Does Collagen Count as a Complete Protein?

Have you seen collagen being advertised as the perfect answer for skin, nail, and hair health? Or have you heard about it in athletic spaces as a way to prevent injury? It actually can play a beneficial role in both areas. However, collagen has been catching some heat lately, with people saying “it is not good source of protein”. This blog post is going to explore what collagen does and answer the ultimate question: “Does collagen count as a complete protein?” 

What is Collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant protein compound in the body. It is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Collagen creates our tendons and ligaments, making it super important for our bodies. It is also a major component of bones, skin, and nails. 

Collagen can be found naturally in animal meat that contains connective tissues. We also make our own collagen for the most part using amino acids from different protein sources we consume.

Our bodies make less and less collagen as we age, leading to looser skin and the appearance of aging on the outside. But it also has effects on the inside of our bodies, such as bone demineralization and decreased tendon health. 

Benefits of Collagen

Taking collagen can help in many different ways, no matter your age. Here are some of the benefits: 

  • Strengthen tendons and ligaments
  • Improve skin elasticity 
  • Prevent bone loss
  • Increased muscle mass due to improved recovery 

What is a Complete Protein?

Proteins are made up of chains called amino acids, of which there are 20 different types. Our body naturally makes some of these amino acids, but not others. The ones we don’t produce in our bodies are called essential amino acids. A complete protein contains all 9 essential amino acids, while an incomplete protein does not include all of the essential amino acids.

Animal-based proteins are often complete proteins. Think chicken, steak, eggs, milk, fish, etc. on the other hand, plant-based proteins are often incomplete proteins. When choosing a plant-based protein, you may need to include multiple types of protein sources to “complement” each other to make a complete protein. One incomplete protein source can “make up” the essential amino acids another incomplete protein lacks, making themselves “complementary proteins”. 

Does Collagen Count as a Complete Protein?

Here comes the question that everyone has been looking for, since many may rely on collagen as a protein source. Collagen is missing leucine, which is an essential amino acid for muscle growth, which makes it an incomplete protein. However, just because it is an incomplete protein does not mean it doesn’t count as a protein source. Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in the body and is super important for our body’s overall health. 

How to Take Collagen

If you choose to take collagen, it should not be taken in the place of post-workout protein as it is missing leucine. However, it can be something that is taken before a workout to give you the protective measures that you would want when training. 

We love to recommend 15 grams of collagen paired with 50 mg of a vitamin C source (applesauce works great). The vitamin C will ensure optimum absorption of the collagen, giving you the biggest bang for your buck! 

How to Spot Third-Party Tested Supplements

If you didn’t know, supplements are only very loosely regulated by the FDA in the United States. Crazy, right?! Supplements are almost a free for all, and it is the consumers job to make sure they are taking supplements that are safe. There are different companies out there that test supplements for accuracy, making sure what’s inside matches the supplement label on the outside of the container. If you see the stamp of approval from one of the companies below, then what is on the label is actually in the product. 

At RBSN, our favorite stamps to look for are NSF, NSF for Sport, Informed Choice, and USP Verified. These are constantly used and have good practices when it comes to third-party testing. You may notice that some are specific for sport, this is where my athletes come in. 

Athletes at any college or professional level are held to certain standards about substances. There are banned substances by the NCAA and the World Anti-Doping Agency that athletes must be on the look for. If you are buying a supplement without that stamp of third-party testing, you don’t know what you could actually be taking. If you are taking a supplement that is just tested for accuracy to the label, not banned substances, you are also putting yourself at risk to ingest something you would not want to pop up on a banned substance test. 

You can find out here what some of our favorite collagen products are. 


Collagen is not a complete protein source, but it does not mean that it is something you should avoid. It has great benefits and can be utilized by both generally active individuals and athletes. Collagen can be supplemented, but should not be intended to be used for muscle growth purposes due to its lack of leucine. We recommend taking it pre-workout and adding a vitamin C source with it. 
If you are looking for more insight on different supplements and how they can apply to you, apply for 1:1 coaching. We would love to help you reach your goals and create an individualized supplement protocol that will help you obtain them!



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