While they have some similarities, they also provide different benefits to the body, depending on what your individual needs are.
A ‘complete’ protein contains all nine essential amino acids. Animal based proteins and collagen fall into this category, whereas vegan protein powders often do not. The difference between collagen and protein, however, is that collagen is particularly high in glycine, proline and hydroxyproline, and animal-based protein powders generally contain a broader spectrum of amino acids.
Ultimately, collagen itself is a type of protein, so your preference will be dependent on what your individual needs are and what you are hoping to achieve.
Collagen is particularly good for keratin (a hard protein in the body) production, which is responsible for the growth and health of your hair, skin and nails. It is an excellent supplement for promoting growth, strength, and is particularly good for situations such as postpartum hair loss, weak nails or thin, easily damaged skin.
It’s also very useful for joint health. A six-month study found that athletes who supplemented with collagen found that their joint pain had lessened, and early stages of research show that it may even help to restore damaged cartilage.
Women who supplement with collagen were also seen in another study to have lower levels of the hormones that break down bones, making it very helpful for maintaining and restoring bone mineral density, particularly from menopause and beyond.
Protein supplements, on the other hand, are particularly good for muscle gains, especially when coupled with regular exercise, specifically weight training. It can also aid in muscle repair following injury, and helps the body to make various hormones and enzymes.
It’s a great supplement to add to a smoothie – if you were to make one that contained a protein powder, some fruit and vegetables and a fat (such as avocado, yoghurt, coconut milk or cow’s milk) it will provide all your macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrate) for a quick, easy, healthy meal full of nutrients that will fill you up. It’s also a great way to sneak extra vitamins and minerals into a diet that may be lacking, or to aid in weight gain for people that are underweight and struggling to gain. Alternatively, if you are trying to lose or maintain your weight, it may also be helpful by helping you to feel fuller for longer, resulting in less snacking or over indulging in food with less nutritional value.
Some protein powders actually contain collagen, such as those derived from bone broth, so you can get the best of both worlds. Generally though, vegan and even dairy or egg based protein powders do not contain collagen unless it has been specifically added to the formula.
Most people get enough protein in their daily diet, however if you find you are lacking or would like a healthy meal replacement (it is not advised to replace more than one meal a day with a protein shake or smoothie), an animal based protein powder or collagen powder may be exactly what you need.