Have you heard of collagen before? Are collagen supplements beneficial for athletes? Can they help your performance? Do they help your recovery from training? Advertisements for different collagen supplements have been all over my social media. Collagen is a supplement that has gained quite a lot of popularity within the last year or two.
As a Sports Dietitian, I have personally received a multitude of questions from soccer players asking about collagen. Due to this, I wanted to create a blog post on this specific topic. Keep reading to educate yourself on what exactly collagen is, its benefits, and how to properly take a collagen supplement.
What is Collagen?
Did you know that collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies? It makes up almost a third of all the proteins! Collagen is a protein that makes up most of our connective tissue, such as our tendons, ligaments, and skin. It’s helpful to think of collagen as a “glue” of sorts – it holds things together! However, it’s also found in your bones, teeth, and even eyes.
Collagen levels naturally drop as we age, which is a major reason why wrinkles, sagging skin, muscle weakness, and joint pain occur. You’ve probably seen collagen popping up on social media and in nutrition trends because of its “beauty benefits,” something which we will touch on in just a minute.
Collagen supplements are most often made from the tendons and ligaments from both cattle (bovine) and fish. This means, unfortunately, that these supplements are never going to be vegan. If you are a pescatarian vegetarian, you can likely use marine collagen as a supplement. Be careful to check the label before you purchase, though!
What are the Performance Benefits of Taking Collagen?
This is a great question because most of the research surrounding this specific supplement, such as its use in weight loss, skin health, and more, is pretty up in the air. No research has confirmed nor denied the benefit of collagen used for these specific beauty-related topics. However, research has shown that collagen supplementation DOES have an impact on the health of tendons and ligaments in the human body, which is great news for athletes like yourself! Some studies have shown benefits in increased muscle mass, increased arthritis-related protection, and improved skin elasticity. Collagen also has a substantial amount of protein (in the supplement form), which is great for aiding recovery and stimulating muscle growth.
Collagen is especially important in athletes that need strong joint support, tendons, and ligaments. Cue you, girl! With all the running, twisting, turning, and jumping, it’s important that you strengthen these areas to prevent common injuries. Strengthening your body’s collagen is one way to do this.
It’s also important to know what can damage your body’s collagen levels. The three main things that have been shown to suppress collagen levels are smoking, a diet high in refined sugar, and too much UV exposure. Hopefully, you are avoiding all of these things anyway! If you’re out in the sun a lot due to training, invest in a good sunscreen to protect yourself.
How Should I Take Collagen?
This is another great question because there is a RIGHT way to take a collagen supplement! You might have seen people using collagen in their coffee as “collagen creamer”. This can be a beneficial pre-workout drink due to the high levels of caffeine in coffee! But in my opinion, there is a much better way to consume collagen before a workout – with orange juice!
Research has shown that when 15g of collagen hydrolysate (collagen that has been broken down into small pieces, making it easier to digest) is paired with vitamin C, is it helps with strengthening the tendons and ligaments as well as decreasing pain associated with them! Due to this, I recommend my athletes to take 15g of collagen with 12oz of orange juice (must contain at least 50mg of vitamin C) 1 hour before training as a preventative technique for your tendons and ligaments. Additionally, I also recommend this for my athletes recovering from ACL and other tendon/ligament injuries. As an athlete, it’s extremely important to focus on more than just building muscle – keeping your bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles healthy is a major way to set you up for good training and game days!
More ways to incorporate collagen into your diet!
Because collagen is better digested with vitamin C, you can also use collagen powder blended into a fruit smoothie or protein shake. When making your smoothie, add high vitamin C fruits like orange, kiwi, mango, pineapple, strawberries, raspberries, and even watermelon to boost collagen digestion!
Another great way to eat collagen before training is in oatmeal or in your avocado toast. Yes, you heard me correctly!. After cooking your oatmeal, add a teaspoon of water to your collagen so it dissolves (in a separate dish). Once mixed, add this mixture to your oats and stir well. You can also add the collagen directly to your cooked oats, however, I find that the collagen dissolves better when you mix it beforehand! Top off with your favorite fruits, honey, and nut butter. Make sure you pick a fruit that’s high in vitamin C, like kiwi or strawberries.
For the avocado toast, mash half an avocado with a scoop of collagen powder and season to your liking – my favorite is with Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Seasoning. Add this to a piece of whole-wheat toast, English muffin, bagel, or whatever you have on hand! Pair this with some sliced bell pepper to get your vitamin C boost. If you’re eating this before training, make sure you don’t eat too much avocado – it can be hard to digest!
What are the best collagen supplements for athletes?
The most common collagen supplements I’ve come across are Vital Proteins, Great Lakes Bovine Collagen, and Ancient Nutrition. I use Vital Proteins collagen as it’s 1) most commonly found in my grocery store and 2) has 10 grams of protein per scoop (so you can easily get 15g with 1.5 scoops). Keep in mind that collagen is an animal product and does not comply with fully vegetarian or vegan diets, so make sure you check that out before adding it to anything! Have you tried any good collagen supplements for athletes? Let me know in the comments below!
Are you an athlete interested in learning more about collagen and how it can impact your diet and performance? Apply for my Pro Performance Nutrition Program HERE where I can help you feel confident and perform your best on and off the field!