The benefits of collagen are many! Collagen is hitting superfood status in the nutrition and performance communities these days, and for good reason.
Read on for all of the details on the benefits of collagen, how it’s made, how to dose, and why I don’t rely on collagen as my only post-workout protein.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is a structural protein found in animals, sea creatures, and humans. In fact, it makes up about one-third of your body’s total protein molecules and about 80% of your skin alone. (source) Think of collagen like the glue that holds your body together, namely your skin, bones, tendons, muscles, and all other connective tissue.
Your body makes its own collagen, working with the amino acids from dietary protein and some other co-factors like vitamin C. But after about age 25, your natural collagen production starts to slow and you start to break down collagen faster than your body can make it. Oh, hello wrinkles and stiff joints!
The good news is, taking collagen internally will help ramp up collagen synthesis, which is why collagen supplements are so popular; they help keep your skin and joints looking and feeling young.
How Does Collagen Work?
So, why collagen? Isn’t there a full spectrum of amino acids in your steak? Why add another supplement to your routine?
The amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline are found in much larger amounts in collagen and other connective tissue than in meat. So, if you want the benefits of collagen, you could start by including bone broth dialy. Alternatively, you can use a supplement like collagen powder.
Different Types of Collagen
You may have heard the terms “types I, II, and III” collagen as you’re reading the nutrition labels of different collagen peptide powders. That’s because there are about 28 different types of collagen, but these three types make up about 80-90 percent of the collagen in your body. (source)(source) That means these are the types you want to consume.
All three types will provide structure and strength to your hair, nails, skin, bones, and joints because all collagen is composed of beneficial amino acids.
How is Collagen Powder Made?
Collagen powder, also called collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen, starts as the connective tissue of an animal – usually cow hides or chicken bones and ligaments and end as a silky powder. This involves a processing technique called hydrolysis.
Hydrolysis dissolves the connective tissues, then further breaks down the collagen into amino acids that your body can easily absorb.
I can’t speak for every manufacturer, but there are a couple of different ways to turn connective into tasteless, odorless powder that dissolves completely in liquids.
The brand I use, Vital Proteins, is made from grass-fed, pasture-raised bovine hides. Here’s how it’s done:
- First, the hides are cleaned and soaked in hot water to remove the fat.
- Then, they soak the hides in an acid solution and hot water to release as much collagen as possible.
- At this point, they have a collagen-rich gelatin – the same kind you’d use to make gummies or thicken a pudding – not the ideal powder to mix into your morning coffee.
- So, collagen peptides are broken down even further with an enzyme treatment, then evaporated and sifted, which results in that silky powder you know and love!
Benefits of Collagen
There are so many benefits of collagen that come from daily supplementation. Here are some of the most well-known benefits, followed by some of the lesser known ways collagen can improve your life.
Younger-looking, healthier skin: Collagen is probably best known for its role in giving structure and strength to your skin. Several randomized, placebo-controlled studies confirm that collagen supplementation for 4-8 weeks can improve skin elasticity and moisture, smoothen wrinkles, and improve wound healing. (source)(source)(source)(source)
Stronger, more flexible joints: It supports joint health, decreases joint deterioration, and can reduce pain and inflammation. (source) There’s also some evidence that long-term supplementation (after about 90 days) can improve symptoms of osteoarthritis. It may also reduce swelling in rheumatoid arthritis patients. (source)(source)
Some lesser-known benefits of collagen include:
- Smoothing skin texture and the appearance of cellulite (source)
- Improving body composition (source)
- Promoting better, deeper sleep (source)
How to Take Collagen and How Much to Take
Most studies recommend taking about 10-20 grams of collagen per day for skin and joint health. That’s about two scoops, which is easy to incorporate into coffee, tea, and smoothies. I’ll even add collagen to soups, stews, and sauces to get my daily dose.
For a boost in collagen synthesis, take 1,000-2,000 mg of vitamin C daily with your collagen supplement. (source) And according to one study, taking your collagen and vitamin C before your workout may increase collagen production even more, playing a role in injury prevention and tissue repair. (source)
A Note About Collagen For Post-Workout
While it could be beneficial for tendon and joint repair to include collagen in your daily routine, I don’t recommending using collagen peptides to replace dietary protein. That includes using it as the sole source of protein in a post-workout meal or shake.
In fact, I don’t recommend counting collagen toward total daily protein intake. Instead, think of collagen as a potent amino acid supplement that supports skin, joint, and gut health.
Collagen is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, but it’s missing many of the essential amino acids known to build and repair muscle, namely leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine, isoleucine, and valine – better known as the branched-chain amino acids or BCAA – are necessary for muscle repair and growth.
It would, however, be reasonable to combine collagen with a complete protein source like whey or egg white protein in your post-workout.
How to Choose the Best Collagen Protein
First and foremost, look out for quality. That may mean contacting the manufacturer and asking:
- Do you know if the animals pastured or is the fish wild-caught?
- Were the cows grass-fed?
- What is the manufacturing process?
- Are there fillers, binders, or artificial sweeteners or other ingredients?
As collagen supplements rise in popularity, it’s important to stay on the lookout for lesser-quality products so you can get all the benefits of collagen. Even though collagen peptides are broken down into easily-digested amino acids, the quality of original source (usually cows or chickens) still matters!
Vital Proteins has been around for years and they’re 100% transparent with their sourcing and processing. I’ve been partnering with them for over a year now.
Highlights of Vital Proteins Collagen include:
- 20 grams collagen per serving.
- They source their bovine hides from grass-fed, pasture-raised bovine hides from Brazil. There is no use of rBGH injections or any other hormones in their feed.
- The beef source is also in alignment with the Global Animal Partnership rating standard, which ensures that each animal has a pasture size of one cow per 2.67 acres.
- Their marine collagen is sourced from wild-caught, non-GMO red snapper off the coast of Hawaii. (It doesn’t get more specific than that!)
- Glycine and proline concentration is 10 to 20 times higher in Vital Proteins Collagen than in other brands.
- Every product is tested for heavy metals and microbes by an independent, certified third-party lab.
You can learn tons more about Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides here. They’re super transparent about their process and proud of the high-quality products they make. I’ve been using them for years and recommend them to all my clients.
How to Use Collagen Peptides
You can stir collagen peptides into any hot or cold liquid. Gelatin, on the other hand, cannot be stirred into cold liquid or it’ll clump. That makes collagen ideal for adding to smoothies, coffee, hot cocoa, soups, spa water, sorbet, and popsicles. You can even stir it into pancakes, granola or baked goods if that’s your jam.
I know I had a ton of questions about collagen peptides when I started using them. I hope this article was able to answer all of yours and offer some guidance on how to use this powerful supplement.
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Vital Proteins is a sponsor of Stupid Easy Paleo. All content, opinions, and words are my own, and I only ever share products I believe in 100%.