Collagen supplements are a common topic, especially related to weightlifting. Does this supplement really enhance muscle mass? And what exactly is it? If your clients start asking about collagen, make sure you have the facts: what's in collagen supplements, do they work, and what risks may be associated with using them.
Be sure to keep in mind your scope of practice as a personal trainer; stay current on what you can and cannot discuss with clients according to the rules of your state, city, gym, etc.
If you begin to look at supplements for collagen, you'll see a lot of different terms you may not understand. Before you can talk to your clients about them, it's important to know what they are:
Collagen. Collagen is a type of protein and the most abundant protein in the human body. It provides a lot of the structure and elasticity in muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin, blood vessels, and connective tissues. As we age, collagen levels drop, which contributes to several signs of aging, like wrinkles and saggy skin, joint pain, stiffer tendons and ligaments, and weaker muscles.
Collagen peptides. Peptides are simply smaller chains of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Proteins are very large molecules. Collagen broken down into smaller pieces is sometimes referred to as collagen peptides.
Collagen hydrolysate. You'll see most supplements labeled as either collagen peptides or collagen hydrolysate. They are the same. Hydrolysate simply means the collagen has been hydrolyzed, or broken down into smaller pieces, also known as peptides. Collagen is hydrolyzed and turned into peptides for supplements to make it easier to absorb and digest.
Collagen supplements. Labeled as collagen, collagen peptides, or collagen hydrolysate, collagen supplements are dietary supplements that provide this particular type of protein. Supplements are not necessary, as the body makes its own collagen and there is collagen in most well-balanced diets. The supplements are usually formulated as a powder that dissolves into liquids with no taste.
Collagen levels drop naturally as we age, but it's also possible to have too little collagen as a result of a poor diet. Supplements can make up for some of this loss or deficiency.
Collagen products have mostly been marketed for improving skin condition and bone strength, but as evidence from research grows we're beginning to see collagen used for fitness and athletic performance.
So, does it work? Can you really see fitness improvements from increasing your collagen intake? The answer is a definite maybe. Here are some of the fitness benefits of collagen supplements that are backed by at least some research evidence.
Collagen is an important component of cartilage, the tissue that cushions and support joints. As we get older this tissue wears down, and the process occurs more rapidly in athletes. As cartilage wears away we experience joint pain and even arthritis.
Studies have shown that using collagen supplements can reduce joint pain and specific symptoms of osteoarthritis. One study looked at a group of 147 athletes over the course of 24 weeks. All had pain in their joints related to athletic activities. (1)
Seventy-three of the athletes were given collagen hydrolysate supplements. The rest got a placebo. The results showed that those who got the actual collagen experienced greater reduction in joint pain, both at rest and when walking.
If joint pain bothers you and limits how much you exercise, a solution like collagen supplements may be useful. Reducing joint pain can improve fitness by allowing for more mobility and simply being able to work out and train.
Collagen is an important component of muscles. One reason that muscle mass decreases with age is that collagen decreases. Research has already proven that collagen supplements can reverse this aging trend in people diagnosed with sarcopenia, age-related muscle loss.
The study specifically looked at elderly men with muscle loss, but the processes discovered could potentially apply to anyone. The researchers found that when men combined exercise with a post-workout collagen supplement, they built more muscle mass than those that exercised and received a placebo. (2)
Evidence that collagen supplements can increase muscle mass in younger, healthy people simply looking to supercharge their lifting workouts is limited. But, the proof that collagen plays such an active role building muscle means it is a possibility.
One reason collagen may help with muscle mass is that it contains the amino acids arginine and glycine, important building blocks for creatine. There is already plenty of evidence that creatine helps improve muscle mass, build strength, and improve athletic performance. (3)
Check out this ISSA post for more information about building muscle mass.
