Collagen is one of the leading protein supplements – and for good reason. Collagen has many potential benefits, like supporting muscle growth, increasing metabolism, and decreasing inflammation, to name a few. But there’s a crucial question to ask: “Is collagen a complete protein?”
If you take collagen protein supplements to replace meals, this is an especially important question to answer.
So, is collagen a complete protein? To help you understand the answer, it’s first necessary to understand what a complete protein is. Then, we can discuss if collagen is a complete protein naturally or not, and if there is such a thing as complete collagen protein.
Are you ready? Then let’s get into it.
What is a complete protein?
It is common knowledge that protein is an important food group needed for maintaining a healthy diet. This is why protein supplements are increasingly popular among vegans, bodybuilders, and health enthusiasts.
Protein plays an unparalleled role in numerous bodily processes, from cell and tissue repair to aiding digestion. However, not all proteins are equal.
A complete protein, also called whole protein, describes the food sources of protein that contain an adequate amount of all the essential amino acids required in your diet.
Therefore, the presence of the nine essential amino acids marks the difference in a complete vs incomplete protein.
Your next question likely is, what is an amino acid?
Amino acids are smaller organic compounds that combine in various arrangements to form all protein structures. Understanding the classes of amino acids is key to answering the question: Is collagen a complete protein?
Amino acids can be classified into essential and nonessential amino acids. Let’s first take a look at the essential ones.
The essential amino acids
As we said, amino acids are key to answering the question: “Is collagen a complete protein?”
Essential amino acids are a group of amino acids the human body cannot produce. Hence, these amino acids must be derived through food sources such as fungi, plants, and animals.
Each of the nine essential amino acids plays a crucial role in the body, and together, they make up complete proteins. The essential amino acids are:
Histidine is a parent to histamine, an amine necessary for digestion, inflammation, sexual health, and immunity. It is important in maintaining the protective barrier covering your nerve cells, known as the myelin sheath.
A histidine deficiency can cause anemia, which can put you at risk of chronic kidney disease, and arthritis.
The body converts phenylalanine into neurotransmitters like dopamine, tyrosine, norepinephrine (noradrenaline), epinephrine (adrenaline), and the skin pigment melanin. A common source of phenylalanine is the artificial sweetener aspartame.
Leucine is one of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Like other BCAAs, it aids muscle growth and repair. It also has a significant role in the wound healing process and the production of growth hormones, and can even be used as a flavor enhancer.
Also a part of the BCAAs, isoleucine is concentrated in muscle tissue. It is crucial for the physiological functions of the body, and helps regulate energy levels, hemoglobin production, fatty acid and protein metabolism, glucose transportation, and immunity.
Valine is the last of the three BCAAs. It helps with tissue repair, muscle growth, and energy production. Valine also aids muscle regeneration, mental strength, and emotional calm.
Lysine plays several roles in humans, as it is essential in protein synthesis, calcium absorption, and hormone and enzyme regulation. It also produces carnitine, a compound that converts fatty acids into energy, in a process that can also lower cholesterol levels.
Threonine is an essential component of collagen, elastin, and tooth enamel. It plays a vital role in fat metabolism and may ease indigestion, intestinal disorders, anxiety, and mild depression.
Methionine plays a role in the health of your skin and hair and even strengthens your nails. Methionine is also necessary for tissue repair and growth. It helps in the absorption of selenium and zinc and the discharge of heavy metals, such as mercury and lead.
This amino acid is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, the hormone melatonin, and vitamin B3. Melatonin is used in sleep aids, and serotonin regulates sleep, mood, appetite, and pain.
Tryptophan acts as a natural sedative and antidepressant. You may have heard of this amino acid during thanksgiving time since turkey is one protein that contains tryptophan.
Nonessential amino acids
Now that you understand the essential amino acids, let’s talk about the nonessential ones.
Unlike the name suggests, nonessential amino acids are actually essential for your health and metabolic processes. They support tissue growth and repair, red blood cell formation, protein formation, immune function, and hormone synthesis.
They have simply been given this name because the human body can synthesize nonessential amino acids if sufficient amounts are not received through diet alone.
There are 11 nonessential amino acids: arginine, glycine, glutamine, cysteine, tyrosine, proline, alanine, serine, asparagine, and ornithine.
Some nonessential amino acids can become essential when you are stressed, sick, or not consuming enough protein. They are called conditionally essential amino acids, and there are eight of them.
Nonessential amino acids are as beneficial in your body as essential amino acids. From the benefits of beta-alanine to the many citrulline malate benefits, nonessential amino acids help fitness enthusiasts in bodybuilding and improving athletic performance.
In addition, a study has shown that nonessential amino acids may be indispensable for cancer therapy.
So what does all this have to do with whether collagen is a complete protein? Well, as mentioned above, for collagen to be a complete protein, it would need to contain all nine of the essential amino acids. So does it? Is collagen a complete protein or not?
Is collagen a complete protein?
Is collagen a complete protein? The simple answer is no.
Collagen does not have all nine essential amino acids, so collagen is not a complete protein.
Nonetheless, collagen contains 19 amino acids, and a unique spectrum of conditionally essential amino acids that our body needs.
