A guide to protein powders and collagen supplements

Mar 9, 2023 | 3 comments

It’s no secret that I’m big on prioritising protein in your meals and snacks (read more about why here), and although I advocate for a food-first approach when it comes to protein, I’m also a realist, a busy mum, and a big believer in using conveniences and shortcuts when possible to help us meet our health goals.

This is where protein powders and collagen powders can be of benefit to us as mothers – an easy, convenient way to incorporate more protein into your day.

But, the thing is, the protein supplement market is absolutely saturated with product options and it’s totally overwhelming trying to pick one that is right for you. Which is why I’ve put together this guide so you can learn more about what to look for in a product and feel more confident making a decision that is best for you and your family.


The information provided in this blog is for your personal or other non-commercial, educational purposes. It should not be considered as medical or professional advice. We recommend you consult with a GP or other healthcare professional before taking or omitting to take any action based on this blog. While the author uses best endeavours to provide accurate and true content, the author makes no guarantees or promises and assumes no liability regarding the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the information presented. The information, opinions, and recommendations presented in this blog are for general information only and any reliance on the information provided in this blog is done at your own risk.

Who should use a protein or collagen supplement?

Ideally, we would get most, if not all, of our nutritional needs met from real whole foods because they provide so much more than just macronutrients like protein; they also provide a whole array of other nutrients (macro, micro, and phytonutrients) which work synergistically together in ways we only partially understand in nutrition science.

But, I’m also a realist and know from my experience both personally and working with many clients that it’s useful to have a convenient and easy option available to give a helping hand when it comes to meeting your protein needs day to day.

Protein powders or collagen powders should be an add-on to an otherwise healthy diet, helping you to fill in the gaps and cover all bases on busy days or weeks.

Some circumstances when a protein or collagen powder might be indicated include:

  • To boost the protein content of typical daily meals that are lower in protein, for example if you like to have a smoothie most mornings (it’s hard to get enough protein into a smoothie using wholefoods alone)
  • During times of more intense physical growth and/or recovery, for example during pregnancy, postpartum, and early breastfeeding when protein needs are higher, or after an injury or surgery
  • If you are trying to gain muscle
  • If you are trying to lose fat (to help spare muscle tissue during weight loss)
  • If you are very active or an athlete
  • If food intake is difficult or limited for any reason, for example, during illness, reduced appetite, or periods of fussy eating (see more information on kids & protein powders below)

The difference between protein powder and collagen powder (and when you might chose each)

Protein powders and collagen powders often get lumped into the same boat together under the ‘protein’ umbrella. While they both provide protein, there are some important differences both nutritionally and practically speaking that you should be aware of when deciding what product to select for yourself.

Collagen Powder

Collagen is a type of protein found in the connective tissues of animals (including humans). It’s high in the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, which have unique health benefits (specifically, the high glycine content of collagen can be of benefit – read more about the benefits of glycine in this blog here), however, collagen is considered to be an incomplete protein because it doesn’t contain the full profile of essential amino acids in the right amounts for human health.

Collagen is the most abundant type of protein in the human body. It plays a key role in structural tissues like joints, bones, muscle, skin, hair, and nails, so naturally, its functional uses as a supplement include conditions affecting the joints, digestive system, bones, skin, and hair.

Why you might choose collagen over protein powder:

  • Better suited to specifically supporting skin, hair, bones, joint, and digestive health
  • More versatile than protein powder as a good quality collagen powder will be virtually tasteless and can be added into hot drinks (coffee, tea, hot chocolates), smoothies, pancakes, baking, yoghurt, and much more with very little detectable change in taste or texture (unlike even unflavoured protein powders)
  • Usually more well tolerated in terms of digestive symptoms immediately after consuming (unlikely to cause gas, like protein powders are renowned for doing!)

Other things to know about collagen:

  • Collagen powders animal-based products – from either cows, pigs, or fish (marine collagen), and therefore may not be suitable for plant-based folks avoiding any animal products
  • It’s lower in protein than most protein powders (per typical serving size)
  • Not the ideal choice if muscle growth is one of your primary goals, as it’s low in leucine (see more on this below)
  • Many collagen products are now ‘activated collagen peptides’ which means the collagen protein has been broken down into even smaller peptide units, which may make them easier to digest and absorb, meaning more bang-for-your-buck from the product

Protein Powder

There is large variability in the quality and content of protein powders, however, generally speaking, protein powders provide an isolated protein extract from a given protein source (whey, egg, soy, peas, etc.). Many of them provide a complete source of protein, meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids in the right amounts for human health (there may be some exceptions to this for certain plant-based sources, more on this below).

