Collagen Protein and Whey Protein: What's the Difference?
December 22, 2020
There are a lot of different types of protein supplements on the market, each with their own unique composition and benefits to our bodies.
With collagen protein and whey protein both proving popular at the moment, we are sometimes asked what’s the difference, and whether taking one means you don’t need to bother taking the other. These are great questions, so we’ve put together a blog post to set the record straight and demystify the differences between collagen protein and whey protein.
What is collagen protein?
Collagen protein is one of the most interesting and important proteins in the human body. Naturally produced by our bodies, it is a key building block for bones, skin, nails, hair, joints, tendons and more. Collagen protein is basically the glue that holds our bodies together - in fact, “collagen” comes from the Greek word “kolla” which literally translates as “glue”! Collagen is responsible for keeping all these parts of the body together and in good condition. However, as we age, our natural collagen production decreases, causing our collagen levels to drop. Lack of collagen leads to side effects like sagging skin, thinning hair, and brittle nails - basically, all those pesky signs of aging that creep up on us!
Why is collagen protein important?
Collagen protein is important, then, for a variety of reasons, as your whole body will benefit from topping up your collagen levels. This is why many people choose to take a daily collagen supplement like Absolute Collagen to keep their hair, skin, and nails in tip-top condition.
In its natural state, collagen is formed of molecules that are too large to be absorbed, so collagen protein supplements like Absolute Collagen will be hydrolysed. This just means they have been broken down into smaller molecules, also known as collagen peptides. These collagen peptides are much more “bioavailable” to the body, which means they are easily absorbed. Collagen helps to strengthen and smooth skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles from the inside out, and also nourishes and strengthens hair and nails, keeping hair glossy and nails shiny.
Collagen supplements can be derived from many different sources; cheaper collagen is often taken from cow, pig, or chicken, while Absolute Collagen only uses premium marine collagen sourced from coldwater fish which is farmed for human consumption and never fed hormones or antibiotics.
What is whey protein?
Whey protein, meanwhile, is different from collagen protein. It comes from whey, which is the liquid part of milk that separates during the cheese production process. It is low in lactose and is known as a “complete protein”. Whey protein comes in three different forms: concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate, all of which have been processed differently.
Why is whey protein important?
Whey protein is incredibly popular among athletes and bodybuilders for its high digestibility and quality of protein, which helps to build muscle. This is because whey protein is rich in the amino acid leucine, the most anabolic (growth building) of the amino acids.
There are also other potential benefits of whey protein. It can potentially lower the blood pressure, have a beneficial effect on blood fats, cholesterol, and inflammatory bowel disease, and may also support the body’s natural antioxidant defences. However, more studies into these potential benefits are needed, and most people who take a whey protein supplement do so for the muscle building benefits or as part of a weight loss programme, as protein of any kind (including collagen) can help suppress the appetite and make you feel fuller for longer.
What’s the difference between collagen protein and whey protein?
There are several differences between collagen protein and whey protein. Firstly, they come from different sources. Collagen naturally occurs in the body, and the collagen in supplements comes from pigs, chickens, cows and fish, while whey is not produced by the body but naturally occurs as a byproduct of milk.
Plus, they contain different amino acids. Whey protein is known as a complete protein, as it contains all nine amino acids needed by the human body: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Collagen protein is an incomplete protein as it does not contain all of these amino acids, however it does contain glycine, proline, and hydroproline, which are missing from plant protein, whey protein, and muscle meat protein sources. In fact, the concentration of glycine and proline in Absolute Collagen is between 10 and 20 times higher than in other proteins.
Collagen protein is intrinsic to the regeneration of skin, hair, and nails, and is also found in the joints and bones, so a collagen protein supplement provides a full-body anti-aging solution with visible effects such as smoother skin, glossier hair, and stronger nails. Whey protein’s visible effects, meanwhile, are more to do with the development of muscle - although collagen can also be used to support lean muscle development and many Absoluters take it as part of their fitness regime after a gym workout for the protein boost. Whey protein also supports faster recovery from workouts.
When it comes to absorption rate, collagen protein is the clear winner. This is because collagen supplements use hydrolysed collagen, which means the collagen molecules have been broken down (hydrolysed) into smaller chains of amino acids easily absorbed by the body. By contrast, not all whey protein supplements have been hydrolysed, and research suggests that it takes the body 1.5 hours to absorb thick liquids, such as protein shakes.
Absolute Collagen is formulated with Vitamin C which promotes optimal absorption. Moreover, each sachet contains 8 grams of hydrolysed collagen which is the maximum your body can absorb at any one time - whereas some whey protein supplements rely on you measuring out your own doses, potentially exceeding the 8-10 grams of whey protein per hour that your body can absorb, and wasting the excess protein.
Both collagen protein and whey protein are powerhouse proteins with benefits to building muscle. Whey is probably best known as a muscle building protein, and this is why many people - particularly athletes, bodybuilders, and other avid gym-goers - take whey protein supplements. As previously mentioned, whey protein has a high leucine content, which means it stimulates higher rates of protein synthesis than collagen protein.
However, collagen protein is better than whey protein at maintaining a positive nitrogen balance; for context, a negative nitrogen balance means the body is malnourished, usually due to poor diet and low protein intake. Studies have also found that collagen protein can help increase fat-free mass and decrease fat mass, especially among the elderly. In terms of muscle building benefits, then, it seems collagen protein and whey protein are neck and neck overall.
Collagen is a key component of bones, where its primary role is related to bone strength and density. Preliminary research has shown that consuming collagen peptides can have a positive impact on bone density in periods of growth, while other studies have further suggested that collagen may contribute to the delay and prevention of bone loss as we age, increasing bone formation and slowing the rate of naturally occurring bone degradation. Consuming collagen protein can therefore be beneficial to bone health.
Meanwhile, when we look at the potential bone benefits of whey protein, there is much less available research and evidence. While it’s safe to say that whey protein does not have an adverse effect on bone strength and density, there is no evidence to suggest it has a positive effect either. So when it comes to bone density, collagen protein is again the winner!
Overall, collagen offers the more significant benefits for skin, hair and nails than whey protein, as well as supporting connective tissue, delivering a full-body anti-aging solution. But if it’s simply muscle mass development you’re looking for, then whey protein may be for you.
Collagen protein and whey protein: better together?
Collagen protein and whey protein are some of the most popular supplements out there at the moment and both offer benefits to our bodies - but should you take them together?
Well, yes - and no.
When it comes to taking protein supplements, your body can only absorb and process a certain amount at a time. You can certainly take a whey protein supplement and a collagen supplement in the same 24 hours, as both offer slightly different benefits, but you should not take them at the same time or too close together, for the simple reason that you will only see a limited benefit.
Absolute Collagen’s 8000mg of ready-mixed liquid collagen has been expertly formulated as the perfect dose: the maximum your body can absorb at once. For this reason, if you are taking a whey supplement as well as your daily Absolute Collagen dose, we would recommend spacing them apart; perhaps take one in the morning and one in the evening. You will also need to take into account your fitness routine, as whey protein is commonly used to aid in recovery from a workout session, so, for instance, if you go to the gym first thing in the morning, take your whey protein straight after your workout and your collagen protein in the evening.