Collagen Protein vs Whey & Plant Protein
We’ve been looking into myths surrounding collagen and, when it comes to collagen vs whey or plant protein, there are lots! So, let’s take a look and see how things really stack up between these different proteins…
The speed read
Collagen is an animal derived protein with a very special amino acid profile. Other protein supplements have varying amino acid profiles and can come from whey, eggs or from non-animal sources.
Collagen protein does not contain all 9 essential amino acids but has very high levels of the glycine, proline and hydroxyproline structured in very unique ways.
The amino acids in collagen are stronger and more stable than in whey and survive the manufacturing process intact and in a state that is very easy for the body to digest and absorb.
Collagen protein is not only digested as peptides and amino acids, but also stimulate fibroblasts (the cells that produce collagen and maintain connective tissue) and osteoblasts (the cells responsible for bone formation).
Collagen protein supports collagen production, tissue repair and gut health, plus the production of antioxidants and stomach acid.
Pure, high quality collagen protein contains no artificial sweeteners, additives or nasties and is certified to the strictest standards.
Collagen protein can expedite healing from injury or surgery, and help reduce the risk of bone fractures, joint discomfort and support mobility and flexibility.
Collagen protein may help maintain nitrogen balance, preserve lean body mass and increase creatine production for muscle energy and growth.
Collagen is not necessarily the best protein. There are many reasons why it is superior than whey and other protein, but there are pros and cons. This article is intended to empower you to make informed decisions that best suit you.
The finer details
Different types of protein supplements
Collagen is a protein (learn more about collagen here).
In short, it’s comprised of protein peptides, which are themselves made up of chains of amino acids. There are 18 amino acids in collagen, including 8 essential (essential means our bodies can’t make them so they have to come from food), and glycine, glutamic acid, proline and hydroxyproline are the most prevalent. Sources commonly come from bovine (cow) and marine (fish), but can also come from porcine (pig), ovine (sheep) and eggshell membrane sources.
Other, more traditional protein supplements, typically come from sources such as whey, peas, soybeans, rice, eggs or hemp. Whey is the most popular form of protein powder supplement and is derived from the liquid formed after cows milk is curdled then strained. Like collagen, whey contains 18 amino acids, with its highest being glutamic acid, aspartic acid and leucine. However, instead of containing hydroxylysine and hydroxyproline, it has cysteine and tryptophan plus all 9 essential amino acids. Other protein powders vary in their amino acid profile and, whilst some may contain all of the essential amino acids, the number of amino acids within their profile can often be much lower than collagen and whey.
Whey and other protein powders tend to be more difficult to digest and have less nutritional value at the end of the manufacturing process. For example, both collagen and whey go through a dehydration and drying phase, but collagen molecules are actually stronger than whey. Whey’s amino acids are unstable when exposed to heat and acid during manufacturing, which results in them becoming oxidised and glycated (damaged) in such a way that they can be unusable by the body and difficult for our organs to digest and detox. Collagen is also hydrolysed, meaning the complex protein molecules are broken down into much smaller and more easily absorbed protein peptides. Whilst there are a few whey hydrolysate supplements, most protein powders are not hydrolysed in this way.
Traditional protein powders also usually come in flavoured varieties. Whilst this may taste nice, it is often due to numerous additives, flavourings and sweeteners that can be quite unhealthy or even harmful. Whereas Edible Health’s Bovine and Marine Collagen powders are just 100% pure collagen protein.
Why are collagen peptides a superior source of protein?
We aren’t here to shame anyone for their diet or lifestyle choices, but we do want to help people to make informed choices. Here are four compelling reasons why collagen peptides are a better protein source than traditional protein powders, no matter what your health or fitness goals may be:
1. Collagen protein is absorbed faster and differently
We know that bioavailable sounds like a really science-y word, but it’s actually super important when talking about supplements. “Bioavailability” refers to how easily a substance can be absorbed and used by the body. When talking about protein supplements, bioavailability is a good thing. It means that our bodies can quickly access what they need without using a lot of extra energy. So, you want to be using a protein supplement with high bioavailability in order to maximise its benefits.
Traditional protein supplements like whey require all sorts of bodily processes and a lot of energy to break the molecules down into usable building blocks of protein – amino acids. In fact, whey protein in particular is absorbed at a fairly weak rate of 8-10 grams per hour, although adding enzymes can help boost this. And, as mentioned, the manufacturing process for whey can actually denature the protein and render it unusable to the body, which can actually put more stress onto your liver and kidneys.
