Collagen Vs. Gelatin: Which Is Better? Everything You Need To Know
If you’re like most people, your introduction to collagen peptides came from high-end skincare commercials.
Your first meeting with gelatin was at a much earlier age when you made some tasty Jell-O jigglers or marshmallows.
The truth is, collagen and gelatin have much more in common than most people realize.
So, what’s better?
Can you add gelatin to your protein powders? Does collagen have vaster health benefits?
Let’s break both substances down side-by-side and look at the facts so you can choose the best-unflavored powder for every situation.
Collagen Vs. Gelatin: Key Differences and Health Benefits
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body— and one of the most vital proteins too.
Look in the mirror and you’ll “see” this type of protein everywhere:
- Connective tissue
Much to everyone’s dismay, collagen production slows down as we age.
As collagen levels drop, skin elasticity decreases, joint pain increases, muscles lose mass, and some folks may notice more hair loss as well.
Gelatin comes from collagen. When you heat collagen, it turns into gelatin. In other words, all gelatin has collagen but not all collagen contains gelatin.
Are you with us?
Let’s dig a little deeper to explain.
Collagen comes from parts of the animal that usually get thrown away: cartilage, bones, etc. Manufacturers take these bovine or fish parts and turn them into collagen powder and gelatin.
Gelatin is usually made from cows or pigs while collagen is typically made from fish or cows.
In practical health terms, collagen and gelatin are the exact same thing with the same health benefits.
Here’s one major difference—gelatin solidifies in water while collagen does not. You can easily add collagen to smoothies, bone broths and soups, coffee, and cold liquids without worrying about clumping or solidifying.
When you add gelatin powder to your smoothie or coffee, you’ll notice cold liquids get clumpy and hot liquids start gelling.
That’s why the Jell-O package asks you to use hot water first and cold water second to dissolve the gelatin and then help it set.
Here’s one more substantial difference. Although they’re similar, many health experts recommend choosing hydrolyzed collagen.
Hydrolyzed collagen is a special form of collagen. The amino acid chains have been “broken” so they’re much easier for your body to absorb and use. When you eat foods that have collagen, like bone broth, your body must separate and break down the amino acids itself.
That’s where all the amazing health benefits of gelatin and collagen come from—their interesting amino acid profile.
In other words, hydrolyzed collagen is the Ferrari of all gelatin and collagen supplements.
Benefits of Collagen Protein: It’s Amino Acid Profile
Most of the benefits of collagen protein (remember that collagen is technically a protein powder) are thanks to its essential amino acids and more importantly, its conditional and nonessential amino acids.
To build muscle, your body needs 20 amino acids.
Nine are called essential amino acids because your body can’t make them on its own, so you need to get them through diet. These essential amino acids are phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine.
Most protein powders hold these nine essential amino acids in varying amounts. Any protein that has all nine is called a complete protein.
The other aminos, arginine, cysteine, glycine, glutamine, proline, tyrosine, alanine, aspartic acid, asparagine, glutamic acid, and serine, your body can make on its own so they’re not considered essential (but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t supplement them).
Collagen is not a complete protein—but it’s close. Collagen peptides supply eight aminos. The only one missing is tryptophan. (Yes, the sleepy turkey amino acid.)
In collagen hydrolysate (a fancy name for hydrolyzed collagen), you get
- Glutamic acid
Collagen has an amino acid called hydroxyproline that you can’t really find in any other food. Hydroxyproline is excellent for, quite literally, structural support in bones and skin.
You’ll notice hydroxyproline in many skincare products.
Keep in mind that while collagen does have eight of the nine essential amino acids, they’re not available in equal amounts (which is kind of important).
Instead, collagen supplies higher levels of proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a huge problem. These three amino acids supply excellent health benefits.
Plus, you can combine a grass-fed collagen powder with your other favorite protein powder to create an anti-aging, muscle-building powerhouse.
Collagen or Gelatin for Hair Health
For hair health, you’ll want to choose collagen hydrolysate, also known as hydrolyzed collagen.
