Collagen Protein vs Whey Protein: Differences, Pros, Cons

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As someone looking to optimize their health and fitness, you probably wonder how collagen compares to good ol’ whey protein, which has proven itself as an industry leader over the past 20 years. Check out our sweet infographic below to compare collagen vs whey.

Key Takeaways

  • Collagen protein is derived from animals’ skin, bones, and connective tissues, typically cows and pigs. In contrast, whey is made from a liquid that remains after cheese production.
  • Collagen is an incomplete protein because it lacks the essential amino acid tryptophan. But, its unique amino acid profile allows it to repair tissue damage and potentially strengthen the bones, joints, muscles, and connective tissues.
  • Whey is a complete protein with high leucine levels–an amino acid crucial for muscle protein synthesis. Whey protein promotes muscle growth and is taken by people looking to build and maintain muscle.

What Is Collagen Protein?

what is collagen protein

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, accounting for nearly a third of the total protein in your body. 

It is a strong, fibrous structural component and the primary building block for skin, muscles, bones, and connective tissues (e.g., ligaments and tendons). It’s also found in the organs, intestinal lining, and blood vessels.

From early adulthood, collagen production declines by 1-1.5 percent annually, mainly contributing to skin elasticity loss, reduced mobility, bone mass loss, and impaired muscle function.

Collagen protein supplements (from bovine or marine sources) are designed to increase protein levels in the body, negating these effects and allowing you to lead a healthier and more active life, free of aches and immobility.

Here is some insight from registered dietitian Gavin Van De Walle:

“As the amount of collagen in your body decreases with age, your risk of degenerative joint disorders such as osteoarthritis increases. Collagen helps maintain the integrity of your cartilage, the rubber-like tissue that protects your joints.”

The average collagen supplement only contains 10 grams of protein per scoop but is essentially pure protein (containing <1 g of carbs and fat per scoop).

What Is Whey Protein?

what is whey protein

Whey is a dairy-based protein made from the liquid left after cheese production. The liquid is collected, purified, and dried to make the protein powder. 

A key feature of whey protein is its large concentration of leucine––one of the nine essential amino acids necessary for muscle protein synthesis (a precursor to muscle growth).

Whey protein comes in various forms based on the level of processing. The most popular forms are whey concentrate and whey isolate

Whey concentrate is less processed and contains more protein, fat, and carbs, with approximately 24 grams per scoop, whereas whey isolate is more processed and is nearly pure protein, with around 27 grams per scoop. 

Whey is one of the most popular proteins on the market and is praised for its wide range of flavor options, affordable price, and relatively good digestibility score.

8 Differences Between Collagen vs. Whey Protein

The main differences between collagen and whey protein are:

1. Nutritional Information

The following table gives an overview of the nutritional facts of collagen and whey protein:

Nutritional Info (100 grams)Whey Protein IsolateCollagen Protein
Calories364 calories360 calories
Protein90.9 grams (99% of calories)90 grams (99% of calories)

(Remember that these are averages and could vary from brand to brand.)

The two types of protein are evenly matched based on their amounts of calories, protein, and sodium. 

Whey has double the calcium (which is minimal, given that the recommended daily intake for adults is 1,000 mg daily). 

On the other hand, collagen has twice as much iron and potassium, with both products lacking fats, carbs, fiber, and cholesterol.

2. Source

Whey and collagen proteins come from animal sources.

Collagen protein is sourced from animals’ skin, bones, and connective tissues (typically cows and fish). The materials are cleaned thoroughly and subjected to hydrolysis (water is used to break down proteins). 

Following this, there is a process of evaporation to remove excess water. Then, the materials are dried and turned into a fine powder to form a collagen supplement.

Whey protein is made through similar processes, with the primary difference being that it’s made from a liquid (whey) left behind after dairy processing.

3. Leucine Content

Leucine is the most important of all the nine essential amino acids (those the body cannot make itself) because it has strong anabolic properties and is shown to initiate protein synthesis independently.

The leucine content of protein is used to determine the quality of the protein.

According to this source, 100 grams of collagen peptides provide 2.51 grams of leucine, approximately 2.5 percent. 

In contrast, whey’s leucine content is up to ten percent, depending on the purity, which means that even less refined whey protein powders have three times more leucine than collagen products.

The leucine content means that whey protein is a better supplement for muscle growth than collagen; however, it may still be helpful. We’ll talk about that later.

4. Amino Acid Profile

The following table represents the amino acid profiles of whey and collagen. 

Amino AcidCollagen ProteinWhey
Glutamic acid1113.9
Aspartic acid4.58.7
Isoleucine (*branched chain amino acid)1.64.9
Leucine (*branched chain amino acid)2.58.6
Phenylalanine2.9 (when combined with Tyrosine)2.6
Valine (*branched chain amino acid)3.24.6

The first noticeable difference is that whey is a complete protein, having all nine essential amino acids, whereas collagen is not––it lacks tryptophan. Despite that, collagen has a unique amino acid profile, making it useful. 

Most notably, collagen has a high concentration of proline, hydroxyproline, and glycine, which form short peptides (amino acid ‘chains’) and are incorporated into collagen fibrils, the basic building blocks for tendons and other tissues.

