Collagen powder vs. protein powder: What’s the difference?

I want to love protein powder in my smoothies, and I’m sure it’s a matter of finding the right one. But right now the taste and texture just aren’t for me. Instead, I started opting for collagen, which is a tasteless, texture-less form of protein — albeit not a complete source like most protein powders. More on that below.

To understand a little more about the differences between protein powder and collagen powder, we got some insights from the smoothie expert herself, Kelly Leveque.


Protein Powder vs. Collagen Powder

According to Kelly, the main difference between protein powders and collagen powders is that “collagen is an incomplete protein, which means that it doesn’t have all of the essential amino acids [whereas] all protein powders are complete proteins.” You can think of amino acids as the building blocks of protein. Whereas collagen powders contain specific amino acids like glycine and proline which are “really great for rebuilding and synthesizing collagen internally”, Kelly says that “a lot of the protein powders on the market [made from pea or whey] are blends to create a complete protein, meaning they have all the essential amino acids.”

Why Use Collagen Powder

“Getting these amino acids into our diet is really healthy for us, they help us build more collagen, to heal joints and ligaments.” Kelly says “the majority of us aren’t getting a lot of glycine or proline or other collagen amino acids, which we need to create collagen in our bodies because we’re not eating animals head to tail. All we’re eating is a chicken breast, ground beef or fish fillet, we’re not getting the skin, the bones, the ligaments, the tendons, no one’s really eating organ meats anymore.” She continues, “it takes 10 grams of glycine to synthesize new collagen internally, on average. This is not an essential amino acid we produce inside our body. We do synthesize it but on average only three grams of glycine a day. So when you think about synthesizing new collagen in your body, like really rebuilding new strands of collagen, you need more than what you’re getting.”

When to Choose Collagen and When to Choose Protein Powder

Kelly always tells her clients, “if you eat grass-fed beef for lunch and salmon for dinner, you can get away with having collagen as your protein for breakfast, without needing it to be the complete protein because you’re just rounding out your amino acid profile. Now, if someone really wants to build muscle mass, I want them to have their branch chain amino acids (BCAAs). These are the essential muscle-building amino acids [which are not found] in collagen. You’ll have real athletes and trainers say, if you put collagen in your smoothie you’re not going to get the results. Well, it totally depends on how active you are. If you’re just doing a yoga class or a 30-minute Pilates class, you probably don’t need all those amino acids, because you’re not doing the ripping and tearing down of your body and you don’t need all that rebuilding. That said, if you find that you get hungry, you could do a whey or vegetable protein with collagen and double up, then you get all the amino acids. But it’s really a choose your own adventure type thing.”

To learn more about Kelly, check out our interview with her here, and be sure to head to her website for nutrition tips and recipes.


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