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Better Together: Collagen and Whey Protein


You go to the store in search of a perfect protein powder to help you meet your nutrition goals. When you get there, you realize there are dozens of protein powders to choose from made from a variety of different ingredients. How do you know which is best?

Although the one you choose may be based on individual preference, nutrition-wise there are two that stand out from the crowd: collagen and whey. Let’s take a deep dive into why these are a great choice and how they complement each other.

The Many Benefits of Collagen Protein

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It provides the structure for all of your tissues, skin, tendons, and muscles. Most collagen supplements are hydrolyzed, meaning pre-digested, making it a readily absorbable source of protein. Collagen is an incomplete protein, containing only 8 out of the 9 essential amino acids. But, it is very high in the amino acids proline and glycine, two important amino acids. [1]

Your Hair, Skin and Nails

Your skin is the biggest organ in your body and it is made up primarily of collagen. As you age, your body becomes less efficient at producing the collagen necessary to keep skin firm, leading to wrinkles. Collagen supplements have been shown to help improve skin elasticity and reduce age-related dryness. [2]

Collagen also plays a critical role in strengthening your hair and nails by reducing brittleness and breakage. [3]

In a 2014 study on the benefits of collagen and aging, 69 women between the ages of 35-55 received either 2.5 grams or 5 grams of collagen or a placebo over 8 weeks. Skin moisture, roughness, and elasticity were measured at different periods. At the end of the study, both groups that received the collagen supplement showed improvement in all the skin markers, especially elasticity. [4]

Helping to Maintain Joint and Bone Health

Collagen helps keep joints and bones healthy. Cartilage, which protects your joints and bones, is made up primarily of collagen. When you age, collagen levels in the joints decrease, which can lead to joint pain.


Collagen makes up your bone structure, helping keep them strong.  As we get older, the decrease in collagen production weakens bones, increasing risk of fractures. [5]


A review of multiple studies on the impact of collagen supplements and bone and joint health found that collagen helped reduce joint pain and slowed bone breakdown. Collagen supplements are a great addition to help keep your bones strong. [6]

Tendon and Ligament Health

Just like your cartilage mentioned above, tendons and ligaments are also made from collagen. As you might expect, collagen production intended to keep these tissues healthy decreases as we age. Maintaining the strength of the collagen in the ligaments and tendons helps maintain their elasticity and prevent injury. [7]

Types of Collagen and Where They’re Found

There are 16 types of collagen found in the body. Most supplements contain a combination of types 1, 2, and 3. Each type of collagen is found in a different part of the body: [1]

Type 1: Skin, tendons, bones
Type 2: Cartilage, eyes
Type 3: Skin, muscles, blood vessels

There is no evidence that taking one type of collagen will benefit that specific area of the body exclusively. If you take a collagen supplement, the body will use the amino acids where they are needed.

Related: The Complete Guide to Collagen

Whey Protein for Lean Mass and Weight Loss

Collagen is a great protein option, but whey protein is also incredibly beneficial. Whey one of the two proteins found in milk. The liquid that is left over over after making cheese is used to make whey protein. It is particularly beneficial because it contains all nine of the amino acids essential to human health. Whey is also easily absorbed by the body, making it a highly nutritious source of protein. [8]

Weight Loss

Whey protein may help promote weight loss by increasing satiety and possibly boosting your metabolism. Replacing calories with whey protein supplement in combination with weight training has shown to increase lean body mass while promoting weight loss. [9] It is important to note that with weight loss, adding more calories to your day will not help you lose weight. Instead, if you want to try a whey protein supplement for weight loss you must use it as part of your normal calorie intake.

Your Muscle Health

Whey protein is the gold standard choice for athletes and anyone trying to build muscle. Research has shown whey protein improves strength and aids muscle recovery after workouts. That’s because whey is abundant in essential amino acids such as leucine,which are necessary for muscle growth to help improve strength. Once consumed, amino acids stimulate the release of anabolic, or muscle-building hormones. [10] Whey protein can be consumed at any time of day to support muscle growth, but studies show an increased muscle-building effect when taken before or after a strength training workout.

