When it comes to collagen vs. protein powder – which is better for you? What’s the difference?
As you think about your health goals (or maybe you’re wanting glowing skin) you may be taking a hard look at your food and supplement choices.
Influencers on TikTok and Instagram are promoting collagen supplements, protein powders, greens powders, and vitamin supplements all the time. How do you know what product is actually helpful…and what’s going to be a waste of your hard-earned cash?
As a dietitian, my goal is to empower you with accurate information that you can trust. Nutrition is personal, and you have to find the best fit for you. The best answer really depends on your individual goals and preferences. Spoiler: you may not need either!
Let’s kick off this post with an explanation of what these two powders are and how they may (or may not) boost your health, starting with collagen.
What is collagen?
Collagen powder is essentially a protein source derived from animal products like bones, skin, and connective tissue. We get most of our collagen from pigs and cows but you can also get collagen from fish and other animals.
We have a lot of collagen in our own bodies; it makes up connective tissue and plays an important role supporting the structure of our skin. As we age, we have less collagen because production slows and contributes to signs of aging, like wrinkles. Collagen also plays an important cellular role in tissue repair and immune response.
There are actually many types of collagen, but the one you’ll find mostly in our body and taken as supplements is ‘type I’. In fact, type I collagen is the most abundant protein in the body.
Collagen nutrition and benefits
Collagen is protein-rich (about 18 grams of protein per 20g serving), but the nutrients are a bit different from eating beef or drinking milk. Specifically, the amino acid profile is different. Collagen powder doesn’t contain all of the amino acids, or building blocks of protein, that we need– so it’s considered “incomplete”.
Collagen is rich in the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. These amino acids are vital for building and maintaining strong connective tissues like skin, hair, nails, and bones.
Some research shows that the unique amino acid profile of collagen may help support joint health, improve bone density, improve digestion, and provide anti-aging benefits to your skin.
The research available on collagen is still new, so we need more, but the research on the potential benefits of collagen powder shows some promise. It’s available in both liquid and powder forms.
What is protein powder?
Protein powder is a concentrated source of protein that can be used to supplement your diet. “Protein powder” is actually an umbrella term for a lot of different kinds of supplements.
Collagen powder falls under this umbrella, but it’s not usually what people are talking about when they’re talking about traditional protein powder, like whey protein. To make things simple, we’ll be talking about more traditional protein powders and how they compare to collagen powder.
Protein powder can come from a variety of animal sources like dairy-based whey or casein protein powders, collagen powder as discussed above, and even some far-out options like cricket protein powder.
There is also a myriad of plant-based protein powders on the market, including soy, hemp, rice, or pea. Similar to collagen, plant-based protein powders are considered “incomplete” proteins. Luckily, as long as you’re eating a diverse diet, it’s probably not an issue.
Protein powders are available as single-ingredient protein powders, or a mixture of protein and other ingredients, vitamins, minerals, fiber, “superfoods”, greens powders, probiotics, flavorings, and sweeteners. Basically, “protein powder” is a big group of protein supplement products with a lot of different options available. There are a lot of different types of protein powder.
Protein powder nutrition and benefits
Protein powders can contain (on average) anywhere from 10-30 grams of protein per scoop. Each brand will differ in terms of the other nutrients and ingredients it contains.
One of the biggest benefits of traditional protein powder is that it’s an easy way to add a big boost of protein to your diet. For example, a scoop of protein powder can easily transform oatmeal from a low-protein, carb-rich meal to a high protein, satisfying breakfast with upwards of 25g+ of protein.
If you choose a dairy-based protein powder, like whey, you can count on it being a complete protein source.
Whey protein powder in particular has unique advantages for muscle building.
How do protein powder and collagen compare?
In some ways, protein powder and collagen powder are similar.
For starters, both collagen powder and traditional protein powder are both considered to be high-quality proteins. You can use both to supplement your diet with more protein.
Both protein powders and collagen powders can be added to smoothies, baked goods, and other meals to offer a protein boost. Cost will vary depending on the brand and ingredients.
Both collagen powder and regular protein powder are going to be more expensive than buying real food protein sources, such as meat, chicken, eggs, or beans.
Depending on which protein powder you compare, it can be pretty different from collagen in terms of nutrition. As mentioned before, the main difference is that collagen is missing some of the essential amino acids that our body needs. It’s considered an “incomplete protein”.
However, the specific amino acids of collagen protein supplements is what contributes to the unique benefits like skin health, joint health, and even improving bone density.
If you’re on the hunt for collagen simply for its potential health and wellness benefits– its lack of certain amino acids really doesn’t matter. But, if you’re just looking to bump up your protein intake, a complete traditional protein powder option is probably your best bet.
Texture wise, collagen powder can also typically be added to liquids, like coffee without adding much texture or flavor. Protein powder typically has a distinct flavor and texture if you try to add it to a liquid.
Which one should you choose?
Protein powder and collagen protein powder are truly two pretty different supplements, but here’s why you might choose one over the other (or maybe neither, or both!).
Protein powder may be a better option for you if you’re trying to build muscle (especially whey protein), add a complete protein source to meals or snacks, or you need a convenient way to increase the amount of protein you’re eating.
For example, protein shakes might be a more palatable or convenient option if you have a hectic schedule or you’re dealing with an illness that affects your appetite.
Collagen powder might be more appropriate for you if you’re looking for a supplement that may strengthen the skin and nails, improve bone health, reduce inflammation, and keep your hair looking healthy and strong. Collagen may also reduce joint pain. Lastly, collagen could potentially support your gut health. Just keep in mind, we do need more research to tighten up these claims.
How to choose a protein powder or collagen supplement
Whether you choose collagen supplementation or traditional protein powder, it’s important that you choose high-quality supplements. This doesn’t have to mean expensive, but I do want you to know that supplements, including protein supplements, are not well-regulated in the US.
Before buying any nutritional supplement, always look for a 3rd party testing certification to make sure you’re getting something that is free of contamination.
What to try instead?
It is no secret that protein keeps you satisfied. When you have meals and snacks that aren’t quite balanced with carbs, fat, AND protein, you might get hungrier sooner.
So while protein powders are one option for boosting your satiety at meals and snacks, there are a lot of other ways to have a protein-boosted meal. Here are a few of my favorite recipes:
- Easy Air Fryer Stir Fry with Chicken and Vegetables
- Easy Dump and Bake Meatball Casserole
- The Best 10 Adult Lunchables (Easy + Healthy!)
- Easy Deconstructed Stuffed Peppers
- Blended Cottage Cheese: High Protein Breakfast Bowls
That’s a wrap
Do you need a protein supplement to have a healthy diet? Not necessarily.
If you like the convenience of a protein shake, like for a post-workout recovery drink after a tough workout or as a way to jumpstart your day, a protein powder is a quick and convenient way to boost your protein intake overall – there are SO many different choices and flavors to choose from. If you’re working on muscle growth, whey protein powder might be the best option for you.
If you have specific goals around skin health, healthy joints, strong nails, or even your gut health, a collagen supplement may be your best bet.
In general, if you eat enough calories and have varied foods throughout the day, you don’t necessarily need a protein supplement at all.
If you’re ready for an easy-to-follow framework of nutrition that frees you from fad diets forever and nourishes your best health, energy, and glowing skin, check out The Balanced Basics Handbook. You’ll feel confident as you navigate your meals and snacks once you get your copy!