By Kate Cline
Collagen supplements have been making a lot of headlines in the past few years – with the benefits for skin, hair, and nails usually being the most popular proclamation. But it is also being praised for its role in gut health, joint health, and athletic performance. It’s a fascinating topic with so many applications, but we’re mostly going to focus on its role in helping with your athletic performance as well as reducing your risk of injury.
But first, let’s look at what collagen actually is, and where you can get it before we dive into how it will help!
What is collagen?
Collagen is a type of protein. It is a critical component of so many parts of your body, including skin, bones, joints, cartilage, connective tissues, tendons, ligaments, and more. It has the potential to optimize health and address physiological needs that occur naturally from exercise. Numerous studies have shown an improvement in skin elasticity, the recovery of lost cartilage tissue, reduced activity-related joint pain, strengthened tendons and ligaments, increased lean body mass in elderly men and premenopausal women, and increased bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. 
Getting specific can be nuanced, though. There are many forms of collagens including types I, II, III, VI, IX, X, XI, XII, and XIV. In supplement form, Types I, II, and III are most common.
Let’s look at what these common types are beneficial for:
Type I Collagen
It is an important part of not just our skin, hair, and nails and therefore all the aesthetic benefits, but it is also an important component in our tendons, organs, and bones. We see in many studies the benefits of Type I collagen for helping reduce fine lines and increase hydration of the skin  But going into even deeper uses, it can help with pressure ulcers, xerosis, and cellulite . Additionally, type I Collagen makes up 70% of the protein within your tendons, and 65-80% of the proteins within your ligaments 
Type II Collagen
This is also a part of the skeletal system, and is critical for healthy cartilage which in turn means supporting healthy joints. It has been used to help treat arthritis by reducing pain, swelling, and tenderness of joints. [6, 10]
Type III Collagen
This one is found predominantly in connective tissues, protecting your muscles, spinal cord, and organs as well as making up some of our bone marrow needs.
So you can see how a variety of forms can play a role in healthy connective tissues, muscle protection, joint health and more. All of which help reduce risk of injury and enhance your training progress!
Sources of collagen
We can consume collagen naturally in some foods, or from supplemental powders.
Food-based sources include bone-in fish, consuming the cartilage off the bone of some meats, eating organ meats such as liver, or drinking long-simmered bone broth. However, most people shy away from these foods, and so supplementation is a convenient way to bring the health benefits to your daily routine.
What to look for in bone broths and collagen powders
Like all foods, QUALITY MATTERS! Collagen comes from animal products, so you want to look for terms such as “grass fed,” “free range,” “organic.” It can affect the quality and safety of the product. Benefits from collagen are seen more from consistent intake over a long duration, so you want to know you’re getting a pure product with no contaminants and as few extra additives as possible.
A lot of people like to turn to “bone broths,” but there are some potential pitfalls to be wary of.
First, there is not yet a legal definition for “bone broth,” so some companies use this buzzword when packaging their broths and stocks. But to truly get the benefits, the animal bones need to be simmered long and low usually, and so there should be at least a good 6-10 grams of protein in a serving of these liquids. If you see only 2g for example, you can likely guess that it will not have the boost you are looking for!
Second, lead contamination can be a risk. You want to be absolutely sure of the quality of bones being used. A small study showed that lead has been found in numerous bone broths since the bones will absorb toxic build up to protect the rest of the body. 
That's another good reason you may want to make your own, if you know you can source clean, uncontaminated bones.
Or, you can opt for powders that easily mix into drinks, soups, or oatmeal! They often come in sweet, savory, or unflavored versions. Like the broths, you want high quality with few additives. And another factor to consider is if there is Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) added.
Vitamin C and Collagen
It is important to be aware of your vitamin C intake. We need a little vitamin C in our system to best utilize the collagen we consume. For most people, if you have had a balanced meal already for the day, you should have adequate stores of vitamin C in your body to help with that utilization. 
