Collagen Protein 101: Use Cases and Comparison to Whey Protein

Collagen Protein 101: Use Cases and Comparison to Whey Protein

In recent years, collagen protein powders have come onto the market in a big way. You may have seen both on the shelf or online and wondered which is ‘better’ or how they are different. This article will provide an overview of the comparison between whey protein and hydrolysed collagen protein.


Adequate protein intake overall is a crucial aspect of health and is therefore often a focus area for many health-conscious individuals. The health benefits of adequate protein are substantial and include lowering blood pressure, lowering type 2 diabetes risk, antioxidant defence, feeling satiated after a meal and the maintenance of our vital organs as we age (5). We have covered these topics in other articles, however the focus in this article is a specific and objective examination of collagen versus whey.


Key Differences

First and foremost, the proteins come from different sources. Whey protein is made from milk and collagen proteins are often made from animal hide, and some made from nails or bones. Every protein you consume contains different amino acids, these are the ‘building blocks’ of the protein. Since collagen and whey are proteins derived from different sources, they have different amino acid profiles, resulting in them having different effects in your body.

  1. Collagen products are very high in the amino acids glycine, arginine and proline (2).
  2. Whey protein products are very high in leucine, isoleucine and valine.



Specifically, what is Whey Protein useful for?

  • A big difference between whey and collagen is that collagen is an ‘incomplete’ protein in that it is missing some amino acids. Collagen products do not contain the essential amino acid tryptophan and also do not contain cysteine.
  • Your body uses tryptophan to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood (8). One study has shown that people with a diet rich in tryptophan had less anxiety, irritability and depression (8).
  • Your body uses cysteine to enhance glutathione production. Glutathione is a hugely beneficial compound, for example:
    • Populations that are deficient in glutathione include cancer patients (10) patients with HIV infection (11) and the elderly (aging is correlated with a reduction in glutathione synthesis, which can be reversed with L-cysteine) (12)
      • Glutathione alleviates diabetes risk by limiting post meal glucose tolerance (13)
    • As mentioned above, whey protein products are very high in leucine, isoleucine and valine. These compounds are all essential amino acids, meaning your body does not naturally produce them and they must be sourced from the foods we eat.
    • The dominant role for leucine, isoleucine and valine relate to muscle protein synthesis, which is a fancy way of saying maintaining and growing muscle mass.
    • When hearing the term ‘muscle mass’, you may think of bodybuilders in speedos! But, the rest of us also need to retain our lean muscle mass in order to maintain optimal function of vital organs (some of which are also muscles).
    • Muscle growth and maintenance are especially difficult in two situations, as we get older, 50+ years of age (3) and those trying to lose weight (4). So if you are in one or both of those camps, getting an adequate protein intake that is tailored towards muscle growth and maintenance will be vital for your wellbeing and quality of life.
    • To determine what is ‘adequate’ for you, use our free protein calculator tool to determine your ideal intake based on your goals and current body weight: Protein Quiz
    • As whey is a product that has been around for many years, the production process is less expensive than the more recently introduced collagen. This is reflected in the price of these two products. The average collagen product will be on the market for $70 - $100 per kilogram, compared to Boomers whey products which start at $39 per kilogram.



    Specifically, what is Collagen Protein useful for?

    • Hydrolyzed collagen supplements can be taken in doses of around 10g a day for benefitting your skin health (6). A recent study saw a 13% reduction in visible wrinkles over a 12 week period of collagen supplementation (6).
    • If you are looking at collagen as an anti-aging supplement, it appears that fish collagen specifically has more consistent benefits than collagen from other sources (9). Beef collagen, not marine collagen, is the most widely available collagen type in hydrolyzed collagen products.
    • Collagen protein may have some benefit related to exercise-induced joint pain. One recent study showed a reduction in joint pain during exercise however there was no effect on ongoing whole-day joint pain scores relative to the placebo (7).


        Isn’t Collagen Protein good for your hair?

        • Collagen is often marketed as the ‘hair, skin and nails’ protein, this could be more accurately described as collagen is the protein that is produced from animal hair, skin and nails! Currently, there is only reliable evidence that it assists with the skin.
        • Collagen is made up of several amino acids that build keratin (1), it is dominantly made up of 3 non-essential amino acids; proline, glycine and hydroxyproline (2). Non-essential amino acids meaning that your body produces them naturally.
        • In theory, as collagen contains the key components of hair follicles, it is logical to assume that it may help with hair growth and strength. However, human studies on hydrolyzed collagen are lacking so there is no current evidence to suggest that collagen would be better than any other source in this regard.


