Collagen is the most prevalent protein in your body. It’s essential for providing structure to your skin, hair, nails and even helps your blood clot. In the past few years, collagen’s gained popularity showing up in everything from muffins to water (sister-in-law gave me collagen water at her house, who knew?!). In this post, I look beyond the fancy marketing to give you an overview if athletes should take collagen.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a type of protein that makes up ~1/3 of all protein in your body. It’s a major building block of bone, skin, hair, nails, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It’s even in your eyes, blood vessels, and teeth. Collagen is like the glue that holds you together. As we age, our body produces less and lower-quality collagen, consequently, this partly explains why the old fogies have less firm and supple skin.
Collagen for athletes
Collagen has been shown to effectively improve connective tissue such as tendons and ligaments, therefore it definitely worth taking after an injury to improve healing.
In multiple research studies, collagen has been shown to improve tendon and ligament strength in athletes(1,2,3,4,5). It’s a strategy that could play a beneficial role in injury prevention and tissue repair. If you take collagen, take it before your workout to maximize potential benefits.
Nutritional strategies to support collagen production
Help your body out, make sure you’re getting enough of the following nutrients to make plenty of collagen:
Vitamin C- citrus fruits, bell peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries
Proline- egg whites, wheat germ, dairy products, cabbage, asparagus, and mushrooms
Glycine-gelatin, bone broth, and various protein-containing foods like chicken and pork
Copper– cocoa powder, sesame seeds, cashews, lentils, and organ meats
Your body needs quality proteins that contain the amino acids to make new proteins that support hair, skin, muscles, etc. so including meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy are all excellent sources of amino acids.
Triathletes: wondering what other supplements may be beneficial? Check out our blog post on supplements for triathletes here.
Do NOT use it as a protein source
From an amino acid profile, it’s a crap protein. I have clients say they add it to shakes and that’s fine if it’s in addition to a complete protein source such as whey but do NOT use collagen thinking it counts towards your daily protein needs. If you want, use it to help with connective tissue integrity such as joint support and hair/skin/nails.
Should athletes take a collagen supplement?
The answer is it depends. For most people reading this (athletic adult over the age of 18) the benefits are twofold 1) it’s a concentrated source of the amino acid glycine and 2) bioactive collagen peptides (strings of amino acids). The latter is unique to collagen and beneficial for joint/skin health. If you choose to take it, aim for 15g per day before a training session.
If you’re an active adult take 15g before workouts to improve connective tissue integrity such as bone, tendons, ligaments, hair, skin, and nails. Do not use it as a protein source, its only role is to support connective tissue and has zero biological value for humans otherwise.
About Dr. A’nna
Dr. A’nna strives to inspire people to optimally fuel their body to achieve their best and have a positive impact on the world. She is the only combined Ph.D./RD specializing in sports performance nutrition in the world with all Ivy League degrees and the Chief Research Officer at AthleteBloodTest.
Dr. A’nna aims to cultivate a world of healthy athletes who understand nutrition and know how to leverage their physiology to get the best results in sports and life. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Instagram @drannaroby.