Collagen for Athletes

by Dr. Nikita Fensham

While the pop culture discussion around collagen has mostly revolved around skin care and age-defying and cosmetic concerns, there has recently been a lot more interest in how adding collagen supplements and collagen-rich foods into the diet may help athletes prevent or treat musculoskeletal injury or improve pain. Although more research is required, there is some evidence to show that it is a worthwhile consideration, with currently no reported adverse effects!

So let’s take a deep dive into what collagen is and how it may benefit your athletic lifestyle.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. You find it in bone and soft tissue such as tendons, ligaments, and skin. The collagen peptides you consume in supplements or food is formed from the hydrolysis or breakdown of gelatin, which is created by boiling the skin, bones, tendons and ligaments of cattle, pigs, and fish (1). Both of these forms are rich in amino acids glycine, proline, hydroxylysine, and hydroxyproline (2).

Consumption of gelatin or hydrolysed collagen increases the levels of these amino acids in the blood, and it is proposed that this leads to incorporation into musculoskeletal tissues, enhancing collagen synthesis (2, 3).

Studies, mostly in animals or on human ligaments in a lab, have shown increased levels of a specific blood marker that indicates collagen formation in the bone as well as improved mechanical function of ligaments (2, 3). Furthermore, clinical studies have shown increased cartilage thickness on MRI in patients with osteoarthritis taking collagen (4) as well as decreased knee pain in athletes (5).

(However, as a number of other amino acids are required to form a complete protein, there is no evidence to support the use of collagen in building muscle (6, 7) .)

Currently, it is suggested that collagen or gelatin should be consumed together with Vitamin C as this is required for it to be synthesized in the body. If consuming it fasted, Vitamin C should be taken at the same time; alternatively, if not fasted, just ensure the Vitamin C in your daily diet is adequate (3).

About 15g of collagen or gelatin around 1 hour prior to exercise are the current recommendations for optimal incorporation into the tissues where it is most needed (3), and a powder, confectionary, gummy, or capsule format is preferred over sources such as bone broth as that has been shown to have inconsistent amounts of the amino acids (8) .

Vegetarian and vegan individuals as well as those from religions requiring halal-certified products need to take into consideration that collagen is derived from animal sources. Athletes competing in drug-tested sports should also be cautious about using supplements that have been tested by reputable companies.

In summary, although more research is required, there seems to be little harm in supplementing with vitamin C-enriched collagen, and it may be beneficial in supporting athletes’ bone, tendon, and ligament health, potentially preventing injury or hastening recovery from injury!

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Medical disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your own doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. Never disregard the advice of a medical professional, or delay in seeking it because of something you have read here.

References

  1. Close GL, Sale C, Baar K, Bermon S. Nutrition for the Prevention and Treatment of Injuries in Track and Field Athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2019;29(2):189-97.
  2. 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. 2017;105(1):136-43.
  3. Lis DM, Baar K. Effects of Different Vitamin C-Enriched Collagen Derivatives on Collagen Synthesis. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2019;29(5):526-31.
  4. McAlindon TE, Nuite M, Krishnan N, Ruthazer R, Price LL, Burstein D, et al. Change in knee osteoarthritis cartilage detected by delayed gadolinium enhanced magnetic resonance imaging following treatment with collagen hydrolysate: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage. 2011;19(4):399-405
  5. Clark KL, Sebastianelli W, Flechsenhar KR, Aukermann DF, Meza F, Millard RL, et al. 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. 2008;24(5):1485-96.
  6. Oikawa SY, Kamal MJ, Webb EK, McGlory C, Baker SK, Phillips SM. Whey protein but not collagen peptides stimulate acute and longer-term muscle protein synthesis with and without resistance exercise in healthy older women: a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2020;111(3):708-18.
  7. Oikawa SY, Macinnis MJ, Tripp TR, McGlory C, Baker SK, Phillips SM. Lactalbumin, Not Collagen, Augments Muscle Protein Synthesis with Aerobic Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2020;52(6):1394-403.
  8. Alcock RD, Shaw GC, Burke LM. Bone Broth Unlikely to Provide Reliable Concentrations of Collagen Precursors Compared With Supplemental Sources of Collagen Used in Collagen Research. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2019;29(3):265-72.

(Header photo by The-Lore.com on Unsplash)