Additional Health Benefit of Whey Protein

But, the benefits of whey are not limited to improvements in body composition. Whey is high in an amino acid called cysteine, which raises levels of glutathione, a master antioxidant that is used by every cell and tissue in the human body.

Types of Whey Protein

There are three main types of whey protein: concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate. Although they are all made from milk, they vary based on how they have been processed. Whey concentrate is the least processed, it is about 80% protein. Concentrate is the highest in fat and lactose, making it generally taste better than the other types. Whey protein concentrate typically goes through the least amount of processing and, as a result, is naturally higher in beneficial compounds such as Lactoferrin, Immunoglobulins, Serum albumin).

Whey isolate is higher in protein, but has less lactose and fat. Whey hydrolysate is the best absorbed because the protein is pre-digested. It has been shown to increase insulin levels when consumed, beneficial for those trying to gain muscle mass. [12]

Finding the Right Protein Powder for You

Both collagen and whey protein have their own individual benefits, but are even more incredible when taken together. One is more beneficial for skin and connective tissues, while the other benefits overall body composition and well-being. Keeping connective tissues, such as muscles and bones, strong is an important part of building strength and lean body mass.

Much Better Together

Collagen and whey each have their own unique benefits for human health and performance, but if the science has shown us one thing, it’s that we’re better off taking both. By combining whey protein and collagen peptides together, you create a more complete protein source since all essential amino acids are present.  

Collagen and whey, beauty and brawn, this dynamic duo of essential proteins is the ideal choice for anyone who wants to lay the foundation for superior performance and graceful aging–for life!

To experience the best of both worlds, consider looking for a high quality protein supplement that contains both whey and collagen.



[1] Lodish H, Berk A, Zipursky SL, et al. Molecular Cell Biology. 4th edition. New York: W. H. Freeman; 2000. Section 22.3, Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix.

[2] Borumand M, Sibilla S. Effects of a nutritional supplement containing collagen peptides on skin elasticity, hydration, and wrinkles. J Med Nutr Nutraceut. 2015;4:47-53.

[3] Hexsel D, Zague V, Schunck M, Siega C, Camozzato F, Oesser S. Oral supplementation with specific bioactive collagen peptides improves nail growth and reduces symptoms of brittle nails. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2017;16(4):520-526.

[4] Proksch E, Segger D, Degwert J, Schunck M, Zague V, Oesser S. Oral Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides Has Beneficial Effects on Human Skin Physiology: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(1):47-55.

[5] Moskowitz R. Role of collagen hydrolysate in bone and joint disease. Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2000;30(2):87-99.

[6] Porfírio E, Fanaro G. Collagen supplementation as a complementary therapy for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis: a systematic review. Revista Brasileira de Geriatria e Gerontologia. 2016;19(1):153-164.

[7] Provenzano P, Vanderby R. Collagen fibril morphology and organization: Implications for force transmission in ligament and tendon. Matrix Biology. 2006;25(2):71-84.

[8] Ha E, Zemel M. Functional properties of whey, whey components, and essential amino acids: mechanisms underlying health benefits for active people (review). J Nutr Biochem. 2003;14(5):251-258.

[9] Miller P, Alexander D, Perez V. Effects of Whey Protein and Resistance Exercise on Body Composition: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Am Coll Nutr. 2014;33(2):163-175.

[10] Kimball S, Jefferson L. Signaling Pathways and Molecular Mechanisms through which Branched-Chain Amino Acids Mediate Translational Control of Protein Synthesis. J Nutr. 2006;136(1):227S-231S.

[11] Birsen BS, Nihat A. Health Benefits of Whey Protein: A Review. J Food Sci Eng. 2012;2(3).

[12] Adams R, L, Broughton K, S: Insulinotropic Effects of Whey: Mechanisms of Action, Recent Clinical Trials, and Clinical Applications. Ann Nutr Metab 2016;69:56-63.

Author Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD

Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD, Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist & Writer

Ana is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and freelance writer with 11-years of experience in the field of nutrition and dietetics. Currently, she works to share her nutrition expertise on a larger scale as an author. She writes for major health brands and nutrition websites such as Abbott, Walgreens, and Chalene Johnson. Through her writing, she demonstrates her passion for helping people achieve ideal health and make transformational changes in their lives.

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