You may have heard that you should supplement with collagen to heal or prevent musculoskeletal injuries. If you're like me, that's got you curious to know if there's any real benefit or is it just hype?
Before we dive into the answer, let's start with what is collagen? Collagen is an abundant protein in the body. It's the main component of connective tissue, found in tendons, ligaments, bone, skin, and muscles. It provides structure, strength, elasticity, and facilitates hydration of connective tissue. There are 28 identified types of collagen in various tissue. Type I is the most common, found in all connective tissue and provides structural support for bones, tendons, ligaments, and skin. Type II is found in elastic cartilage, which is crucial for joint health. Type III is found within the muscles, arteries, and organs. Type IV and V are found in skin. And so on.
Most collagen supplements are hydrolyzed collagen, or collagen that has been broken down into collagen peptides. This is usually sold as a powder. This form can be absorbed through the digestive tract, and stimulates collagen production in the body. Native collagen is in its whole protein form, not broken down. This type of collagen cannot be absorbed by the body, but it is shown to have immune regulating effects and may prevent cartilage degeneration caused by inflammatory autoimmune processes, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
If you have a sports injury caused by overuse or an acute incident then a collagen peptides supplement with a mix of types I, II, and III, is your best bet. The top 3 benefits of collagen for injuries, backed by current research are:
Anti-inflammatory. Collagen supplementation has been found to reduce markers of inflammation.
Stimulate the body's collagen production to help repair damaged connective tissue.
Prevent bone loss. Supplementing with collagen peptides can help prevent bone loss, and actually increase bone density. This is important for athletes who have experienced stress fractures or have low bone density. Vitamin D and calcium should also be added for maximal benefit.
What about collagen for building muscle? Collagen is a protein, and while it is an important component of muscle tissue, supplementing with collagen is way less effective than whey protein for building muscle. How long do you need to take collagen for results? Collagen peptide supplements should be taken consistently for at least 8 weeks to see any benefits, and can be taken long-term without any side effects. A dose of 5-15g daily is effective. An easy way to take collagen powder is mixed into coffee or a smoothie.
Are there vegan alternatives? Not really. Collagen only comes from animal sources, but you can take collagen boosters containing vitamin C and amino acids glycine, lysine, and proline to stimulate collagen production, or hyaluronic acid to improve water retention in tissues to keep them more supple.
Overall, I see collagen peptides as a great supplement for athletes over 25 years old, when collagen production begins to slow down, and especially when recovering from an injury to connective tissue. ■
Lauren Capone is a guest author and owner of Aspen Alley Nutrition.
Address: 745 Poplar Ave, Boulder, CO 80304