I’m sure you’ve heard much about collagen, the supplement. It’s ubiquitous. Walk the supplement aisle, talk to a friend or family member, visit a gym or wellness center — you’ll hear of and see many brands and types in containers and packages.
However, have you heard much about collagen — the protein molecule — that’s inherent to those collagen supplements? Collagen protein makes up nearly 1/3 of all the protein in mammals, including humans. It’s in nearly every part of our bodies and has special compounds found nowhere else in the edible world.
Charlie says it best:
Without collagen protein, we’d all be puddles.
Intro to Collagen vs Collagen Peptides
It’s challenging to talk about collagen peptides (aka hydrolyzed collagen — more on that soon) without first recognizing and discussing the awesome science and chemistry of collagen protein. And it’s darn near impossible to compare collagen protein to collagen peptides/hydrolyzed/hydrolysate without seeing the big picture.
As the old idiom goes, we’ll help you see the forest for the trees.
Why so much confusion?
I believe this conversation is more layered and convoluted than it should be, mainly because of the collagen supplement’s identity crisis.
Case in point:
I’m confident you’ve seen these naming variations:
- Collagen Peptides
- Hydrolyzed Collagen
- Hydrolyzed Collagen Peptides
- Collagen Hydrolysate
Just choose one! Amirite? (Self-deprecating humor at its best here.)
In defense of collagen supplements, you could say the same about whey protein supplements (i.e. Concentrate, Isolate, Hydrolysate). But hey, we’re not here to talk about whey — we did that already in our whey to collagen comparison.
No Uniformity with packaging
In all seriousness, this Collagen vs Peptides vs Hydrolyzed vs Hydrolysate is not really an identity crisis but more of a uniformity problem with labeling and packaging. And yes, it can and it does, create confusion for those looking to buy a collagen supplement. We’ll certainly clear this up.
Let’s begin by learning more about collagen protein — the molecule.
Collagen is a protein that our bodies manufacture naturally. It’s everywhere in our bodies. You name a part, it’s probably there:
- Connective Tissue
Collagen contains 19 amino acids and is critically important to nearly everything. So critical that Dr. Cate, M.D. believes it’s a missing food group (yes, you can eat collagen) and others, such as Mark Sisson, suggests it’s a fourth macronutrient.
Important points about Collagen
Before we compare collagen protein to collagen peptides below, here’s what you first need to know about collagen protein, the molecule:
- Produced Naturally. Collagen is naturally produced by the body via fibroblast cells. Production slows starting around 25-30 years old in humans.
- Collagen is a BIG molecule. It’s comprised of 3 chains, wound together in a tight triple-helix.
- Many Types. Our bodies have all types of collagen — up to 28 possibly.
- You can eat collagen protein! There are only two ways to increase your collagen.
- Bioavailable. Collagen, whether coming from food (e.g bone broth) or a supplement (e.g. powder, pills, drink), goes through enzymatic hydrolysis once it hits our guts. Both forms are bioavailable and ready for absorption — remember this, it’s important!
- Other uses. Collagen is used in medical/surgical ways (e.g. bone grafts, cosmetic surgery, wound care, etc.)
Now that we understand collagen in its fundamental state, let’s talk about one of our favorite things, collagen peptides.
When you think of collagen peptides, think of the collagen molecule — but just broken down. Here’s a simple illustration:
What does “broken down” mean? It means that the collagen molecule itself has been separated into smaller chunks by boiling water. This process is called hydrolysis. Hydrolysis is a critical step in making collagen peptides.
You can thank hydrolysis for the ability to stir collagen peptides into your coffee or add flavored collagen to cold water and shake it up. If you can’t palate foods that contain collagen, peptides are a versatile and awesome way to get collagen protein in your diet.
Important points about Collagen Peptides
Here’s what else you need to know about collagen peptides before we dig into our comparison:
- Amino Acids are retained. Collagen peptides keep all the original 19 amino acids after going through hydrolysis.
