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5 FAQs Athletes Have About Collagen Supplementation

injuries joint health supplements Jan 31, 2024
Collagen supplements in powder and capsule form

What Is Collagen?

Collagen, a fundamental protein found throughout the body, serves as a structural framework for the extracellular matrix (ECM) and various connective tissues including bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, skin, and the intestinal lining. While most commonly targeted as an anti-aging product, understanding there are different types and uses of collagen supplementation is essential for athletes seeking to optimize their health and performance.

Types of Collagen

The most prevalent types of collagen found in the body are Type I (the most common), Type II, and Type III and each provide unique health and performance benefits. While collagen supplementation does contribute to an athlete's daily protein intake, it provides an insufficient amino acid profile, making it an incomplete protein source. However, its higher content of glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline may be uniquely beneficial for tissue repair and overall collagen synthesis.

Common Forms of Supplementation

Collagen supplementation may be availble in forms such as powders, capsules, or gummies and can vary in the specific type and dose of collagen provided. Opting for hydrolyzed collagen peptides is most recommended due to enhanced absorption and bioavailability. Athletes should prioritize 3rd Party Certified products to ensure safety and quality standards are met.

What Athletes May Benefit from Collagen Supplementation?

Collagen supplementation is associated with decreased knee pain, improved rate of force production, and improved injury recovery making it enticing for many athletes. However, results may vary and could take up to 6 months of consistent use to see positive outcomes. Recognizing that collagen research is still evolving and supplementation isn’t universally applicable is essential for athletic populations to consider.

Injured Athletes

The specific amino acids found in collagen support tissue repair and recovery, making it beneficial for athletes recovering from soft tissue injuries such as ligament, tendon, and muscle tears. Integrating collagen into rehabilitation plans may accelerate athlete healing, recovery, and reduced downtime from activity.

Vegetarian Athletes

Since collagen is naturally abundant in animal proteins, vegetarian athletes may face challenges in obtaining complete amino acid profiles from daily plant-based dietary intakes. This emphasizes the importance of considering complementary protein sources or exploring options for collagen supplementation when the diet may be insufficient.

Masters Athletes

Masters athletes may find targeted collagen supplementation beneficial due to addressing deficiencies associated with the aging process and certain health conditions related to bone and joint pain. Consulting with healthcare professionals is crucial to ensuring a balanced approach that complements both health conditions and athletic goals.

How Can Athletes Boost Collagen Naturally?

Amino acids crucial for collagen synthesis are abundant in certain protein-rich foods, providing athletes with a natural means to enhance collagen production without relying on supplementation.

Consuming Protein-Rich Foods

Consuming protein-rich foods in the diet like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy promotes overall nutrient intake while also contributing to the body's endogenous collagen synthesis by providing essential amino acids. Most athletes should aim to consume a variety of protein sources equal to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight each day, or about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.

Pairing Protein Sources with Important Micronutrients

Enhancing collagen production involves not just dietary protein intake but also key micronutrients, emphasizing the importance of a well-rounded diet. Consuming foods rich in Vitamin C, such as citrus fruits and berries, as well as Copper-rich foods like beef liver and potatoes, ensures a comprehensive approach to supporting optimal collagen production and managing the body’s natural immune response.

What are Current Best Practices for Athletes Supplementing With Collagen?

Incorporating collagen requires athletes to align supplementation with their dietary needs and performance goals, focusing on collagen type, dosing, and timing of ingestion.

Collagen Type, Dosing and Timing of Ingestion

Choosing the right collagen type aligns with individual athletic goals, and strategic timing, especially pre-activity, can enhance absorption and benefits. Based on the totality of current literature, athletes may benefit from consuming 15g of hydrolyzed collagen peptides with a Vitamin C source 60 minutes prior to physical activity to ensure optimal support for activities like running, lifting or load-carriage, and physical therapy.

Caffeine and Collagen

Not often talked about is the potential for caffeine to inhibit the absorption of collagen supplementation. For athletes wanting to get the most bang-for-buck it is recommended to not consume collagen with your coffee or pre-workout source containing caffeine.

Do Athletes Really Need to Supplement With Collagen?

While collagen supplementation offers potential benefits, it may not be universally necessary for all athletes. For athletes maintaining a balanced diet rich in complete proteins and a wide variety of micronutrients, collagen supplementation may not yield substantial additional gains in time, cost, and performance outcomes. 

Working with a Sports Dietitian on an Individual Basis

Determining the necessity of collagen supplementation is best determined utilizing a personalized approach. Consulting with a sports dietitian ensures athletes receive tailored advice based on unique needs and performance goals, optimizing the potential benefits of collagen in alignment with their overall dietary and training strategies.


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