Consuming collagen can strengthen and speed up hair and nail growth. (1)
Hydrolyzed collagen may also protect skin elasticity on your scalp, protect hair follicles, and prevent hair loss.
Collagen or Gelatin for Joints and Connective Tissue
Collagen and gelatin both appear to be excellent supplements for joint pain and joint health because they support connective tissue integrity.
In fact, this is one of the most well-researched and documented benefits of collagen peptides.
As you age, your risk for osteoporosis and joint damage increases because your collagen levels deteriorate.
Studies have found that collagen peptide doses of about ten to 12 grams per day can noticeably reduce joint pain and appear to have an anti-inflammatory effect. (2)
Collagen or Gelatin for Skin
Of course, skincare is one of the most widely accepted uses for hydrolyzed collagen peptides.
Research has found that women who consume collagen enjoy better skin elasticity, fewer wrinkles, and more hydrated skin. (3)
Although it’s better to consume collagen protein, if you buy a powder, you can also mix it into your skincare products.
Collagen vs. Gelatin for Gut Health
While many people swear by collagen for treating leaky gut syndrome, there aren’t any studies yet that prove hydrolyzed collagen peptides improve gut health.
Collagen Peptides for Muscles
Muscle atrophy is a major reason seniors are at risk for falls and fractures.
Unfortunately, muscles start losing mass after you turn 30.
How much? A whopping 5% every ten years.
Yes, it’s frightening, but collagen protein powder can help you improve muscle strength and mass at any age.
Studies have found that collagen boosts muscle mass with exercise and may help synthesize creatine and other proteins. (4)
Collagen vs. Gelatin for Cooking
You’re probably most familiar with collagen and gelatin from beef bone broth in Paleo recipes.
However, you can use both gelatin and collagen peptides in plenty of recipes as well.
Collagen is a preferred choice for smoothies, coffees, and any cold beverages.
Keep in mind that anything you add gelatin to will start to gel so it’s a perfect ingredient in gummies, stews, desserts, and marshmallows.
If you’re having trouble with gelatin clumping in your recipes, you may need to “bloom” it with cold water.
Sorry vegans—while both are available in Halal and Kosher-friendly beef gelatin and collagen options, they’re always made from animal products.
Instead, vegans can consume plenty of foods that improve collagen production throughout the body, like leafy greens.
Collagen vs. Gelatin: Keto Low-Down
Like any protein, you’ll want to limit your hydrolyzed collagen peptides and gelatin to stay in ketosis.
Many brands now offer keto-friendly collagen protein powders with MCTs added for extra health benefits.
How to Use Collagen vs. Gelatin Supplements
You can consume collagen and gelatin pretty much however you like!
Use the powders in your favorite recipes. Scoop hydrolyzed collagen into smoothies. Take collagen peptide or gelatin capsules.
Side Effects You Should Know
Gelatin and collagen are generally safe without any serious known side effects or interactions.
However, it is important to only buy gelatin and collagen peptides from reputable brands.
The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate supplements, including collagen, like it regulates food. These substances are made from parts of the animal that typically get tossed in the trash, so you want to make sure your supplement is made with high-quality standards at every step of the process.
With gelatin, the FDA approaches it in two ways.
Unflavored (or flavored) gelatin marketed as a food product is subject to standard food regulations and labeling by the FDA.
When marketed as a supplement, however, gelatin goes through the supplement regulating and labeling process instead.
It’s also worth mentioning that choosing collagen peptides derived from grass-fed beef is your best bet for ensuring high quality. Unflavored collagen peptides from grass-fed beef also tend to trigger fewer stomach upsets if you’re taking capsules.
The Bottom Line
Collagen and gelatin are almost identical in terms of amino acids and health benefits. Since hydrolyzed collagen is easier for your body to digest than normal collagen peptides and gelatin, it’s a better choice for reaping the full range of health benefits.
Plus, you can add collagen peptides to cold liquids like smoothies and other drinks without them gelling. Gelatin, on the other hand, is a little less versatile.