Of the 19 amino acids, proline, alanine, glycine, and hydroxyproline are mainly responsible for collagen formation. Collagen also contains eight of the nine essential amino acids.
What collagen does not contain is tryptophan.
So, when you look at collagen protein vs whey protein, you might think whey protein would come out on top because it IS a complete protein.
But just because collagen isn’t a complete protein naturally doesn’t mean that complete collagen protein supplements don’t exist. And, if you give collagen a pass, you would be missing out on a whole host of potential benefits.
Why take collagen supplements?
So now you have your answer to the question: “Is collagen a complete protein?” Even though collagen isn’t a complete protein, there are many reasons you should still consider supplementing with it.
Potential benefits of collagen include that:
Collagen may benefit your skin
Taking collagen supplements may prevent wrinkles and reduce signs of aging. Studies have proven that when you take collagen regularly, it can improve skin elasticity levels and hydration.
Collagen may benefit nail growth
As collagen production slows with age, your nails can break more easily. Collagen supports your nail structure and uses the amino acid arginine to promote nail growth and health. Taking collagen supplements may help strengthen your nails and keep them from becoming brittle.
Collagen may benefit hair growth and thickness
Your hair is primarily made up of the protein keratin. Proline is a major component of keratin, and one of the nonessential amino acids in collagen. With enough proline, keratin stimulates hair growth.
Taking collagen supplements provides nutrients to your hair follicles that may boost hair growth and thickness. Collagen may also prevent your hair from graying prematurely and slow down graying from old age.
Collagen may benefit your bones
Collagen plays a crucial role in keeping bones and joints healthy. Collagen supplements may improve bone mineral density and reduce bone breakdown. They may also reduce your chances of having osteoporosis because collagen helps to keep your bones flexible.
Collagen may benefit muscle growth
People involved in physical activities may also enjoy collagen benefits for their muscles. Collagen supports your connective tissue, including your muscle, so collagen supplements may prevent muscle soreness and inflammation – shortening your recovery times.
Collagen may benefit joint health
Liquid collagen benefits also include protection for your ligaments and tendons. Collagen helps in repairing cartilage tissue, which may boost joint mobility and flexibility.
Collagen may also soothe joint pain after a workout, reduce inflammation caused by arthritis, and promote overall joint health.
With so many benefits, you may be frustrated that collagen isn’t a complete protein. But as we said before, just because collagen isn’t a complete protein naturally, that doesn’t mean you cannot make complete collagen protein.
How to make collagen a complete protein
While collagen is not a complete protein, it is possible to get complete collagen proteins containing all nine essential amino acids. Let’s find out how to make collagen a complete protein.
The missing essential amino acid in collagen is tryptophan, so in order to make collagen a complete protein, all you need to do is add the missing tryptophan! Some companies that make collagen supplements will add tryptophan in during hydrolysis for this reason.
So, you may be wondering. What is hydrolysis? And what is hydrolyzed collagen?
Hydrolysis is the chemical process of breaking molecules down into smaller, more easily absorbable pieces. And hydrolyzed collagen is collagen protein that has gone through the process of hydrolysis.
Hydrolyzed collagen is also known as collagen peptides and is more easily absorbed and digested compared to whole collagen molecules. If you want the full benefits of collagen supplements, you want to use a hydrolyzed collagen supplement, and ensure your collagen is a complete protein.
Why add tryptophan to collagen?
The addition of tryptophan to hydrolyzed collagen is important for various reasons, some of which are:
To prevent tryptophan depletion
Since collagen isn’t a complete protein, it pulls existing tryptophan from your system to MAKE itself a complete protein. According to a study conducted on rats, ingesting all the essential amino acids except tryptophan can further decrease the amount of tryptophan in the brain.
To boost your mood
Ingesting collagen without tryptophan as your main protein source can lower serotonin levels. Low serotonin is associated with feelings of irritability, low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression (especially in people already suffering from mood disorders).
To improve your sleep
Ingesting collagen as your primary source of protein without tryptophan can affect your sleep. The body uses tryptophan to produce the hormone melatonin, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Low melatonin can result in poor sleep or even trigger insomnia.
Frog Fuel: The complete collagen protein
Whew! This article may have felt like a roller coaster ride that swayed your opinion on collagen protein more than a few times. The truth is, there’s a reason why collagen protein is one of the most popular protein supplements.
Earlier, we explained why not all proteins are equal, and the same is true for collagen protein supplements. Since collagen supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, there are a lot of questionable collagen supplements out there.
Lucky for you, we designed our products to meet our needs as former Navy SEALS and athletes. And unlike many brands, we use our products daily to reach peak performance. That’s why we believe wholeheartedly that we’ve designed the most powerful protein in the world. (And based on our reviews, many of our customers agree.)
Our liquid protein shots offer a fast-absorbing (we’re talking 15 minutes) and exceedingly beneficial collagen protein source so you can always perform at your best. Moreover, our collagen is a complete protein because it’s fortified with the missing amino acid, tryptophan.
Frog Fuel collagen is a complete protein source with 15 grams of enzyme-hydrolyzed collagen protein that will digest up to 4x faster than the leading whey proteins. As a complete collagen protein, it gives you all the benefits of collagen without any of the pitfalls of incomplete proteins.