If you’ve opened a magazine (or scrolled through your social feeds) in the last, oh, year or so, you’re pretty familiar with collagen. And though many influencers swoon over the protein’s beauty benefits, its fitness perks deserve some attention, too.
The Benefits Of Collagen
Collagen, the protein found in our connective tissues—like skin, joints, muscles, and hair—literally helps hold the structures of our body together. (Think of it as a building block.) For that reason, it’s super-important for healthy joints, strong hair and nails, and supple-looking skin.
Also a component of our gut lining, collagen supports digestion and gut health, too.
Issue is, we our collagen production declines as we age—and the stuff is pretty hard to come by in our diets.
That’s where collagen supplements come in.
Why Collagen For Fitness?
Not only can collagen supplements support overall health (and a sunny complexion), but they’re also a must-have for fitness buffs.
Our muscles aren’t the only tissues that need to recover post-workout. Our joints also need to heal and recover from the stress of exercise. It’s nonnegotiable if we want to avoid joint pain, injury, and degradation, and maintain an active lifestyle through the years.
“Connective tissue [think tendons, cartilage, and ligaments] takes a hit during exercise,” says A. Susan M. Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., F.I.S.S.N., author of The New Power of Eating. “Aside from vitamin C, collagen is about the only thing we’ve seen that enhances the systems that support connective tissue healing, recovery, and strength.”
By maintaining the structure of major parts of our body, collagen supports our ability to move, recover, and continue to improve our fitness.
That’s why Kleiner recommends collagen to her clients who play at a high level, get injured often, or who want to maintain a high level of performance throughout the years.
The Aminos Behind The Benefits
“Interesting research data shows that glycine and proline from collagen have the potential to enhance the factors that strengthen and heal connective tissues,” says Kleiner.
Collagen packs more of these amino acids than most other foods and supplements.
Collagen Caveats To Keep In Mind
Though collagen can boost your fitness by supporting your bones, cartilage, and ligaments, it’s not an adequate replacement for your typical protein supplement.
Aside from its joint benefits, “collagen is actually a pretty poor protein,” says Anne Elizabeth Cundiff, R.D., L.D., F.A.N.D., author of I’m a Registered Dietician…Now What?.
Despite the perks of its high glycine and proline content, collagen is not a ‘complete protein,’ meaning it doesn’t contain all nine of the essential amino acids our bodies can’t produce themselves.
The result: While collagen does contribute a few aminos to the pool our body pulls from to build muscle, it doesn’t stimulate the muscle-building process the way whey or a multi-source plant protein powder does.
“A complete protein, or combination of higher-quality proteins, is what muscles really need,” says Cundiff.
Instead of thinking of collagen as a primary source of protein in your diet, consider it an accessory.
Which Type Of Collagen To Take For Fitness
That said, collagen is a very beneficial accessory to have in your fitness routine—especially if you pick the right supplement.
“There are many different types of collagen our body produces and uses,” explains Cundiff. Often, you’ll find different types in different supplements.
“As a general rule, I recommend using collagen peptides, because they are more easily tolerated and absorbed by the body,” she says.
Collagen peptides are short chains of amino acids created by ‘chopping up’ full collagen proteins. This smaller form makes collagen easier for the body to digest and use.
Collagen’s amino acids are not only used as building blocks throughout the body, but also signal cells to manufacture more collagen on their own.
One versatile option: The Vitamin Shoppe brand Unflavored Collagen Peptides Powder.
Best Practices For Supplementing
Because collagen peptides mix easily into a wide variety beverages and foods, they’re incredibly easy to incorporate into your routine.
For maximum benefit, both Cundiff and Kleiner recommend shooting for 10 to 15 grams of collagen peptides per day, timed around your workouts.
Kleiner recommends mixing collagen peptides with your pre-workout drink or meal, whether it’s coffee, a smoothie, or oatmeal.
If you want to reap the benefits of collagen alongside other fitness-supporting ingredients, add a combo formula, like BodyTech Fruit Punch CLA Carnitine & Collagen, to your shaker cup pre-workout.
“Some data shows that an hour before exercise may be ideal,” she says. This ensures collagen’s connective tissue-strengthening powers are in full effect while you’re getting your sweat on.
To keep things simple, just add it to your usual post-workout protein shake, Cundiff suggests.
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