Collagen supplementation has become a more common topic over the past few years in the strength & conditioning world as well as the cosmetic world for a multitude of reasons.
When it comes to athletics, weight lifting, and sports in general, collagen has been a supplement that has become more popular due to claims that it aids in joint and tendon health, and possibly increases muscle mass as well as health in hair, skin, and nails (For those wondering about cosmetics),
So what exactly is collagen? There are a couple types of collagen; Collagen Peptides, and Collagen Hydrolysate.
Collagen which is a type of protein abundantly available in the body. Collagen provides structure and elasticity in muscles, tendons, ligaments, essentially all of the soft and connective the tissues of the body. Collagen is made up of many different amino acids, glycine, proline, alanine, and glutamic acid.
Collagen Peptides essentially are smaller chains of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Collagen Peptides are essentially just broken down into smaller molecules and easily absorbed by the body.
Essentially the same as Collagen Peptides, Collagen Hydrolysate is a hydrolyzed form of Collagen and is more broken down than Collagen Peptides meaning it can be a bit easier to digest and absorb into the body!
When looking at Collagen Supplements you will typically see them as peptides or a hydrolyzed version; both will benefit the body the same. Supplementation is not necessary as it is naturally produced by the body but there have been researched benefits of supplementation that we will further break down below.
So should you supplement collagen into your diet?
Collagen levels in our body can be increased of decreased based off age and diet, supplementation of collagen can help make up for some deficiencies that anyone could be experiencing or flat out increase the amount of collagen available within the body.
Some of the benefits of supplementing collagen into your diet include reduction of joint pain, possible improving of muscle mass, enhancing recovery, and reduction of injury in sport!
Studies On Joint Pain
Collagen plays an important role in the health of cartilage as well as the connective tissue that
surrounds and supports joints; as athletes, that tissue tends to break down a bit quicker than a less active individual. This can cause soreness, pain, or at the worst arthritis. Research studies have shown that supplementation of collagen can reduce the overall breakdown and joint pain associated with tissue inflammation and breakdown within a joint.
In a 24 week study performed by Clark et al, between September 2005 and June 2006, 147 subjects who competed on a varsity team or a club sport were recruited. Data from 97 of 147 subjects could be statistically evaluated.
One hundred and forty-seven subjects (72 male, 75 female) were randomly assigned to two groups: a group receiving 25 mL of a liquid formulation that contained 10 g of collagen hydrolysate and a group receiving a placebo, which consisted of 25 mL of liquid that contained xanthan.
The results of the study show that the athletes who received the collagen formulation showed a dramatic decrease in joint pain at rest and while active, while the placebo group showed little to no change.
Studies On Muscle Mass
As we have said many times above, one of collagen's roles is that it is a key component to connective tissues, soft tissues, among other things.
As it relates to muscle building/muscle mass and prevention of muscle loss, collagen plays a large role as it contains amino acids essential for creatine production within the body, and as we know from our post on creatine that is one huge piece to the puzzle.
In a study by Zdzieblik et al; Collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training improves body composition and increases muscle strength in elderly sarcopenic men: a randomized controlled trial.
The study showed that supplementation of collagen with a resistance training program increased lean muscle mass than those who received a placebo along with a resistance training program.
Since collagen is a form of protein, which obviously is helpful for increasing lean mass, you may see it aid in building of lean mass, but the studies and evidence are thin when it comes to athletes and increase in muscle mass, but there is hints that there is a chance it can increase muscle mass gain as well as just plain lean mass. Basically, don't rely on collagen to help you gain 10lbs of muscle.
In addition to research showing and hinting that collagen can improve muscle mass gain, there is also research that shows collagen can improve recovery times!
From what we know and was stated above, collagen aids in keeping connective and soft tissues strong and healthy, meaning that if we supplement and increase the collagen within the body, we will see an increase in recovery for not only athletes, but anyone in any sort of training program.
When is the best time to take collagen?
This one really comes down to what the goals of the athlete are.. Collagen has shown an anabolic effect when taken with food according to Dr. Stacy Sims, so it is important to supplement post workout with food. Basically to get the response we are looking for, which is getting collagen to come into play in the repair process of muscle breakdown is doing some sort of resistance training.
In a study by Shaw et al, supplementing collagen pre-workout with vitamin C shows improvement in the bodies collagen synthesis, making it ideal for connective tissue health essentially making joints, stronger and more resilient to injury.
Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins found in the body, made up of many different amino acids, it has shown to improve connective tissue health, joint health, hair, skin, and nails appearance and health as well as aid in the building of lean mass.
When supplemented post workout with food, there are anabolic benefits as it helps aid in muscle rebuilding and recovery, while there has also been studies that show it can help increase connective tissue health and join health if supplemented before a workout while also supplementing vitamin C.
Our recommendation for athlete would be to dig into the research yourselves, find out what your main goals are and if it makes sense to supplement this into your diet!
If you choose to supplement collagen remember it is still important to eat a quality diet and not rely on supplements for results!
It is important to eat a well balanced diet from quality sources such as grass fed beef, free range poultry and eggs, lean pork, high quality fish, as well as an abundance of fruits and vegetables and to stay away from highly processed foods.
Clark KL;Sebastianelli W;Flechsenhar KR;Aukermann DF;Meza F;Millard RL;Deitch JR;Sherbondy PS;Albert A; “24-Week Study on the Use of Collagen Hydrolysate as a Dietary Supplement in Athletes WITH Activity-Related Joint Pain.” Current Medical Research and Opinion, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18416885/.
“The Truth about Using Collagen Supplements for Fitness.” ISSA, www.issaonline.com/blog/index.cfm/2019/the-truth-about-using-collagen-supplements-for-fitness.
Zdzieblik, Denise, et al. “Collagen Peptide Supplementation in Combination with Resistance Training IMPROVES Body Composition and Increases Muscle Strength in Elderly Sarcopenic Men: A Randomised Controlled Trial.” The British Journal of Nutrition, Cambridge University Press, 28 Oct. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4594048/.
Noexcusesnutrition. “Collagen: Health Hoax Or Superfood?” Bodybuilding.com, 6 Feb. 2019, www.bodybuilding.com/content/collagen-health-hoax-or-superfood.html.
Shaw G;Lee-Barthel A;Ross ML;Wang B;Baar K; “Vitamin c-Enriched Gelatin Supplementation before Intermittent Activity Augments Collagen Synthesis.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27852613/.
“Reduce Your Joint Pain & Improve Your Mobility.” Focus Physical Therapy, 24 Sept. 2020, focusphysicaltherapyscv.com/wondering-how-you-can-reduce-your-joint-pain-and-improve-your-mobility-try-physical-therapy/.