Rebecca Youngs, MS, RD, LD
Fit For Life Physical Therapy
Collagen, what is it and do I need it?
First, an author’s note: No one NEEDS any supplement unless they are deficient, or they have difficulty getting adequate nutrients, vitamins, and minerals from food. Supplements (including protein powders, vitamins, electrolyte powders, antioxidant pills) are exactly that: meant to SUPPLEMENT the diet where appropriate. Look for products that contain the USP or NSF seal for safety.
What is Collagen? Collagen is a structural protein in our tendons and ligaments composed of three amino acids. It is found naturally in foods like bone broth and eggs, as well as in powders or supplements. Our body breaks down collagen from the diet into smaller parts to help synthesize and promote our own collagen production in the body. Collagen production decreases with age and over-exposure to sun, smoking, and excessive alcohol intake.
What does it do? Collagen is used in the body to support tendon health, cartilage health, skin elasticity, and joint strength. Collagen’s main role is to maintain connective tissue health and plays a key part in the regeneration of tendon tissue. Since collagen is the main part of tendons, it helps in maintaining strength during high impact stress or activity.
How does it apply to exercise? Countless studies have shown that collagen supplements can be beneficial in sustaining tendon health, increasing tendon synthesis, and helping speed recovery post-injury or surgery to a tendon. Collagen can increase tendon strength, thickness, and cross-sectional area of tendons (which is positively correlated with the ability to load a tendon). Other studies have shown that collagen supplementation can stop bone collagen breakdown, which would usually increase pain in degenerative joint conditions.
What else? It is not a protein powder replacement! In order to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS), or the creation of stronger muscle fibers, we need 2.5 grams of the amino acid leucine which is naturally found in animal rich protein sources. Collagen has about 0.5 grams of leucine, so collagen alone shouldn’t be used instead of protein powder or a protein rich meal. Collagen has also been shown to improve joint stability, promote skin health, and stimulate hair growth. Collagen should be consumed with Vitamin C as that vitamin is a cofactor, or “helper” in the stabilization of collagen structure. Vitamin C also promotes collagen cross-linking aiding the process of creating strong fibers and chemical bonds in the tendon.
Is it safe? Collagen is very safe. Collagen naturally occurs in our body as well as in protein containing animal products. Studies have shown no adverse effects in long-term collagen supplementation.
How much? Take 10-15 grams of collagen with 50 mg of Vitamin C 30-45 minutes before tendon loading exercises, running, or physical therapy, especially when recovering from injury. The amino acids in collagen peak around this time and this is when the delivery of amino acids is best to areas with poor blood flow. Many collagen powders have Vitamin C already included, or you can take a Vitamin C gummy.
Where can I get it? Collagen supplements with added vitamin C can be found online and in stores. You can also consume collagen from animal products like chicken, eggs, or beef, and pair it with vitamin C sources of foods like leafy greens, citrus fruits, berries, and peppers. Athletes who have tendon or joint injuries, or who are recovering from injury, may benefit from a supplement to ensure they are getting adequate amounts. If you are using a powder, mix it in a smoothie, beverage, oatmeal, or yogurt.
Brands I recommend: Klean Athlete, Momentous, Momentous Collagen/Vitamin C shot, Thorne.
With any supplement, talk with a dietitian or health professional to determine if it is right for you or beneficial for your position and goals!
Registered & Licensed Dietitian, Rebecca Youngs, is an avid marathoner, loves to work out, and has specialized her practice in gastrointestinal health, as well as sports nutrition and fueling athletes of all levels. She is available for individual consultations at Fit For Life Physical Therapy or through FFL zoom video conference.
Fit For Life Physical Therapy cares for people of all activity levels - to help prevent, recover from, or rehabilitate sports & orthopedic injuries. We are proud to move people every day. Please visit our website https://www.fitforlifephysicaltherapy.com/, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call or text us at any of the phone numbers for our three convenient locations inside Fleet Feet+FrontRunner stores:
Polaris: 1270 East Powell Road Lewis Center, Ohio 43035 ~ 614-981-2065
Upper Arlington: 1344 West Lane Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43221 ~ 614-981-1979
New Albany: 5792 North Hamilton Road, Columbus, Ohio 43230 ~ 614-581-7441