Why you might choose protein powder over collagen:

  • Generally speaking, you are getting a better source of complete protein – something containing all of the essential amino acids in the right levels needed for human health, therefore a better all-rounder than collagen
  • Provides a higher dose of protein per serving compared to collagen
  • Many (although not all) protein powders will contain adequate levels of leucine to support muscle growth 

Other things to know about protein powder:

  • Some protein powders can cause gas in some people and it can take experimentation to find the one that works for you
  • Less versatile in their uses (compared to collagen): protein powders are slightly more difficult to ‘hide’ or blend into other foods. There are still plenty of options for how to use them (see this section below for ideas) but they are not as tasteless or texture-less as collagen

How much to use 

There is no concrete answer to this question because it will largely depend on your reason for using protein supplements and your individual health goals. But generally speaking, most people will need no more than one serving of protein powder or collagen each day, at most (using the product serving size directions, i.e. one scoop using their scooper provided). But it could even be less than this – once every few days to fill a gap or every now and then as a little helping hand.

Interestingly, there is some research that shows no additional benefit from taking higher amounts anyway (depending on what outcomes you look at), so one serving per day may be plenty for the average person.

For nutritional or performance needs:

If the powder is helping you to meet a gap in your nutritional needs, then you may need to take it more consistently, i.e. once a day. Or if you are an athlete or working on muscle building, you may have a greater need for a consistently higher protein intake.

As an adjunct to a nourishing diet:

Alternatively, if you are using it for convenience or as an easy way to boost your daily nutrition, you may find using it every few days is plenty, for example, to add into a smoothie on the days you choose to have this as a meal or adding a scoop into baking or pancakes to help bump up the protein for your snacks.

Get personalised advice if you can

These are just examples, not an individual prescription. Ideally, you would get personalised advice specific to your needs and goals. Always follow the advice of your healthcare professional, as they will know you best.


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What to look for in a product

The protein powder and collagen powder markets are absolutely saturated with product options and it can feel totally overwhelming when trying to choose a product that is right for you.

As always, this is not personalised advice, but the following factors are what I look for when considering whether a product is right for me or any of my clients, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to which product is best.

Hopefully, this information will empower you to make a confident decision when it comes to these products too.

The factors you may want to consider (each is discussed in the sections below) include:

Protein source – bioavailability and complete proteins

Many different sources are used in protein powders, each with its strengths and limitations.

Animal-based protein sources:

  • Whey (milk derived)
  • Casein (milk derived)
  • Egg white
  • Bone broth protein powder (different from bone broth itself)
  • Collagen
  • Colostrum (milk derived) 

Plant-based protein sources:

  • Soy isolate
  • Pea 
  • Brown rice
  • Hemp protein


Animal-based sources of protein are the most bioavailable proteins, meaning they are more easily digested and absorbed in the body, aka they give more nutritional bang for your buck. However, not everyone can tolerate or will feel aligned with animal sources, due to intolerances or allergies, or personal values around animal foods.

When animal-based protein sources are an option, this is my recommendation due to the higher bioavailability. However, plant-based sources used in protein powder are still an excellent option.

While there is a difference in bioavailability between animal and plant proteins, research shows little difference in end outcomes between animal protein powders and plant protein powders (for example physical performance or muscle growth), suggesting that in their concentrated extracted form, the difference in bioavailability may not be significant.

Plant proteins that are ‘sprouted’ are more bioavailable (and easier to digest) and should be prioritised if possible as they will provide greater nutritional bang-for-your-buck.

Incomplete versus complete proteins

Another important difference is whether a protein source is complete versus incomplete. Animal sources of protein are complete proteins (collagen is not a complete protein, see the section on collagen above) which mean they contain all of the essential amino acids in the right amounts needed for human health.

When it comes to plant proteins, there is variability in complete versus incomplete.

Soy and hemp are considered complete proteins, whereas brown rice and pea are incomplete. Therefore, if choosing a plant-based source of protein, keep this in mind and it’s best to aim for a product that contains a mix of plant proteins to cover all the essential amino acid bases.


