits.

Whey protein is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be produce by the body and must be consumed regularly in order to build and repair muscle, fortify bones, speed recovery, regulate hormones, and protect the nervous system (among other things).

How Much Protein is in Whey Protein?

Whey protein actually contains more than just protein. Depending on how it is produced, a given portion of whey protein can be anywhere 30% to 90% protein. A typical "whey protein concentrate" is about 80% protein and a "whey protein isolate" can be 90%+ protein. In addition to protein, whey protein also contains fat, cholesterol, lactose (milk sugar), and minerals like calcium, and potassium.

Benefits of Using Whey Protein

Whey protein boasts impressive results when it comes to increasing muscle mass, speeding up post-workout recovery, decreasing cravings, and boosting metabolism.

Here’s a closer look at whey protein’s main benefits:

  • Boosts the "master antioxidant": Glutathione is one of the most potent antioxidants on earth. It’s responsible for protecting your cells from stress and strengthening the immune system. As it turns out, whey protein an abundant source of glutathione. Regular use of whey protein may increase your body’s glutathione levels by 64%, helping to lower inflammation and address the negative effects of stress.
  • Stabilizes blood sugar: Adding whey protein to high carb meals may help you avoid "the crash". Whey protein does this by decreasing the effects of carbohydrates on your blood sugar, working to decrease blood sugar spikes by up to 20% after eating a sugary or high-carb meal.
  • Supports lean muscle: A 2016 study from Nutrition & Metabolism found that leucine, a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) found in whey protein, has a powerful impact on muscle protein synthesis (aka muscle building). Adding a scoop of whey protein into your shakes is an effective way to speed muscle recovery. One study found that taking just 20 grams of whey protein after exercising resulted in a significant increase in lean muscle mass.
  • Increases metabolism: Anyone seeking to improve their body composition should consider supplementing with whey protein. One study had overweight participants take 20 grams of whey protein supplement every day over the course of 12 weeks. By the end of the study, the participants lost an average of 6.1% of their body fat mass while preserving most of their lean muscle mass.
  • Decreases cravings: Whey protein is abundant in GLP-1, an amino acid that slows gastric emptying and inhibits hunger. One study comparing the benefits of soy vs whey protein found that the 45 participants selected to take whey protein experienced lower ghrelin levels (the hunger hormone) and felt more satiated. At the end of the study, participants each lost an average of 5 pounds.

Why You Should Choose Whey Protein

Whether your goal is to feel healthier or to simply look better, you should consider supplementing with whey protein.

A daily protein shake or smoothie made with ~20 grams of whey protein, taken as a meal or post-exercise, is a simple way to ensure that you are reaching your goals.

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Collagen vs Whey: Which One Should You Choose?

If you are specifically looking for the beauty and joint health-boosting effects of collagen, or if you avoid dairy products, collagen may be your go-to protein choice.

Alternatively, vegetarians may opt for whey protein as collagen is made from animal sources that are not vegetarian-friendly.

For everyone else, there is no reason why you shouldn't include both collagen peptides and whey protein into your routine as both provide significant and well-studied benefits.

Ready to try a whey protein and collagen combo? Check out this delicious Healthy Green Breakfast Smoothie with Collagen and Whey Protein!

UP NEXT: Bovine vs. Marine Collagen: Which Should YOU be Taking?

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