So, while collagen protein may not have the same anabolic properties as whey (primarily because it’s incomplete and doesn’t have as much leucine), it uniquely strengthens collagen bonds in the body and promotes tissue repair.

5. Taste

A mild, somewhat creamy taste characterizes whey protein. It comes in a variety of flavors, depending on the brand.

For example, here’s what one customer wrote about the vanilla & peanut butter Transparent Labs Whey isolate:

“Wow, this protein tastes great! Wasn’t sure I would like the vanilla peanut butter, but it’s yummy.”

Collagen protein is generally advertised as flavorless, which means you can mix it into sweet and savory foods without altering their taste. However, there are some flavored options on the market. 

One of the flavored options is Primal Kitchen Collagen Fuel Drink Mix, which receives high praise from this customer:

“I’ve tried other powdered collagen mixes and haven’t been pleased. Even the ones claiming to be flavorless. But this stuff is amazing! My favorite drink to make is almond milk, frozen banana, the Collagen Fuel Chocolate Drink Mix and Peanut Powder. ”

Of course, taste is highly subjective and varies from product to product.

6. Texture & Mixability

Whey protein generally has a smooth texture but can be hard to mix, depending on the type of whey and the product. 

For example, whey isolate has a fine texture that mixes more easily because it has less fat and sugar. In contrast, whey concentrate is creamier but more challenging to mix without forming lumps.

Collagen is also generally known to have a chalk-like texture. It mixes well with hot liquids but is prone to clumping when mixed with cold liquids.

7. Environmental Impact

The environmental impact of collagen protein is difficult to gauge because of various opinions. 

This Planet Paleo resource puts it best:

“The sustainability of collagen supplements is heavily reliant on their source. Collagen can be derived from several sources like marine life (fish), bovine (cows), and chickens, or created synthetically (vegan). Each source has a different level of sustainability.”

Bovine collagen is a desirable choice because of its higher bioavailability. However, the environmental impact of that type of product largely depends on the practices used to manage the animals. 

Whey protein production may be a more environmentally sustainable option, given that the disposal of whey as wastewater can have a harmful impact. According to one paper, disposing of whey leads to a significant loss of nutrients and energy.

It also negatively impacts the environment, which means manufacturers must look for sustainable ways to use whey for products (i.e., by making whey protein powder).

8. Cost

Based on our research from reviewing numerous whey products, the average cost per serving (30 grams) is $1.34. However, higher-quality whey proteins can cost as much as $2 per scoop.

The average cost of collagen (based on ten popular products, including BPN, Vital Protein, and Ancient Nutrition) is $1.89. However, some products can go as high as $2.30 to $2.60 per serving.

It’s also worth noting that the average serving size for collagen protein is 10-12 grams, almost three times less than that of whey.

How To Pick Between Collagen vs Whey Protein

To pick between collagen and whey protein, consider the following factors:

Dietary Restrictions & Lifestyle

Whey and collagen proteins come from animal sources and are unsuitable for people on a vegan diet. However, those who are pescatarian would benefit from marine collagen.

Collagen protein would also be better for those with dairy allergies or intolerances.

For those concerned with environmental impact, purchasing collagen powder from Amazon with a ‘Climate Pledge Friendly’ badge is an option. 

Here is how Amazon describes such products:

“This product has sustainability features recognized by trusted certifications. Carbon emissions from the lifecycle of this product were measured, reduced and offset.”

How You Plan To Mix Protein

Whey protein mixes more easily than collagen protein, so whey would be the better choice if you want the most versatility in how you use your protein supplement. 

Whey protein can be used in smoothies, shakes, pancakes, brownies, and more.

Collagen mixes well in hot liquids, so it’s best for those who want to mix it with their coffee or into soup.

When You Plan to Take It

Whey digests quickly and provides amino acids to boost muscle protein synthesis, which is highly beneficial after training, as it helps kick-start muscle recovery and can promote growth. 

In contrast, collagen doesn’t have the same immediate effect and doesn’t stimulate muscle protein synthesis to the same extent, given the lower leucine content.

Other than that, timing doesn’t appear to matter much. Both types of protein would be suitable to take in the morning, with meals, or before bed.

If Your Goal Is Weight Loss

For weight loss, you must ensure a calorie deficit (take in fewer calories than you expend) and get enough protein to maintain muscle mass and lose fat. 

Collagen is not the best option to achieve this because it’s an incomplete protein with less leucine, making it more challenging to hold onto muscle. 

In contrast, whey is the gold standard for fat loss because it provides high-quality protein with fewer calories, helping you maintain muscle mass in a deficit.

If Your Goal Is Muscle Gain

Collagen is also not the best option for a muscle-building protein because of its naturally low leucine content (compared to whey) and the lack of tryptophan, which makes it incomplete.

In contrast, whey has proven to be highly beneficial for muscle growth, supporting protein synthesis.

Combining the two supplements would encourage muscle protein synthesis and support joint and connective tissue health. 

The high-volume training most people do to grow optimally can eventually lead to joint aches and tissue inflammation, so combining sources would be most beneficial for muscle gain.