Another consideration is the digestibility of the protein source. This really comes down to the individual tolerability of each protein source and many people find they may need to experiment with a few different protein options to find one that they can comfortably digest.

For example, some people find whey protein difficult to digest and may get excess gas after consuming, whereas others find legume-based protein powders (i.e. pea and soy) difficult to digest with excess gas.

Plant proteins that are ‘sprouted’ or fermented (e.g. sprouted pea or fermented brown rice) are more bioavailable and easier to digest and should be prioritised if possible.

Amount of protein per serve

A good quality, pure protein powder, usually provides around 25-30g of protein per serving (usually a scooper is provided with the product).

Collagen powders will provide a much lower amount of protein per serving and this is normal (around 10-15g/serve).

For products that provide a lower amount of protein than this, you may just want to check the ingredients list carefully to see what else is mixed in or choose a product that provides a higher dose of protein overall.

Other ingredients in the product

Opt for the shortest, most natural ingredients list possible. Avoid artificial flavours, fillers, and emulsifiers, which are commonly used in commercial protein powders.

Natural flavours are often used to flavour a product. This is a grey-area – the use of the term ‘natural flavour’ can be used to describe any flavour that has been derived from a natural product. However, it can still mean many industrial steps of processing, leading to a flavouring that is far from ‘natural’ in the sense that most people would define it. The long term impact of natural flavours is unknown.

Flavoured versus unflavoured or natural

There is no right or wrong when it comes to choosing a flavoured or unflavoured option, but you need to think about how you plan to use the powder; are you going to simply stir it into water or milk and consume like a supplement? Or do you plan on adding it into other drinks and food and therefore need more versatility?

I tend to recommend getting an unflavoured or natural option because it is much more versatile and I find the flavoured products can be really hit and miss. However, some people love their flavoured powders, so each to their own.

If you do choose a flavoured powder, check the ingredients list carefully to see how it is flavoured the way it is. What ingredients are they using – synthetic flavours? Natural flavours? Whole food ingredients? (see the section above about ‘natural flavours’)

Organic and/or grass-fed

If you can access it and afford it, chose organic and/or grass fed options. However, they are not always available or within your budget, so just chose the highest quality option you can.

Some considerations around this:

  • Prioritise organic if choosing plant proteins because of the increased possibility of pesticide use during growing
  • Australian Certified Organic (ACO) is the only true organic certification in Australia – some products will label their ingredients or product as organic and not have the certification, so be aware of this
  • Nutritionally, there won’t be much difference between grass-fed or organic and non-grass fed or non-organic, however, it usually means better animal welfare and sustainable farming practices 

Leucine content for muscle growth

Leucine is an amino acid found in protein which stimulate muscle synthesis and growth. For this action, you need to consume 2-3g of leucine post-workout. Many people chose to do this via a protein powder for convenience.

If you are looking to tone muscles, lose weight, or improve athletic performance, this particular consideration is important. Collagen won’t be a good choice for this goal.

Considerations for plant-based products

Many considerations are discussed in the sections above when it comes to selecting a plant-based product. To summarise, they are:

  • Not all plant proteins are complete proteins
  • Aim to select a plant-protein with a blend of protein sources, as this will provide the most balance amino acid profile (helping incomplete plant proteins to compliment one another)
  • If possible, choose ‘sprouted’ or fermented options, i.e. sprouted pea protein isolate or fermented brown rice protein, as these processing steps increase the bioavailability of the protein and improve the digestibility and tolerability (see more on this in the sections on protein source and tolerability above)
  • Plant based powders can sometimes be less palatable. You may want to consider a flavoured option, however, see the discussion on flavoured versus unflavoured above.

Safety considerations

Protein powders and collagen powders have a good safety profile, generally speaking. Most safety concerns relate to the dose or amount consumed.

Excessive doses may cause dehydration, kidney strain, mineral imbalances, altered bone health, and subtle yet important changes to the pH balance in the body (i.e. chronic metabolic acidosis). See the section above regarding how much to use.

Conditions to be mindful of:

Protein is metabolised in the liver and kidneys, and then the kidneys regulate protein balance in the body and excrete excess amino acids, so individuals with diagnosed diseases affecting the liver or kidneys should consult with their doctor or nutritionist before self-prescribing protein or collagen powders.

