When it comes to choosing a protein or collagen powder, I get that it can get super confusing. There’s plant based protein vs whey protein vs collagen but which one is going to be best for you and your goals? What are the differences to be aware of?
The short answer: It depends on you and your preferences and the main difference is the sources of protein they come from.
I’ve worked in the supplement industry for five years now, so I know my way around a protein tub. 😉
Let’s go into a little bit of detail on each type of protein powder so you can feel informed and confident to choose the best option for you! I’ll also list some of my favorite brands I know and trust.
Plant Based Protein VS Whey Protein VS Collagen
But First: What is a complete protein?
Really quick before we dive into the differences between plant based vs whey and collagen, let’s quickly discuss what a complete protein is and why it’s important.
A complete protein is a protein source that contains all 9 essential amino acids.
There are 20 total amino acids, the 9 essential are ones we cannot create and must get from our food. Amino acids are CRITICAL for a healthy body so it’s important that we get a variety of sources of protein in our diet.
Learn more in my Simplified Guide to Nutrition Ebook.
What is Plant Based Protein?
This type of protein powder comes from, yep you guessed it, plant sources. This generally means it’s free from lactose or any dairy ingredients.
The most common sources of plant protein include hemp, chia, sunflower, pea, rice, flax, or soy. Often powders will be a blend or mixture of these varieties. Soy protein and rice protein are often low quality sources or GMO, so I don’t love it in my protein powder. I also prefer my plant protein to be organic when possible as non-organic may test higher for unwanted pesticides.
Plant based proteins may include other superfood blends like fruit and veggie extracts or powders, or adaptogens. In my eyes this is a plus! I also like that generally speaking, many plant based protein powders are naturally sweetened and have clean ingredients.
The texture of plant based protein is a little different from whey protein or even collagen. It tends to have more of a chalky texture (which can be reduced with the right amount of liquid) and is less creamy than whey protein. I personally prefer the taste of plant based over whey, but everyone is different!
Plant based proteins may or may not be complete proteins depending on the blends of protein sources they use. This isn’t a deal breaker as long as you are getting a variety of whole food protein sources in your diet and not just relying on protein powder.
Plant protein is almost always lower on the amino acid leucine-this amino acid is especially important for muscle protein synthesis and muscle health, so if building muscle is your goal (which it always should be!) then you may have to consume way more plant protein to get the needed leucine. Leucine is especially important as we age.
What to look for: When looking for a plant based protein powder, choose one with high quality sources of protein (aka no rice or soy), is naturally sweetened with stevia or monk fruit, and even better is non-GMO or organic.
Brands I like: Truvani
What is Whey Protein?
Whey protein comes from the milk of cows. Milk is split into two major proteins: casein and whey.
Casein is a slow digesting protein (also found in cottage cheese) while whey is fast digesting and very high in leucine making it popular in the fitness industry, especially whey isolate protein.
Whey isolate protein contains very little lactose even though it’s derived from milk. It’s well known for its ability to promote muscle growth. Here’s an expert from Dr. Gabriell Lyon (she’s an incredible resource on all things protein and muscle!) on the comparison of leucine in different protein powders:
“You will want to shoot for at least 8 to 9 g of leucine per day for optimum muscle health with at least 2.5g to 3.0g at each meal. You can get 3.0 g of Leucine with 27 g of whey protein or 34 g of beef protein, but it requires 38g of soy, 44g of wheat or 50g of quinoa. For most meals, you’ll want your protein amount between 30-50g, which is the sweet spot for muscle protein synthesis.“
Whey protein tends to be more creamy and less chalky than plant based protein and since it comes from milk is considered to be a complete protein.
What to look for: The quality of whey protein varies and there’s lots of low quality brands out there. I suggest looking for a grass fed whey or one that is tested for purity. Also look for ones with simple ingredients, no fillers, and sweetened naturally, not with artificial sweeteners.
Brands I like: Puori, Bad Athletics
What is Collagen Powder?
Collagen is a specific group of amino acids that make up the collagen protein. It’s actually the most abundant protein in our body, making up our hair, skin, nails, ligaments and more.
There are several different types of collagen, but the most common types are type I, type II, type III, type V, and type X. Each type varies in strength and is found in different areas of our bodies makeup.
Collagen powder sources can vary, coming from animals, bones, fish, eggs, and more. Collagen is known for its potential benefits of aiding healthy hair, skin, nails, joints, and gut health. Some collagen powders might include other beneficial ingredients or herbs that help with sleep or better aging.
Collagen powders are not complete proteins, but they still carry around 9g of protein per scoop. You often will see the breakdown of each amino acid on the back. They are great to add to smoothies, in your baking, and are also available in capsule form. I personally am a big fan of collagen. I’ve noticed a difference in how fast my hair grows and stronger nails!
What to look for: As always, choose a quality collagen powder that includes the five main types and is hydrolyzed. This just means the collagen has been broken down so it’s easier to absorb and use. Avoid any fake coloring and artificial sweeteners and you’ll be good to go!
Which Type of Protein Powder is Best for Me?
It really just comes down to personal preferences and goals! Prefer the taste of whey? Find a quality whey protein you love. Wanting to stick more to plant based lifestyle? Opt for a plant based protein. Trying to improve your gut health or up your beauty game? Consider adding collagen to your routine. Is muscle growth and health your goal? Whey might be the best option.
Personally, I have some sensitivity to whey so I can’t always drink it straight. I currently mix some whey with beef protein (Active Stacks) and collagen to up my leucine.
Plant based, whey, and collagen all provide protein and amino acids that will help you rebuild and maintain muscle. I’ve baked with all three types and use all three in smoothies or just by themselves. Sometimes I like mixing it up!
Remember, these protein supplements are exactly that, to supplement, not replace whole food sources in your diet. They can help you fill in any gaps and are great to add to your baking or smoothies. They make a perfect after workout snack too that can help you build and repair muscle. Just try not to rely wholly on these types of supplements for your protein intake.
I hope this rundown helps clear up any confusion and as always, if you have any questions leave a comment or reach out to me on Instagram!