What is collagen and can it boost your fitness?

Fitness & Sports Health

by Alessandra Stasnopolis, RDN, LDN

Aug 29, 2019

Collagen products have become widely popular recently, making it one of the trendiest supplements currently on the market. Global Market Reports noted that in 2018 alone, the Collagen Peptide Industry brought in around $2950 million in revenue and that number is expected to grow to $4150 million by 2025.

There are many collagen products out there, from bone broth and peptide powders to collagen protein bars and collagen coffee. What is the hype about?

First, what is collagen?

Collagen is a protein that essentially keeps the body glued together. It is found mostly in skin, tendons, bones, ligaments and other fibrous connective tissues in the body. Collagen peptides are a form of collagen broken down into smaller chains composed of a few amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins.

Collagen peptides have multiple jobs in the body, from building collagen and other proteins to protecting already existing collagen from damage.

Supplements mostly come in peptide form because they are easier to digest and absorb. Collagen peptides have multiple jobs in the body, from building collagen and other proteins to protecting already existing collagen from damage. These characteristics are what interest the health industry and those who consume these products daily.

Health claims for collagen peptides include skin health, wrinkle reduction, weight loss, muscle building, joint health, reduced inflammation, gut health, hair and nail growth, prevention and improvement of osteoarthritis, bone health and reduced cancer risk.

Related: The 5 golden skincare rules

Should you be taking collagen supplements?

Despite popular belief, there has not been enough research to provide evidence for these claims and the existing research is premature. The bulk of current research is on the impact of collagen on joint health in athletes and on osteoarthritis management and prevention. Studies have shown a potential benefit of taking collagen to promote joint health and improve muscle recovery in athletes, as well as decrease osteoarthritis pain.

Although this research is promising, there are some limitations to consider. The research that is out there is mostly studying small group sizes, meaning it is not hundreds or thousands of people in a medical trial — closer to 50 or 100. The studies are conducted over a short period of time (less than three months). Most of the studies are funded by the collagen industry or pharmaceutical companies, meaning the results can be biased.

Another factor to consider is that research has not looked into whether it is the collagen itself or the increased protein intake that results in muscle building, improved joint health and improved osteoarthritis.

All of these factors are the reasons why health professionals are not pushing collagen on their patients just yet — the research is too green to be able to tell if it is worth it.

Related: Why it’s time to redefine how we think about exercise

The bottom line: Do I recommend collagen supplementation?

Unless you have severe arthritis pain and are looking for an innovative approach, I would recommend saving your money at this point. The research just is not there currently. Also, keep in mind that supplements are not regulated by the FDA and usually are unnecessary to live a healthy lifestyle.

It can’t hurt to start the conversation with your doctor if you think collagen supplements could be beneficial for you. From a safety standpoint, they are mostly safe to consume. However, keep in mind that bones do collect toxins and heavy metals. When collagen is extracted for a supplement, the supplement or broth might contain these components and may not be healthy for the body over time.

Find a nutrition expert near you.

If you want to try it out, either get supplements that are organic since they will have to be evaluated by the USDA to use this label or focus on getting food-based sources of protein that either contain more collagen or have the amino acids that are specifically found in collagen.

Collagen-rich foods include:

  • Fish
  • Chicken breast
  • Eggs
  • Spirulina
  • Beef
  • Pork loin

Eating foods high in Vitamin C with collagen sources helps increase collagen building. Foods high in Vitamin C include:

  • Citrus
  • Potatoes
  • Papaya
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Yellow bell peppers
  • Kale
  • Apples
  • Yellow squash
  • Mangos

Other ways to preserve your current collagen stores are reducing sun exposure, not smoking and moderating your added sugar intake. These factors can destroy or damage your current collagen stores.

But before you get too excited about a diet overhaul, talk to your doctor about your wellness goals.

About the Author

Alessandra Stasnopolis, RDN, LDN, is a clinical dietitian and wellness coordinator in the Baylor Scott & White Health wellness department.

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