Recovery can be a roadblock to improving fitness and hitting athletic goals. Everyone needs recovery time, but it may be possible to speed that rest period using collagen. The recovery of muscles damaged during workouts depends on regenerating muscle fibers and producing scar tissue. Both of these processes require collagen, and collagen production is boosted during healing.
Injuries are not just painful but they also slow you down in your fitness routine and athletics. If you can prevent injuries or get fewer, you have more time to train and improve. There are a lot of important ways to reduce the risk of injury, and collagen could be added to that list.
Some studies have shown that collagen supplementation actually increases the diameter of tendons in joints. One study in particular looked at athletes and their ankles. The athletes were given collagen supplements or a placebo for six months. Those with the supplement had significantly lower rates of ankle injuries. (4)
It's always best to get your nutrients from a healthy, balanced diet, but there is still room for safe and effective supplementation.
Encourage your clients to look at their food choices first and to find ways to add more collagen before turning to supplements. Collage is found in:
Chicken, pork, and salmon skin
Foods with gelatin
Certain cuts of meat, including oxtail, tendons, and knuckles
One reason to choose a supplement over whole foods is that collagen in supplements has been hydrolyzed, or broken down. The body can absorb and use it more easily this way.
For vegans and vegetarians, try foods rich in the amino acids glycine and proline, both crucial for producing collagen. These include soybeans and other legumes and spirulina and agar, both derived from algae.
To learn more about the difference between getting protein from foods and protein from supplements, read this ISSA blog post.
Any type of supplement, even those that are substance from food like collagen, has the potential to pose health risks. Always take care when trying a new supplement, and talk to your doctor first. Even if it seems like a safe substance, there may be particular reasons that you should not use it.
Collage supplementation is generally considered safe, but there is not a lot of evidence one way or the other. The biggest potential risk is that these supplements may contain food allergens, including eggs, fish, and shellfish. If you have allergies, check ingredients carefully when selecting supplements.
A few other side effects people have reported with taking collagen are not too serious. These include a bad taste that lingers in your mouth and gastrointestinal issues like an unpleasant feeling of fullness or heartburn. (5)
Dietary supplements like collagen can be useful in improving health and supporting fitness and athletic performance. Collagen has a lot of potential, but make sure your clients understand that a supplement cannot make up for a poor diet. Always emphasize eating a well-rounded diet of whole foods as the foundation for good health and fitness.
ISSA's course for becoming a Nutritionist will prepare you to offer clients the best, most informed advice on supplements and diet.
Clark, K.L., Sebastianelli,W., Flechsenhar, K.R., Aukermann, D.F., Meza, F., Millard, R.L., Deitch, J.R., Sherbondy, P.S., and Albert A. (2008). 24-Week Study on the Use of Collagen Hydrolysate as a Dietary Supplement in Athletes with Activity-Related Joint Pain. Curr. Med. Res. Opin.24(5), 1485-96. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18416885
Zdzieblik, D., Oesser, S., Baumstark, M.W., Gollhofer, A., and Konig, D. (2015). Collagen Peptide Supplementation in Combination with Resistance Training Improves Body Composition and Increases Muscle Strength in Elderly Sarcopenic Men: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Br. J. Nutr.114(8), 1237-45. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4594048/
Buford, T.W., Kreider, R.B., Stout, J.R., Greenwood, M., Campbell, B., Spano, M., Ziegenfuss, T., Lopez, H., Landis, J., and Antonio, J. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Creatine Supplementation and Exercise. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr.4(6). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2048496/
Dressler, P., Gehring, D., Zdzeiblik, D., Oesser, S., Gollhofer, A., and Konig, D. (2018). Improvement of Functional Ankle Properties Following Supplementation with Specific Collagen Peptides in Athletes with Chronic Ankle Instability. J. Sports. Sci. Med.17(2). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5950747/
Moskowitz, R.W. (2000). Role of Collagen Hydrolysate in Bone and Joint Disease. Semin. Arthritis Rheum.30(2), 87-99. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11071580