If Your Goal Is Overall Health

If your goal is to improve your health, then you should focus on increasing your consumption of whole-food nutrients rather than on supplements. 

That said, whey protein would be a great option if you’re struggling to meet your protein needs with whole foods alone.

If you can meet your daily protein goals but are looking for a supplement to help support bone, joint, and connective tissue, collagen would be a better option.

Do You Need Collagen If You Take Whey Protein?

Deciding whether to take collagen in addition to whey protein depends on your goals. 

If you’re relatively young, your primary goals are to build muscle and lose fat, and you don’t experience any chronic aches or pains, whey protein alone is enough.

However, taking collagen on top of whey protein could be highly beneficial if you’re over forty and struggling with mobility issues or chronic aches and pains.

Collagen Protein Recommendation: Transparent Labs Collagen Hydrolysate

transparent labs collagen hydrolysate

I highly recommend the hydrolyzed collagen protein by Transparent Labs.

It consists of high-quality bovine collagen that goes through hydrolysis, where long protein chains (peptides) are broken down with water to speed up digestion and improve absorption.

I also like Transparent Labs products because they undergo third-party testing, which means an independent organization reviews their products for quality and purity.

Whey Protein Recommendation: Transparent Labs Grass-Fed Whey Protein Isolate

transparent labs grass-fed whey protein isolate

There is arguably no better whey protein than the grass-fed isolate by Transparent Labs

It’s free of artificial sweeteners, additives, or other potentially harmful agents. It’s highly refined and provides an impressive 28 grams of protein per serving. 

Similar to the previous product I recommended, this one is third-party tested to ensure quality.

Read our full review here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are There Any Potential Allergens In Collagen or Whey?

Whey contains lactose, which some people cannot digest, leading to GI discomfort and symptoms like bloating, nausea, or gassiness. Collagen may also have allergens for people sensitive to fish, poultry, or bovine.

Which Tastes Better: Collagen or Whey?

Taste is subjective, but whey is generally better. It has a mild and creamy taste and comes with more flavor options. Collagen is typically sold unflavored, which makes it more versatile.

Can I Use Collagen & Whey Interchangeable in Recipes?

Not necessarily because whey alters the texture and adds creaminess, whereas collagen is more neutral and has a smaller impact, the flavor is also important when deciding which product to use for sweet and savory recipes.

Can I Get All My Protein From Collagen or Whey?

While both products can contribute to your overall protein intake, I don’t recommend covering your protein needs with a single source. Mixing protein sources provides more amino acids and keeps your diet sustainable and more enjoyable.

Can I Use Both Collagen And Whey At The Same Time?

You can use collagen and whey protein simultaneously, as they have different amino acid profiles and offer complementary benefits.

Other Whey Protein Comparisons

Check out some of our other resources on whey protein:


Shoulders MD, Raines RT. Collagen structure and stability. Annu Rev Biochem. 2009;78:929-58. doi: 10.1146/annurev.biochem.77.032207.120833. PMID: 19344236; PMCID: PMC2846778.

Reilly DM, Lozano J. Skin collagen through the lifestages: importance for skin health and beauty. Plastic and Aesthetic Research. 2021; 8: 2.

Gorissen SHM, Crombag JJR, Senden JMG, Waterval WAH, Bierau J, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJC. Protein content and amino acid composition of commercially available plant-based protein isolates. Amino Acids. 2018 Dec;50(12):1685-1695. doi: 10.1007/s00726-018-2640-5. Epub 2018 Aug 30. PMID: 30167963; PMCID: PMC6245118.

Garlick, P. J. (2005). The role of leucine in the regulation of protein metabolism. The Journal of Nutrition, 135(6), 1553S-1556S.

Paul C, Leser S, Oesser S. Significant Amounts of Functional Collagen Peptides Can Be Incorporated in the Diet While Maintaining Indispensable Amino Acid Balance. Nutrients. 2019 May 15;11(5):1079. doi: 10.3390/nu11051079. PMID: 31096622; PMCID: PMC6566836.

van Vliet, Stephan & Burd, Nicholas & van Loon, Luc. (2015). The Skeletal Muscle Anabolic Response to Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Consumption. The Journal of nutrition. 145. 10.3945/jn.114.204305.

Oberoi A, Giezenaar C, Jensen C, Lange K, Hausken T, Jones KL, Horowitz M, Chapman I, Soenen S. Acute effects of whey protein on energy intake, appetite and gastric emptying in younger and older, obese men. Nutr Diabetes. 2020 Oct 2;10(1):37. doi: 10.1038/s41387-020-00139-8. PMID: 33004790; PMCID: PMC7531014.

About The Author

Philip Stefanov

Philip Stefanov is a certified conditioning coach, personal trainer, and fitness instructor. With more than nine years of experience in the industry, he’s helped hundreds of clients improve their nutritional habits, become more consistent with exercise, lose weight in a sustainable way, and build muscle through strength training. He is passionate about writing and has published more than 500 articles on various topics related to healthy nutrition, dieting, calorie and macronutrient tracking, meal planning, fitness and health supplementation, best training practices, and muscle recovery.

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