- Molecule sizes decreases. After hydrolysis, collagen peptides are 50 to 100 times smaller than an unhydrolyzed collagen molecule.
- Types. Collagen peptides offer anywhere from one type (e.g. Type I) to five types (considered a multi collagen).
- Digestion. Since peptides are already hydrolyzed, it may (I can’t emphasize “may” enough here) digest slightly faster than regular collagen protein via foods.
- Bioavailability. Even though peptides are broken down, they are still bioavailable.
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Now that you know all collagen peptides are hydrolyzed, let’s circle back and clarify this terminology conundrum of peptides vs hydrolyzed vs hydrolysate.
Collagen Peptides vs Hydrolyzed Collagen
If we had a nickel for every time a customer asked us:
Is your multi collagen hydrolyzed?
— CB Supplements customer
Hydrolyzed collagen is simply another way to say collagen peptides — it’s the same thing. If you see collagen peptides on the supplement’s label, you’re buying hydrolyzed collagen and vice versa. Though these are very scientific words, don’t let them confuse you. Remember, for collagen peptides to be collagen peptides, it needs to be hydrolyzed. This is simply a case of supplement companies deciding to label their collagen products however they want. There’s no hard fast rule here.
We simply decided to say “Multi Collagen Protein” on the front of our label and leave off peptides, hydrolyzed, and hydrolysate. Woah, what? Yet another term? Yep.
Collagen Peptides vs Collagen Hydrolysate
There’s no comparative here, as well.
The difference between collagen peptides and collagen hydrolysate is insignificant and moot — cause there isn’t a difference! We’re comparing the same thing. Hydrolysate simply means a substance/product produced by hydrolysis. Remember how collagen peptides are made? Right, hydrolysis.
Now that we have a good understanding of collagen protein (the molecule) and collagen peptides (aka hydrolyzed collagen or collagen hydrolysate), what are the differences? Here are 4 ways they’re different.
1. How it’s Made
Collagen and collagen peptides differ in how they’re made.
- Collagen = Collagen is produced naturally by the body via fibroblast cells.
- Collagen Peptides = Collagen from natural sources is converted into collagen peptides through the process of hydrolysis that breaks down the collagen protein into smaller pieces for easier blending into water, drinks, gummies, etc.
Collagen and collagen peptides differ in molecule size.
- Collagen = The collagen protein molecule is big, measuring 300 nm long.
- Collagen Peptides = Collagen peptides are 50-100 times smaller than an intact (aka unhydrolyzed) collagen molecule.
3. Ways to Consume
Collagen and collagen peptides differ in how you consume them.
The best way to give your body more collagen is to EAT more collagen!
— Dr. Cate, M.D.
As we explored in the best way to take collagen, you only have two options to consume collagen. Either through whole foods and/or collagen peptide supplements.
- Collagen = You can eat collagen protein bone broth, organ meats, meat on the bone, and eggs (more specifically, eggshell membrane). [see video below]
- Collagen Peptides = You can eat collagen peptides via supplements such as collagen powders & pills (most popular), drinks, gummies, and a few others.
4. Grams of Collagen Protein per serving
Collagen and collagen peptides differ in knowing how many grams of collagen per serving.
A big difference between collagen protein and collagen peptides is label information. The aforementioned foods that contain collagen protein won’t delineate collagen protein on labels. The one exception is bone broth. When it comes to collagen peptides, supplements will nearly always list the grams of collagen protein per serving to help understand dosage.
- Collagen = Collagen protein via foods, except bone broth, will not list out grams of collagen per serving.
- Collagen Peptides = Collagen peptides via supplements will list out grams of collagen per serving.
Let’s now explore how collagen and collagen peptides are similar. Here are their 5 similarities.
Collagen and collagen peptides both come from animals.
- Collagen = Collagen protein is found in the skin, connective tissue, joint material, bone, eggshell membrane, and cartilage of all animals.
