Is Collagen A Complete Protein? Can It Replace Regular Protein?

is collagen a complete protein

The body needs protein to produce energy, build and maintain muscles, and aid in cellular repair and growth. Proteins are synthesized in the body through amino acids. Different types of protein sources vary in amino acid content and ratio. Consuming foods with all the essential amino acids allowS the body to efficiently synthesize protein.

Collagen protein has a unique variety of amino acids that can be beneficial to the body particularly, to the skin, bones, and connective tissues. It is generally helpful in cellular growth and repair and in improving the body’s overall structure. However, since collagen protein is an incomplete protein, it cannot fulfill the body’s entire amino acid demand.

What is Collagen?

Protein is one of the three macronutrients needed by the human body for energy and muscle repair and growth. Specifically, collagen protein provides the structure for the bones, connective tissues, ligaments, tendons, and the skin. It makes up about 30% of the body’s total protein, making it the most abundant protein in the human body.

Collagen is generally known for its several benefits to the skin, particularly for improving skin texture, elasticity, and hydration. It promotes cellular repair by aiding in the formation of fibrous networks of cells called fibroblasts where new cells can grow. It also rejuvenates every cell in the body, making it an effective anti-aging agent and a popular ingredient in beauty products.

Aside from its skin-related benefits, collagen is also known to boost joint health because it stimulates the growth of new cartilages. It also helps prevent bone density loss by stimulating osteoblast formation and helping increase bone mineral density. This makes collagen essential to prevent aging-related discomforts, especially for postmenopausal women.

Collagen also acts as a protective covering for the delicate internal organs of the body such as the kidneys and digestive tracts. It acts as fibrous connective tissues that make up the organ’s supportive lining.

Sources of collagen

The body naturally produces collagen by breaking down dietary proteins into amino acids. However, collagen production significantly declines as people age and due to exposure to smoking and UV lights. The body can still maintain adequate collagen levels through the consumption of collagen-rich foods and collagen supplements.

Collagen is commonly found in both animal and non-animal sources. Animal skin, cartilage, and bone as well as the broths made from these ingredients are rich in collagen. Collagen is also abundant in plant sources like citrus fruits, berries, garlic, and red and yellow vegetables.

What is a “Complete Protein”

There are 20 different amino acids that can form into protein. These amino acids are naturally produced by the body, except for the nine essential amino acids which are only derived from foods and supplements. These essential amino acids, namely, histidine, leucine, lysine, isoleucine, phenylalanine, threonine, methionine, valine, and tryptophan are needed for energy production, immune function, nutrient absorption, and tissue growth.

Protein is considered complete when it contains all the nine essential amino acids in a balanced ratio. The body needs all nine essential amino acids to trigger protein synthesis. This is a process where the protein source is broken down into smaller chains of amino acids that the cells can absorb. The cells reassemble the amino acids into proteins that the body can use for tissue growth and maintenance.

Some of the most common sources of complete proteins are animal proteins such as milk, egg, cheese, and meat. Complete proteins are also found in plant sources such as soybeans and quinoa.

Incomplete Protein

Proteins are considered incomplete when they are lacking or deficient in some of the essential amino acids. When one essential amino acid is missing or when the essential amino acids are unbalanced, body cells cannot fully utilize them for protein synthesis. This means that incomplete proteins cannot support the growth and maintenance of bodily tissues.

Incomplete proteins are commonly found in plant sources such as legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Collagen protein is considered an incomplete protein because it only contains eight out of the nine essential amino acids. Collagen does not have the amino acid tryptophan which is essential for the backup production of serotonin and vitamin B3.

Moreover, collagen has high levels of glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. These amino acids make collagen beneficial for building and maintaining bone and skin structure. However, even if collagen is rich in these specific amino acids, the body still cannot put them into use since the other essential amino acids necessary for protein synthesis are deficient.

Can Collagen Replace Regular Protein?

Collages can still be a good source of amino acids since it is also a type of protein. It is ideal for busy people since it dissolves faster in most mixtures than other protein sources and it is also tasteless and odorless. However, since collagen is an incomplete protein, it cannot totally replace regular protein.

While collagen provides unique benefits to the body, using collagen to replace regular proteins in a person’s diet can lead to amino acid deficiency or imbalance that may compromise the body’s cellular processes. For instance, collagen can be used to alleviate joint pain after exercise, but it cannot support muscle recovery since all essential amino acids are needed for the recovery process.

Similarly, the body needs all essential amino acids to boosts its ability to naturally produce collagen. Thus, taking an adequate amount of complete proteins can be more effective in enhancing the collagen content of the body than simply taking collagen as a standalone protein supplement.

Excessive collagen in the body can also result in organ damage. When unused collagen accumulates in the body, it can cause the skin to stretch, thicken, or harden. It can also cause body tissues to stiffen and eventually damage internal organs.

Collagen is a supplemental protein that must be taken with other protein sources to balance its deficiencies in certain essential amino acids. Specifically, collagen must be combined with dairy, soybeans, cheese, and other food sources rich in tryptophan and leucine.

Final Thoughts

Collagen, as an incomplete protein, cannot replace regular protein. Despite the benefits of collagen for the skin, bones, and tissues, it is not a sufficient type of protein to facilitate muscle repair and growth. It is best used as a supplement alongside protein gained from whole foods.