Children & protein supplements:

Parents frequently ask, ‘is protein powder or collagen powder safe and suitable for my child?’ The answer to this is not black and white, and depends on many factors including the child’s age, health history, and the specific protein product in question.

Ideally, children would meet all their protein needs from real whole foods, as these foods will provide not only protein but also all of the other essential nutrients they needs for growth, development, and well-being. But, as discussed above in the section Who should use a protein supplement there may be occasions when a supplement gives you and your child an extra helping hand.

The above safety considerations apply to both adults and child. Perhaps the most important factor to consider is the amount you are offering.

There is no set dosage range for kids and protein powders, but here are a few considerations to think about:

  • Protein powder is not recommended for babies under the age of 12 months
  • Collagen powder is safe for babies 6 months+ after you have started the introduction of solid foods. Offer the best quality product you can access and afford
  • Consider whether your child has any preexisting liver or kidney disease (see above)
  • Keep in mind, ideally we are using protein or collagen supplements with kids as an adjunct to whole food sources of protein, offering a handful of times throughout the week rather than relying on them every day (unless otherwise medically advised)
  • For shared meals that you are also going to consume, e.g. smoothies, consider adding one adult serving for the entire meal to cover yourself and them, that way your child/ren will get a small, appropriate portion of the entire dose
  • If you plan on offering protein powder regularly, consider buying a kids product so it’s easier for you to offer an age appropriate dose
  • For meals or snacks that are only for your child, and you’re using an adult product, aim for:
    • 1-4 years: 1/8 the adult dose
    • 4-8 years: around 1/4 the adult dose
    • For older children (8 years+) you may be able to aim for 1/4 – 1/2
    • These are very general guidelines only, the appropriate dose really depends on the specific age and body size of your child

How to use them in your everyday life

    Protein and collagen powders can be used in a variety of ways, and one of their benefits is their versatility and broad application of uses.

    The ways in which you will be able to use your chosen product will depend largely on the flavour (see the section above on  flavoured versus unflavoured)

    Some ways you might be able to use your powder:

    • Taken supplement-style simply stirred into water or milk and drunk
    • Added to smoothies to boost the protein content
    • Stirred into pancake or crepe batter
    • Added into overnight oats
    • Collagen can be added to any warm drink – i.e. coffee, tea, hot chocolates
    • Added into baking, e.g. muffins, cakes, or cookies
    • Made into icy poles or ‘nice’-cream (fruit-based healthy icecreams)
    • Bliss balls
    • Collagen will stir easily into yoghurt or ice cream

    There are endless recipe ideas online using protein powders and collagen powders, so experiment with some options until you find a few you like. Or just experiment with adding a scoop of protein or collagen into a recipe you already love and observe the results – my personal experience with this is that adding a sneaky scoop usually works out ok!

    Final note

    We’ve covered a lot of ground in this blog, which I hope has helped you learn more about what to look for when it comes to protein powders and collagen powders so you feel more empowered to find a product that is the right fit for you.

    Leave any questions you have below!


    The information provided in this blog is for your personal or other non-commercial, educational purposes. It should not be considered as medical or professional advice. We recommend you consult with a GP or other healthcare professional before taking or omitting to take any action based on this blog. While the author uses best endeavours to provide accurate and true content, the author makes no guarantees or promises and assumes no liability regarding the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the information presented. The information, opinions, and recommendations presented in this blog are for general information only and any reliance on the information provided in this blog is done at your own risk.




    1. Jas

      My milk supply has drastically dropped and I am also wanting to get more nutrients in the breastmilk I am producing ( also trying to get some fattier milk to increase babies weight)

      What source of protein would be best ??

      I have a Metagenics boo whey protein at home that my hubby takes. But I am willing to buy any form that would be best!

      Any suggestions

      • Georgie

        Hey Jas, sorry to hear you’ve been going through that. Both the Metagenics Biopure and Inca Organics are good options when it comes to protein. Have you seen the second post in this series where I review popular protein powders? It might be of interest – https://georgiestephen.com.au/the-best-protein-collagen-powders/
        Georgie x

    2. Jas

      Sorry I should mention. I have Inca organics at home and my husband has the Metagenics biopure.

      Which would be better for me to have to improve my breastmilk. And should I have it more than once a day?


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