          Isn’t Collagen good for your gut?

          • The key amino acid associated with the digestive tract is glutamic acid. This improves the growth and survival of intestinal cells (14).
          • Whey protein contains on average about twice as much glutamic acid as hydrolyzed collagen. So in this regard, collagen will benefit your gut health, however whey protein would be more beneficial.
          • As described above, the amino acid cysteine enhances glutathione production in the body which in turn plays an important role in maintaining gut health related to intestinal immune and anti-oxidative responses (15). As mentioned, unlike whey protein, collagen products do not contain cysteine.
          • Collagen could be considered ‘good’ for your gut as opposed to whey in people with lactose intolerance if the lactose caused them to feel stomach discomfort. However whey protein isolate has had the lactose removed being suitable for people with lactose sensitivity.



            Why doesn’t Boomers Protein stock a Collagen supplement?

            • Boomers has no issue with collagen protein supplementation specifically, we just pride ourselves on finding the best in a certain category. Our brand is Boomers Protein, not Boomers Whey Protein. But as it stands in the category of protein supplementation, whey protein is unmatched.
            • It should be noted that if we were looking to expand our range and wanted a product that focuses on skin health, then collagen would likely be considered.
            • If you are looking for a product that is a complete protein supplement, then collagen may not be the best choice. If your diet already has adequate protein for your needs and you want to specifically benefit from additional protein for your skin, then collagen may be a good option.

              Key Points:
              • Essential amino acids are those that our body does not naturally produce and therefore must come from the food we eat. Whey proteins are high in essential amino acids, specifically leucine, isoleucine and valine. Collagen proteins are high in many non-essential amino acids, specifically glycine, proline and hydroxyproline.
              • If you are looking for a protein supplement to help minimise muscle loss as you lose weight or age, a high protein diet will be beneficial and whey protein is better suited to this than collagen.
              • If you are looking to increase your protein and cost or value for money is an important factor, whey protein products tend to be less expensive than collagen protein products.
              • If you are dairy sugar sensitive (lactose sensitive) but dairy protein tolerant, then whey protein isolate, which has had the dairy fats and sugars removed, would be the best option.
              • If you have dairy protein intolerance, most plant proteins are complete proteins with essential amino acids and therefore better suited as a protein supplementation than collagen.
              • If your diet has adequate protein and you wish for some of the protein in your diet to also benefit your skin, collagen may be a good option for you.


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                Resources:
                1 - The Structure of People’s Hair
                Yang, Zhang and Rheinstadter https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4201279/

                2. Molecular Cell Biology
                https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK21582/

                3. Sarcopenia: Clinical Evaluation, Biological Markers and other Evaluation Tools
                Pahor, Mahini and Cesari
                https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4312657/

                4. Protein Recommendations for Weight Loss in Elite Athletes
                Hector and Phillips
                https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29182451

                5. Health Benefits of High Protein Diets
                https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-reasons-to-eat-more-protein

                6. Ingestion of BioCell Collagen(®), a novel hydrolyzed chicken sternal cartilage extract; enhanced blood microcirculation and reduced facial aging signs
                Schwartz and Park
                https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22956862/

                7. Undenatured type II collagen (UC-II®) for joint support: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in healthy volunteers
                Lugo et al.
                https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24153020

                8. L-Tryptophan: Basic Metabolic Functions, Behavioural Research and Therapeutic Indications
                Richard et al
                https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20651948

                9. Hydrolyzed Collagen: Sources and Applications
                Lopez et al
                https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6891674/

                10. Whey protein concentrate (WPC) and glutathione modulation in cancer treatment
                G Bounus
                https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11205219/

                11. Effects of long-term supplementation with whey proteins on plasma glutathione levels of HIV-infected patients
                Micke, Beeh and Buhl
                https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11990003

                12. Deficient synthesis of glutathione underlies oxidative stress in aging and can be corrected by dietary cysteine and glycine supplementation.
                Sekhar et al
                https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21795440

                13. Oxidative stress and ageing: is ageing a cysteine deficiency syndrome
                Droge
                https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16321806

                14. Glutamine and intestinal barrier function
                Wang et al
                https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24965526/

                15. The Roles of Glutamine in the Intestine and Its Implication in Intestinal Diseases
                Kim and Kim
                https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5454963/

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