- Collagen Peptides = Collagen peptides are made by extracting collagen from cows (skin/hide/bones), chickens (bones, connective tissue, joint material, eggshell membrane, cartilage), and fish (bones, skin).
2. Amino Acids
Collagen and collagen peptides have the same amount and type of amino acids.
Even through hydrolysis, collagen’s amino acids do not degrade or get lost. Collagen is tough!
- Collagen = Collagen protein has 19 total amino acids.
- Collagen Peptides = Collagen peptides have 19 total amino acids.
While some may claim collagen protein is not digestible, and you have to consume hydrolyzed collagen to be able to digest it, that’s just silly. Your digestive system expertly hydrolyzes collagen for you. With that said, you do have to get it into your body in bite-size pieces first — you can’t just swallow whole bones and expect to get much nutrition.
Think about this. If collagen protein wasn’t digestible in its non-hydrolyzed state, how else do you eat and digest food that contains collagen? Those foods (e.g. bone broth, certain organ meats) do not contain collagen peptides — they contain full/un-hydrolyzed/un-broken down collagen protein!
- Collagen = Collagen protein can be fully digested once it hits the gut — this is called enzymatic hydrolysis. All proteins are hydrolyzed during digestion, collagen is no different.
- Collagen Peptides = Collagen peptides, as touted, are fully digestible too. They have already undergone hydrolysis before you even consume orally.
This begs the question:
Do collagen peptides digest faster than collagen from food since it’s gone through hydrolysis before it hits the gut? Maybe. But, the difference is so marginal that the impact is limited.
It probably doesn’t make a meaningful difference.
— Dr. Cate, M.D.
Collagen and collagen peptides are both bioavailable.
Bioavailable simply means, “Is this substance ready to be absorbed?” This happens after digestion. Now that you know both collagen and collagen peptides are fully digestible, does your body decide to handle things differently once it’s ready to be absorbed?
“Probably not”, says Dr. Cate. “The body can’t tell what something looked like before hydrolysis, so there’s no reason to think it can tell the difference between hydrolyzed collagen peptides produced in a factory versus unhydrolyzed collagen protein from food”.
- Collagen = Collagen protein and its amino acids are fully bioavailable after going through enzymatic hydrolysis in the gut.
- Collagen Peptides = Collagen peptides and their amino acids are fully bioavailable from the moment they’ve been hydrolyzed into a supplement.
Here’s a quick chart showing the differences between collagen protein (the molecule) and collagen peptides (the supplement).
And here’s a more comprehensive table for further comparison.
Which is better? Collagen, collagen peptides, hydrolyzed collagen, or collagen hydrolysate?
This is a tricky question, but let’s work through this.
Collagen is a protein. Collagen peptides are simply a more broken-down version of collagen protein. Hydrolyzed collagen and collagen hydrolysate are just other names for collagen peptides.
The only true comparative worthy of comparison is collagen (in its unhydrolyzed state) vs collagen peptides (in its hydrolyzed state). As we’ve learned, the scientific, chemistry, and nutritional differences are minor — your body similarly handles both in a similar way during digestion, absorption, and overall benefits.
The real things to consider & compare
It all boils down to this.
Pun 100% intended!
The only real comparison to make is to think about the following:
- Palate. Can you eat (in an enjoyable way) the 4 foods that contain collagen? If not, peptides might be better.
- Budget. Supplements could exceed your budget, unhydrolyzed collagen via high-quality food may not.
- Tracking. Are you trying to accurately track your collagen protein grams per serving? Peptides might be better.
- Time. A scoop of collagen powder in your hot coffee? Or, cook tripe (an organ meat) for dinner? Both get you collagen protein, only one takes a few seconds.
Start with food first, and then supplement. Here’s why we believe this.
It’s a smart move for your overall health. With food, you’re also consuming other nutrients your body needs — such as vitamin C, which is important to collagen synthesis. It also creates a healthy balance to truly look at supplements as supplemental.
Get as much of your collagen protein from food, and then buy a collagen peptide supplement to fill the gaps in your busy schedule and life!