Whey Vs. Collagen Protein: Which Is Right For You?

September 19, 2018

Whey Vs. Collagen Protein: Which Is Right For You?

Being #supplementsmart these days takes some serious time and knowledge. Whether you consider yourself a full-time biohacker or just take a daily multivitamin for good measure, it seems as if all supplements are making all-encompassing health claims. What to believe? Which ones to take!? Overwhelmed yet?

First things first: A protein supplement that benefits you might actually not be of much benefit to others and vice versa. Moreover, in order to determine which protein supplement will work for your needs, you need to first establish what your needs or health goals are. This is especially true when it comes to whey vs collagen protein. Both come with a bevy of benefits for your health but must be used in the right context in order to be effective. Today, we’ll discuss why you might take one over the other, for what purposes, and why.

As a pharmacist, I’m often asked if I prefer one over the other. In fact, yes I do, but I prefer to disclose my opinion about that later on after first discussing both whey and collagen in a little bit more detail.

Whey protein: what is it?

Whey protein is one of the two proteins found in milk. It's found in the watery portion of milk, with the other being casein. Whey is the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production. We’ve all seen the liquid floating on the top of yogurt in a yogurt container before. What you’re seeing is whey protein.

Whey protein is a rich source of essential amino acids; it contains all nine essential amino acids the body needs to function properly. Whey is particularly rich in important branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) like leucine; the most anabolic (growth-promoting) amino acid, and also contains a high quantity of cysteine; which can help boost levels of the cellular antioxidant glutathione.

Whey protein comes in three different types: Concentrate, Isolate, and Hydrolysate. The difference between concentrate and isolate is found in the content of protein in each one. Isolate offers a higher percentage of protein and has less lactose making it more suitable for people who suffer from lactose intolerance. On the other hand, concentrate delivers a higher number of beneficial nutrients, which are more palatable to the consumer and often cheaper as well. Hydrolysate gets absorbed faster than both concentrate and isolates as it's a pre-digested form.

What evidence do we have of Whey protein’s benefits?

Whey protein is best-known in the body-building industry. It's popular among athletes, bodybuilders, fitness models, as well as people looking to improve their performance in the gym. It has a triple effect in this sense as it provides the building blocks for protein and amino acids, which serve to increase muscle growth, and increases the release of anabolic hormones that can stimulate muscle growth, such as insulin. Whey is high in leucine which stimulates muscle protein synthesis very efficiently.

The bottom line is this: Whey protein is a healthy and convenient way to have more protein in your diet but if you are eating meat, fish, eggs, and dairy; all considered high-quality proteins; no extra advantage will come from supplementing with whey protein.

The European journal of clinical nutrition published an often-cited study designed to investigate whether whey protein supplementation results in greater increases in lean body mass, muscle strength and physical function in elderly individuals during 12 weeks of resistance exercise when compared to isocaloric carbohydrate supplementation.

Results showed that no greater gains in lean body mass, strength and physical function in elderly people with sufficient energy and protein intake as compared to isocaloric carbohydrate. The explanation of the study explained that "When consumption of protein and dietary status is adequate, extra protein supplementation is unlikely to have a measurable effect on the efficacy of resistance training" (1).

How do collagen peptides compare to whey protein?

On the other hand, what about collagen protein in the form of collagen peptides? Does it compare to whey protein and can it function as an alternative?

Collagen is the most common protein in the human body. It makes up roughly 30% of all protein in our body and plays a massive role in the construction of skin, bones, muscles, nails, hair, cartilage, tendons and other forms of connective tissue.

"Collagen keeps skin resilient and joints working smoothly, and provides structure in the tissues that connect our organs. However, after the the ripe old age of 30, everyone's collagen production declines. If you lose the collagen structure in your bones, that's osteoporosis. The loss of   collagen in the skin results in lines and wrinkles”—Steffen Oesser, founder of the Collagen Research Institute in Kiel, Germany.

The truth is that collagen production inevitably decreases in the body as we get older and creates a need for supplementation when you want to maintain it. Collagen contains 19 amino acids but only has 8 out of the 9 essential amino acids, whereas whey has all the essential amino acids. However, within the amino acid profiles of each, collagen contains a relatively high amount of arginine and glycine, both known to be important substrates for the synthesis of creatine in the human body. Creatine has been studied for years and has shown to increase nutrient delivery and muscle synthesis in all athletes.

Collagen peptides are small bioactive peptides created by breaking down the molecular bonds between individual collagen strands to peptides, or hydrolysis. Due to smaller molecular weight as compared to native collagen, better digestion, distribution, and absorption profile are achieved (2).

What are the benefits of collagen peptides?

There is a wide range of benefits when it comes to taking collagen peptides that encompass both health and beauty.

Let’s start with muscle strength. Collagen peptides are an ideal pre-workout supplement as they contain the required amino acids and in the right quantities. Collagen can also be effective at reducing joint pain after exercise, which was examined in two studies that resulted in statistically significant improvements in pain reduction in subjects suffering from in activity-related or functional joint discomfort (3).

Furthermore, The British Journal of Nutrition has published a similar study to that which investigated the effect of whey protein alongside resistance training to enhance muscle strength and increase lean muscle but this time with collagen peptides and contrary to whey protein, collagen peptides resulted in a higher increase in Fat-free mass (FFM) and muscle strength, as well as a higher reduction in Fat mass (FM) in the collagen-supplemented group compared to placebo (4).

Collagen peptides can also work best in people with arthritic symptoms, where collagen has been observed to comfort joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation (5).

Collagen peptides also have a superior anti-inflammatory effect as compared to whey protein. This enables collagen to halt gut ulcers and relieve heartburns with glutamine, one of the amino acids in collagen peptides. It has been recognized as the key amino acid in preventing inflammation in the gut lining and