However, if you are taking your collagen in the morning, as is popular for many, you will want to ensure that your collagen powder has a vitamin C source added to it, or that you consume it with a Vitamin C food source, such as oranges, strawberries, or bell peppers.
When and how often should you take a collagen supplement?
It really depends on what your goal is, and if you’re using it for a more therapeutic reason, exercise/training, or basic health and wellness. But in general, it is better to have a standard amount (roughly 10-20g) consistently and plan to keep it as a routine part of your healthy lifestyle, versus trying to do a short-term high dose. That can be therapeutically beneficial for specific situations, but should be done with professional guidance to personalize dose and duration and ensure you see the results you want.
Most of my clients are instructed to simply aim for one to two servings most days each week, whether that is a scoop of a powder in their morning coffee, smoothie, or oatmeal… or having 1 cup of a bone broth as a drink, or as the base of a soup.
Collagen is used for athletic performance and injury prevention
If you are fueling for a workout, you can get an extra boost by taking collagen roughly an hour before exercising. It takes about 1 hour for the collagen peptides to peak in the blood [3, 9], and its effects on joints, tendons, and ligaments are enhanced by working out. Normally, if you consume collagen, it can circulate through your blood and often gets directed to skin and hair because that is where blood easily flows. There is less blood flow into your tendons and ligaments. So if you want to direct it into those areas, you want to exercise at that 1 hour peak, to help stimulate better absorption to those tissues. 
Professor Keith Baar PhD (University of California Davis) makes an analogy, describing your body’s connective tissue like a sponge. You must wring it out and squeeze it, and then it is more likely to absorb what is around it – a workout is akin to that “wringing out.” Stretching, loading, moving. And you want to have collagen peptides available in your system from food or supplement before a workout, so that movement and stretching will help make your connective tissues more receptive to absorbing those proteins around it. This will help heal and strengthen those tissues 
Having good, strong connective tissue allows for your muscles to create more force, thereby creating more power and improving overall athletic performance.  The International Olympic Committee’s Consensus Statement lists collagen as a supplement that indirectly improves performance, since it may “assist with training capacity, recovery, muscle soreness, and injury management,” as it can help increase collagen production, thicken cartilage, and decrease joint pain. 
More than 50% of all injuries in sports can be classified as sprains, strains, ruptures, or breaks of musculoskeletal tissues – all related to collagen and connective tissues. Nutritional and/or exercise interventions that increase collagen synthesis and strengthen these tissues could have an important effect on injury rates  Supplementing collagen is looking very promising not just for injury rehab, but also preventative pre-hab. 
Should kids take collagen?
There is a lot of reason to believe that collagen powders could be safe and beneficial to children. Growing pains are very common in kids, and one leading theory of this is that their body is trying to grow faster than their tissues can synthesize collagen. This is seen even more greatly in active kids and young athletes because of the extra wear and strain on their bodies. But utilizing safe, quality supplementation may help reduce joint pains in athletic youth. 
What is the best collagen supplement?
You can probably guess that I’m a fan of Propello Life’s products! High quality, safe, tested.
I like their Collagen+ Natural Creamer in my morning coffee to get that wonderful connective-tissue building fuel into my body before my 6am workout. And then some days, later in the morning, I’ll treat myself to a second cup of coffee with the Collagen+ Sweet Vanilla Creamer in it!
You could also mix them into smoothies, oats, yogurt, or try one of these recipes shared on Propello Life’s website. The possibilities abound!
About the Author:
Kate Cline is a 15-year Registered Dietitian and Functional Medical Nutrition Practitioner with a virtual private practice based out of Dublin, Ohio. She also has a background as a NASM Personal Trainer and Yoga Teacher. She brings all these applications together to help active people who are dealing with chronic health, pain, or digestive issues. The goal is for clients to Feel Better, Fast with personalized nutrition and lifestyle programming. You can connect with her at www.DublinDietitian.com, Facebook, LinkedIn, and on Instagram @DublinDietitian
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