Collagen Protein Vs. Whey: Which Fits Your Needs?

Collagen Protein Vs. Whey: Which Fits Your Needs?

Whey protein is one of the highest-quality proteins of all time, and it’s backed by more sports nutrition studies than any other protein.

But collagen protein powder has unique benefits no other protein offers–not even whey.

Is one better than the other? The answer depends on your needs and goals.

If you’re having trouble deciding which protein to take, or don’t understand the benefits of collagen or whey, this guide will teach you:

  • The nutrition facts and amino acid content of both types of protein.
  • What research says about the health and performance benefits of both collagen and whey.
  • Whether collagen supplements can replace whey protein.
  • If you can use collagen peptides to build muscle or not.

We’ll start with a direct comparison of collagen vs. whey protein and all the reasons you might decide to take one or the other.

Collagen Protein vs. Whey Protein: Which Is Better?

First of all, the idea that collagen protein is superior to whey or vice versa is misguided.

Both protein powder supplements have research-backed benefits that are quite different from one another.

Here’s a list of reasons to consider taking collagen protein:

  • Cosmetic purposes: Collagen works to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and cellulite, decrease skin roughness, hydrate skin from the inside out, and support healthier, less brittle nails[*][*][*][*][*][*].
  • Joint pain and mobility: Athletes, people with arthritis, and people with back pain associated with aging can use collagen to ease joint pain and increase mobility[*][*][*][*].
  • Bone health: Taking collagen may support higher bone mineral density, healthy bone formation at any age, and a lower risk of osteoporosis later in life[*][*][*].
  • Sleep: Taking 10 grams or more of collagen before bedtime may support higher sleep quality, decrease the amount of time it takes to get to sleep, and reduce next-day sleepiness and fatigue[*][*][*].

No other protein offers comparable benefits to collagen, but make sure you purchase high-quality, grass-fed collagen protein powder.

Whereas collagen’s standout benefits relate to skin, bone, and joint health, the benefits of whey protein have more to do with recovery, muscle-building, and weight loss.

Here are the main reasons people use whey protein powder:

  • Post-workout to speed recovery, boost performance, and increase muscular strength[*]
  • As part of clean bulking to increase muscle protein synthesis and build lean muscle mass[*]
  • During weight loss for a faster metabolism and more fat-burning[*][*]

Essentially, whey is a do-everything protein that excels in multiple areas. It’s by far the best protein for active people, and it’s also a convenient way to increase your daily protein intake.

Whey is high in essential amino acids, easy to digest, and supported by more scientific research than any other protein supplement. Our flagship Levels Whey Protein is grass-fed and naturally delicious with no added sugars, no bleach, no fillers, and no artificial flavors or sweeteners.

As you can see, the applications of collagen and whey protein actually don’t overlap much.

Collagen makes the most sense if you’re mainly interested in cosmetic benefits or joint relief, but whey is a better choice for other purposes, including recovery and boosting your daily protein intake.

You can also take both types of protein if you’d like to achieve benefits of each, such as reducing joint soreness while also improving performance or speeding up your recovery.

Keep reading for a more detailed discussion of collagen and whey protein, including nutrition facts, summaries of studies, and more.

Collagen vs. Whey Protein Compared: Nutrition Facts and More

Here’s how the nutrition facts of unflavored Levels Hydrolyzed Collagen Protein and unflavored Levels Whey Protein Concentrate compare, side-by-side:

Nutrition Facts of Whey vs. Collagen - Infographic

From the above comparison, you can see that the basic nutrition facts are very similar. That’s because both supplements are pure protein powder without fillers or additives, which means they have a similar (very high) protein content.

To understand the real differences, a head-to-head comparison of the amino acid content is much more helpful.

Here’s how the amino acid content of bovine collagen protein compares to whey protein, with the 9 essential amino acids (EAAs) in bold and italicized:

Amino Acid Content of Whey Protein vs. Collagen - Infographic

To sum up:

  • Whey protein is much higher in the essential amino acids your body can’t produce on its own, making it a higher quality protein overall (Note: protein quality is a technical term relating to the amino acid content and digestibility of a protein source[*]).
  • Whey is also higher in the muscle-building branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine compared to collagen.
  • Collagen has extremely high levels of arginine, glycine, hydroxyproline, and proline, which are the reason for its skin and joint benefits.

Below, you’ll find answers to common questions that help put the differences of collagen and whey into perspective.

Can Collagen Replace Whey?

Collagen is a valuable protein with unique benefits, but it’s definitely not a substitute for whey protein.

For one thing, because collagen lacks tryptophan, it’s not a complete protein. It’s a supplement in the true sense of the word–collagen is only useful if you’re already eating a healthy diet with plenty of high-quality complete protein sources.

It’s also much lower in essential amino acids (EAAs) and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) than whey protein, making it less suitable for recovery, performance, and general protein intake.

That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with collagen, but unlike whey, it’s simply not a good way to significantly boost your daily protein intake.

And as we discussed in previous sections of this article, whey protein also has research-proven benefits that collagen doesn’t, such as:

  • Increasing the rate of recovery from exercise[*]
  • Boosting muscle protein synthesis and building lean muscle[*]
  • Accelerating fat loss and raising your metabolic rate[*]

Some people are better off using whey, while others might prefer collagen. You can also use both together, but the two protein types aren’t interchangeable.

Can You Build Muscle with Collagen Protein?

The short answer is that you may be able to build muscle with collagen protein, but it’s not optimal.

Your body requires raw materials in the form of amino acids to build lean mass. When it comes to building muscle, any protein source is better than nothing.

Although collagen protein isn’t the best protein supplement for building muscle by a long shot, some studies still show a mildly beneficial effect in this regard[*][*].

For example, a 2019 study of 25 young men found that taking 15 grams of collagen per day resulted in slightly more muscle gain compared to placebo when combined with barbell training for 12 weeks[*].

But other studies have shown a lack of muscle-building effects from collagen, most likely due to its low levels of branched-chain amino acids (especially leucine, which is vital for muscle protein synthesis)[*].

And a 2020 study in healthy older women found that whey protein but not collagen peptides can stimulate short- and long-term muscle protein synthesis both with and without strength training[*].

Bottom line: collagen is excellent for your connective tissues and may help with muscle soreness, but whey protein is the preferred protein source for building muscle[*].

The Takeaway

Want to support bone and joint health, reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and hydrate your skin from inside?

Hydrolyzed collagen is the perfect protein for that. No other protein has the bone, joint, and skin health benefits of collagen protein.

But despite its remarkable effects, collagen is lacking in essential amino acids (EAAs) and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). It’s not the best choice for general protein supplementation or building muscle.

If you’re looking for a well-rounded protein that can help you build more muscle, shed fat, and recover faster from hard training sessions, whey protein is the winner over collagen and every other protein supplement in existence.