Everyone who exercises knows that protein is an important food group. Protein is necessary for post-exercise muscle repair, recovery, and growth. If you don’t consume enough protein per day, your workouts won’t be as productive as they could be. In short, your body won’t have the building blocks it needs to increase muscle size or strength.
That’s why most exercisers not only eat plenty of high protein foods, such as meat, eggs, and fish, but also use supplements, like whey, hemp, and rice protein powder.
But, as necessary as this type of protein clearly is, it’s not the only protein your body needs to be strong and healthy. There’s another protein that’s beneficial and available in supplement form – collagen.
You might not have heard of collagen, but you can probably see some right now; it’s the stuff that makes up your skin, hair, and nails. Using collagen may offer many benefits, including fewer wrinkles, stronger nails, and, of course, faster recovery from your workouts.
But what is this protein, what does it do, how much do you need, and what is the best time to take collagen? All of these questions and more are answered below!
What Is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It’s a component of many types of tissue, including skin, tendons, ligaments, muscles, blood vessels, hair, nails, and your eyes and teeth too. This makes collagen a structural protein as your body uses it to form structures.
However, collagen is also a functional protein, which means it plays a part in some of the reactions that happen almost constantly inside your body. This includes gut and digestive health, blood clotting, and wound healing.
From a dietary perspective, you can get collagen from eating things like bone broth and foods derived from animals, such as chicken, beef, eggs, and dairy. However, if you are serious about increasing your collagen intake, a supplement is probably your best choice.
Not all types of collagen are the same. In fact, there are 28 different types of collagen, and only a few of them are helpful for humans. Out of the 28 members of the collagen family, only types I, II, III, and IV are particularly beneficial.
Type I: Making up the majority of the collagen in your body, type I is made from densely packed fibers and is found in skin, bones, tendons, fibrous cartilage, connective tissue, and also your eyes and teeth.
Type II: Made of loosely packed fibers, this type of collagen is predominately found in the elastic and hyaline cartilage within your joints.
Type III: This type of collagen contributes to the structure of muscles, organs, and blood vessels.
Type IV: Found in the deeper layers of your skin, this collagen type can help ward of wrinkles by supporting your skin and also helps remove waste products from your body.
So, if you want to use collagen for a specific purpose, make sure you find out what’s in the product you are about to buy and that it contains the type of collagen you need.
In supplements, you’ll find collagen in three forms:
Hydrolyzed collagen – this type of collagen is derived from bovine, marine, and poultry sources and is already broken down into small peptide chains for easier digestion.
Undenatured collagen – this is raw collagen, usually derived from chicken cartilage.
Gelatin – this is made from bones and is usually sold in dried, powdered form, but its natural state is a gel.
Note: There are no plant-based sources of collagen.
The benefits of using collagen include:
Healthier, more supple joints – exercise and the aging process can take a lot out of your joints, leaving them stiff and painful. Collagen supplements may help protect and even repair the articular surfaces of your joints, leading to less joint pain.
Increased muscle mass – collagen is an essential protein in muscle structure. It’s in the exact form your body needs to repair muscle damage.
Supplementing with collagen protein, especially immediately after exercise, could lead to increased muscle mass and faster recovery from training.
Stronger bones – weight-bearing exercise increases osteoblast activity, which are the cells responsible for building bone. But, for these cells to work their magic, they need plenty of the right materials for bone building.
Supplementary collagen provides your osteoblasts with more of what they need to keep your bones healthy and strong. Nutritional collagen may help speed up healing after a fracture.
Better digestive health – the smooth muscular walls of your intestines can become damaged, leading to an unpleasant condition called leaky gut syndrome.
Every bit as bad as it sounds, this results in partially digested food and bacteria leaving your digestive system and entering your abdominal cavity, causing problems as it does so.
Because collagen is the building material for many structures, including the digestive system, taking collagen may help repair this damage, stopping leaky gut syndrome in its tracks.
Also, collagen is a good source of pro and prebiotics, both of which can enhance digestive health.
Healthier hair, skin, and nails – collagen forms the structure that makes up your hair, skin, and nails. Consuming more collagen should have a noticeable effect on the appearance and health of these body parts, including:
- Faster hair growth
- Faster nail growth
- Faster wound healing
- Fewer lines and wrinkles
- Firmer skin
- Less hair loss
- Less scarring
- Reduced greyness
- Shinier, stronger hair
- Stronger nails
Collagen is mainly safe to use. However, there are a couple of drawbacks to consider before you start using a collagen supplement:
Only made from animals – there are no vegetarian or vegan sources of collagen. If you don’t want to use animal products, you won’t be able to use collagen. There are no plant-based alternatives.
Taste – where whey protein shakes often taste delicious, collagen is not usually as pleasant. This is hardly surprising given the source material (animal skin and bones) and that most collagen supplements are naturally flavored and sweetened.
Cost – whey is made from a dairy waste product which is why it’s very cheap. Collagen is made from animals, making it more expensive than whey and plant-based protein to produce.
How Much Collagen Should You Take A Day?
Use your collagen supplement according to the manufacturer’s instructions. In most cases, this means between 5 to 15 grams per day. The actual dose will depend on the type of collagen in the product, its form, and the actual collagen content per serving.
When Should I Take Collagen Supplements?
There are no hard and fast rules for when to take collagen. Like any food, it needs to be digested and takes a while to start working. However, potential windows of opportunity include:
- First thing in the morning on an empty stomach to aid in weight loss.
- Immediately after exercise to kick-start your recovery
- Before going to bed so it can work through the night
Some people find that collagen causes gas when consumed on an empty stomach, so it may be necessary to take your supplement with food.
Whenever you take it, try to do so consistently, so you don’t accidentally forget to take your dose for the day. If you are taking a lot of collagen, consider dividing your intake into 2-3 doses.
Is It Better to Take Collagen Before or After A Workout?
There are several reasons that taking collagen after your workout may be better than before, including:
- Less risk of stomach upset, which would disrupt your workout
- Exercise has an insulin-like effect, so the collagen will be driven more effectively into your muscles, so it can get to work sooner
- It could cause a dip in blood glucose, leading to feelings of weakness or fatigue, which you DON’T want just before a workout.
People have been using things like bone broth and gelatin for centuries. These ancient superfoods have long been recognized for their ability to increase health and vitality, speed up wound healing, boost immunity, and cure a wide range of health issues.
It turns out the reason bone broth and gelatin are so powerful is their high collagen content.
While you can get collagen from dietary sources, specifically meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, it’s easier to use a collagen supplement. These provide a concentrated hit of collagen so you can make sure you are getting enough of this important nutrient.
Like all types of protein, collagen can help you recover faster from workouts and build muscle more quickly. But its real strength is in what it can do for your joints, hair, skin, and bones.
Collagen makes up close to 90% of the protein in your body and making sure you get enough could help ward off joint pain, skin wrinkles and make your hair and nails stronger. It’s part sports supplement and part beauty supplement!
It really doesn’t matter when you take collagen, so long as you take it consistently and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. That way, you’ll get the best possible results from your purchase. Visit the Fitness Equipment Reviews homepage for more expert information and advice.