In contrast, hydrolysed collagen peptides are already broken down into their smallest molecular structure and are ready to be channelled where the body needs them. This means that collagen is an easy and efficient source of protein, which can enhance energy and stamina and improve health more quickly... Just what you need to potentially boost that workout, expedite recovery or reduce DOMs.
Once ingested, collagen peptides work in one of three ways:
- Collagen peptides can be broken down into their respective amino acids and used by the body for whatever it needs
- Collagen peptides can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream and used by the body for whatever it need
- Collagen peptides reach the small intestine where they trigger an immune response that stimulates fibroblasts (the cells that produce collagen and maintain connective tissue) and osteoblasts (the cells responsible for bone formation).
No other protein supplements work in these ways.
2. Collagen protein is both allergen + gut health friendly.
Compared to traditional protein powders, which are often formulated from whey and may contain casein, denatured amino acids and all sorts of artificial sweeteners, flavourings and additives, collagen is much more gut and organ friendly. Whey and casein can bother sensitive digestive systems, especially for those who are lactose intolerant. Artificial sweeteners, like sucralose, aspartame, stevia, xylitol and even erythritol, may alter the bacteria of the microbiome and can cause both short and long-term digestive distress. Large doses of whey supplements can also contain toxic amounts of heavy metals and other harmful substances.
Collagen peptides, however, are free from all of the most common allergens, including gluten, dairy, soy, sugar and nuts. If you choose a high-quality brand certified to the strictest EU and UK standards, the collagen will also be free from hormones, steroids and antibiotics, and sellers should provide certification to substantiate such. It will also be BSE and heavy metal safe and (for those elite athletes) WADA compliant. In terms of Edible Health, you’ll never find us using artificial sweeteners or additives in our products either. We prefer them au natural, and leave any flavouring to you!
Collagen is also very high in proline and glycine. Proline is important for synthesising collagen and tissue repair and can help heal and seal the gut. Glycine combines with glutamine and cysteine to support the body with producing glutathione which is the most powerful antioxidant in the body. Glycine also promotes stomach acid production which facilitates digestion. This is why meat stock and bone broth recipes can be so healing for the gut.
3. Collagen may better prevent and aid recovery from injury or surgery.
When we injure ourselves, the rate at which our body needs to produce collagen to heal connective tissues, skin, ligaments, bone fractures or muscle injuries is substantially higher during the first 3 weeks following injury or surgery. Thanks to its glycine content and its inherent anti-inflammatory properties, collagen protein may help in the recovery from injury. This is particularly compelling given whey, in contrast, has been suggested to actually exacerbate inflammation.
As we age, our natural collagen production slows down and collagen within our body also starts to breakdown. This can weaken our bones and cartilage and lead to increased risk of fractures, joint pain and discomfort as well as reduce our mobility and flexibility. Collagen protein can help prevent this.
4. Collagen may assist in maintaining nitrogen balance and lean muscle mass.
Nitrogen balance is the term used to describe the measuring of nitrogen output subtracted from nitrogen input. If we have a negative nitrogen balance, our bodies are malnourished and/or over-exerting themselves (through, for instance, training). Conversely, a positive nitrogen balance is measured when the body is performing more optimally, and nutrition is sufficient (although sometimes it might be excessive). Studies have shown hydrolysed collagen protein may help to maintain nitrogen balance and preserve lean body mass.
Collagen also contains large amounts of glycine and arginine which are critical for the production of creatine. Creatine is a source of energy for muscle contraction (in other words gives your muscles the energy to exercise) and is also crucial for muscle growth.
So, if you’re a body-builder, an athlete training hard, or a gym-lover who likes a session on the weights, then don’t automatically turn to whey as your pre or post-workout protein. Not when collagen can work more effectively for you! We all know that you get out what you put in, so make sure you’re putting in the cleanest, purest most effective protein that you can.
On a final note, this does not mean we, at Edible Health, are saying that collagen is better than whey, pea, soy or other protein powder supplements. There are pros and cons to all the different protein powders out there.
Some of you may have dietary, digestive or religious preferences that mean one type of protein will suit you more than another, and some of you may have health needs that mean different or a combination of supplements will be best for you.
As the global number 1, no nonsense collagen experts we simply want to empower you through natural health, so we hope the above gives you more information from which you can make informed choices to optimise your health.
The information we have provided herewith, and all linked materials, are not intended nor should they be construed as medical advice. Moreover, the information herewith should not be used as a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. Please refer to our Terms and Conditions and consult your General Practitioner for advice specific for you.