By Jill Levy
There’s no shortage of protein powder options available on the market these days — including types that are targeted at vegans, bodybuilders and older adults.
One type of protein powder that has gained a huge following is collagen. Is collagen the same as protein?
It’s one form of protein, and also the most abundant type of protein found naturally in the human body. Up to 70 percent of skin, hair, nails and nearly 100 percent of connective tissues are made from collagen. It essentially helps to hold the body together, as it forms joints, ligaments, the lining of the gut, the skin and other tissues.
Below we’ll look at the differences between various types of protein powders, focusing on how their benefits compare to collagen, while also helping you to choose which is best for you.
Are All Protein Powders the Same?
The short answer is no, not all protein powders (or protein foods for that matter) are the same. Protein sources differ from one another based on the types and amounts of amino acids they contain.
In simple terms, amino acids are the “building blocks” of proteins; they are compounds that are used as precursors for other molecules in the body. Those that are considered "essential" must be obtained via your diet, since your body can’t make these amino acids on its own.
Amino acids have many important roles, including to form muscles, bones, connective tissues and cartilage, support energy and your metabolism, and more.
Different protein powders — such as whey, pea, hemp, bone broth and collagen protein —have their own unique nutrition profiles, plus some are made with additional ingredients that can provide their own benefits, such as added herbs, probiotics or enzymes to help support absorption.
Why is collagen a protein? Because it contains amino acids. However, the “amino acid profile” of collagen is different from that of whey protein powder or plant-based protein powders because it’s higher in certain types of amino acids.
What type of protein is collagen? It’s a protein that supplies higher levels of these amino acids, supporting certain areas of and functions in the body:
- Glycine — Helps to form creatine, which supports healthy muscle growth and energy levels.
- Proline — Supports health of blood vessels, cardiovascular system and joints.
- Glutamine — Can help support a positive outlook, restful sleep, digestive processes and cognitive functions.
- Arginine — Breaks down into nitric oxide within the body, which is an important compound for supporting the health of arteries and the heart.
Collagen also contains other amino acids such as alanine, leucine and cysteine, which are other amino acids the body needs.
Collagen benefits in general can include:
- Helping to maintain a healthy gut
- Supporting joint health and comfort (including support for healthy ligaments and tendons)
- Supporting the growth of your hair, skin, and nails
- Helping to build muscle, bone and other tissues that surround various organs
Supplementing with a collagen protein powder can be a good choice if you're active and want to support your joints and connective tissues, or if you're looking for gut health support. It's also a popular supplement for aiding in the health of hair, skin and nails, since it can generally help support normal keratin levels.
Collagen powders that feature hydrolyzed collagen (meaning the protein has already been partially broken down) can make it easier to absorb the amino acids, so this type may have the most impact.
Collagen protein is easy to enjoy any time of day, such as mixed into smoothies, baked goods or your morning coffee.
Collagen vs. Bone Broth Protein
Bone broth is one food source of collagen. However, collagen itself is different from bone broth, since bone broth contains other ingredients and may be made from different sources.
The main difference between Ancient Nutrition’s Multi Collagen Protein and Bone Broth Collagen powders is the number and type of collagen sources. The collagen in Bone Broth Collagen is from bone broth alone, while Multi Collagen Protein has collagen from bone broth AND hydrolyzed sources.
Ancient Nutrition’s Bone Broth Protein powders feature collagen from one or two sources, either chicken or beef bone broth, while Multi Collagen Protein features collagen types I, II, III, V and X.
A protein powder made from bone broth is ideal for those looking to support gut health and overall health, while increasing their intake of protein, minerals and joint-supportive compounds such as glucosamine, chondroitin and hyaluronic acid (found in the chicken Bone Broth Protein).
Both bone broth and collagen protein are suitable for people on low-carb, ketogenic, paleo and gluten-free diets. And both are convenient sources of protein that can be used in a variety of ways, plus they can save you hours since making homemade bone broth is no longer required.
While unflavored collagen is a nearly tasteless and odorless powder, bone broth protein does tend to have a taste. Both powders also come in a variety of flavors if you prefer this, such as chocolate and vanilla.
Collagen vs. Plant Protein
Multi Collagen Protein is derived from animal sources, so it is not vegan or vegetarian.
If you're a vegan or vegetarian, adding another type of plant-based protein to your diet can be a helpful and convenient way to ensure you’re getting enough protein, considering you’ll be avoiding many high protein foods like meat, fish and eggs.
Which types of plant proteins are best? Some that provide the most nutritional bang-for-your buck include:
- Seed Protein Powder — Uses organic superseeds and other energy-supporting ingredients.
- Hemp Protein Powder — Contains protein plus a hearty dose of fiber to support digestive health, as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
- Pea Protein Powder — Considered a complete protein; can support muscle growth, contribute to fullness and provide other benefits.
- Brown Rice Protein Powder — High in protein along with fiber and other nutrients such as iron, vitamin C and calcium.
Collagen vs. Whey Protein
Whey is one of the most popular and widely-sold protein powders on the market. It’s a complete protein source that supplies all amino acids, which means it can help with building or maintaining muscle mass. This is why it's often used in conjunction with strength/weight training, which also boosts muscle growth.
Whey is rich in amino acids including leucine, valine, and isoleucine, which are known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). BCAAs play a role in muscle protein synthesis and growth and repair of muscle tissue, all of which are important for athletes and people who are generally active.
Why is collagen protein better than whey protein in some ways?
Whey protein is derived from milk, while collagen protein is typically derived from bovine hide, so whey isn’t recommended for those with a dairy allergy while collagen typically is. Collagen is also higher in certain amino acids, such as proline and glycine, which are found in whey but not to the same extent.
If you’re going to use whey protein, ideally purchase a type that is organically made and free of added sugar, hormones, pesticides, artificial ingredients, gluten and genetically modified organisms. To get the most benefits, consider using it before, during or after exercise to support your muscles.
What's Best for You?
Each type of protein powder has its advantages, so one type isn’t necessarily best for everyone. The type that you should choose ultimately boils down to your goals, nutritional needs, overall diet and taste preferences.
- If you’re supplementing to support overall health (joints, gut, skin, etc.): A Multi-Collagen Protein powder is probably the best option if you’re looking for widespread support for connective tissues throughout your body. Ancient Nutrition’s Multi Collagen Protein formula is made with five types of collagen from four food-based sources, plus it’s sourced from non-GMO, pasture-raised, cage-free and cruelty-free-raised animals.
- If you’re a vegetarian/vegan: Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a plant-based collagen powder, since collagen is made from extracts derived from animal bones. You’ll want to stick with plant protein options — such as all seeds, hemp, brown rice and/or pea protein — if you strictly avoid eating animal-derived foods.
- If your goal is to boost gut health: Bone Broth Protein may be the best choice, since it not only provides collagen but also easily absorbable minerals and other beneficial compounds.
- If you want to build muscle: Any protein powder can help support muscle growth, since all types provide amino acids. However, the best type for building and repairing muscle may be whey protein or collagen protein, since both offer compounds that specifically support muscle synthesis.
Supplementing a healthy diet with whey or collagen may help to improve recovery and performance, especially when combined with resistance training; however, using them on their own generally won’t have this effect.
To maximize the benefits of any protein powder, focus on eating a nutrient-dense diet that includes lots of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods, which can help you to maintain the collagen that your body already makes, and support your joints, muscles and so on.
Jill has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.