What Are the Benefits of Whey Protein vs. Collagen Protein

Whey and collagen are two popular protein supplements on the market, and collagen is in our AWAKN optimized coffee.  I often get asked, what’s the difference and which one should you take?

Whey and collagen are derived from different parts of the animal and have different amino acid profiles that support different functions throughout the body.  In this post, I’ll provide an overview of the benefits of each and how they can be supplemented into a healthy diet.

Whey Protein

Source: Derived from milk, most often cows

Whey is a complete protein, meaning that it provides the body with all necessary amino acids, including the 9 amino acids (i.e. Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Valine) that are considered essential for life, because the body cannot synthesize them. 

How does whey supplementation help your body?

Whey protein is most commonly known for its support of muscle growth due to the anabolic effect it triggers in the body.  Whey protein is quickly absorbed by the body which then aids in muscle protein synthesis, through the branch chain amino acids, the main one being leucine. This also makes it a great option to prevent muscle atrophy from sarcopenia.

Beyond muscle growth, there are some lesser-known but equally important functions that whey protein supports. 

  • Improve and support gut health and digestion through alpha-lactalbumin and L-glutamine which can help prevent ulcers, reduce inflammation and heal the lining of the gut.
  • Supports bone health through lactoferrin found in whey protein which helps with mineral absorption and bone regeneration.
  •  Whey has been shown to help fight many metabolically related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. It’s also been shown to be an effective tool in weight loss through reduced fasting insulin levels and increased satiety.
  • If you have high stress levels, the alpha-lactalbumin in whey has been shown to increase serotonin levels, reducing stress and improving cognitive function.

Whey protein can be a great supplement in a healthy diet. Specifically, if you are looking to put on additional muscle through weightlifting but also if you need support for any of the conditions listed above.

Whey can be easily incorporated into smoothies, yogurt or mixed up as a stand-alone drink. Watch out for questionable sweeteners and flavorings when choosing a good whey protein.

Collagen Protein

Source: bones, skin, and cartilage of animals

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and it has a distinctly different amino acid profile than whey. It's one of the major building blocks of bones, skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Unlike whey, it is not a complete protein.  

Why is collagen important?

After the age of 25, our natural production of collagen begins to decline. Due to our modern diets, eating mainly muscle meats, we struggle to make up for this deficiency. Ancestrally, diets consisted more of nose-to-tail, meaning the whole animal was eaten and collagen was obtained from the bones and connective tissues of animals (i.e. although delicious, we aren't getting collagen from chicken breasts, ground beef, and filets mignon). 

Because of the lack of collagen in our diets, glycine, one of the major amino acids in our body required for basic metabolic processes, is deficient. While the human body can synthesize glycine, it can only synthesize approximate 3 grams per day and we need approximately 16 grams per day.  In general, modern diets only provide approximately 3 grams of glycine.  Therefore with our own glycine synthesis and diet, we lacking approximately 10g of glycine per day.  This deficiency can lead to the weakening of our body structurally.

This is where collagen supplementation comes into play and why it has become increasingly popular as a supplement.

How does collagen supplementation help your body?

  • Most importantly, collagen protein helps support our bodies structurally. It improves and supports the function and growth of fascia, ligaments, tendons, cartilage. This can aid in injury and pain prevention and recovery from structural stressors (i.e. working out, playing sports).
  • Collagen protein supports healthy skin, hair, and nails, reducing wrinkles and improving elasticity.
  • Collagen protein can improve gut health by reducing inflammation and cellular repair.
  • Sleep quality can improve through collagen protein, again from the high glycine content found in collagen.
  • Because collagen helps build tissue, it works to accelerate wound healing, accidental or post-surgical.
  • Collagen protein can also help strengthen bone structure, which makes it a great supplement to combat osteoporosis or if you play high impact sports.

So as you can see, if you are not consistently eating nose to tail then supplementing collagen is essential in maintaining the structural integrity of our body. In fact, many experts, like Mark Sisson, are starting to call it the fourth macronutrient.  

Results have not gone unnoticed. Professional athletes are starting to take collagen supplements for its restoration and recovery benefits and support of tissue resiliency.  For example, pro golfer Phil Mickelson takes collagen with his coffee every morning.

You don’t have to be a pro athlete to see results, though! My wife and I both supplement with collagen as a pre-workout drink in the morning to help with recovery and injury prevention. It’s soft tissue and joint protection support has become popular with everyday folks who participate in high impact sports, everything from CrossFit to running and hiking.

Here are some great ways to get more collagen:

  • Make your own bone broth 
  • Eat more bone-in short ribs, shanks, oxtail, whole chickens with skin
  • Add collagen to coffee, tea, and smoothies 
  • Of course, our AWAKN optimized coffee already has 10 grams of collagen protein portioned into it along with brain-boosting coconut MCTs, and it’s intentionally packaged to be an easy and convenient source to take and make anywhere.

Bottom line:  Both whey and collagen can be impactful supplements when strategically incorporated into a healthy, whole food diet. I personally like whey for muscle building and collagen for joint, tendon and ligament resiliency and recovery.