What is Collagen?
Collagen is the body’s most abundant protein (made up of amino-acids glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine) and is one of the most important building blocks, as it gives structure to our hair, skin, nails, bones, ligaments and tendons. Collagen is the protein that provides cohesion, elasticity and regeneration of all the connective tissues in our body. In essence, it is the glue that holds everything together, it strengthens various structures in our body, and supports the integrity of our skin. There are more than 16 different types of collagen, although about 80-90% of the collagen in our body is one of three different types – Type I, II, and III.
Type I collagen is extremely strong and forms the primary component of tendons, the connective tissue that links muscles and bones. Type I also helps to strengthen and support our bones. Type II collagen is the major protein in cartilage, the tough connective tissue found in our nose, ears and all the joints throughout our body. Type II collagen fibrils are smaller than type I fibrils and form random orientations in a gelatinous matrix of protein-carbohydrate complexes – these fibrils help give cartilage its strength and resiliency. Type III collagen is found in arterial walls, our skin, and in the intestines. It is produced more rapidly than type I collagen and is used to seal up damaged skin in response to injury. Once a wound has time to heal, type III collagen fibers will gradually be replaced with type I fibers to form hard scar tissue.
What Types of Collagen Supplements are There?
As you can see, collagen is an extremely important protein in our bodies; which is why companies have manufactured collagen supplements. In fact, there are a couple different ways you can supplement collagen:
- Collagen peptides or collagen hydrolysate are small bioactive peptides obtained by the enzymatic hydrolysis of collagen, aka, the breaking down of the molecular bonds between individual collagen strands to peptides. You will find this type of collagen in supplements, such as Vital Proteins or Sports Research.
- Gelatin was found to have a similar amino acid profile to collagen – primarily because of its proline content. Gelatin is obtained through partial hydrolysis of collagen contained in animal skin and bones. Gelatin will only dissolve in hot water and turns into jelly when it is cooled (think about the jelly you get from bone broth you may make at home). Because of its gelling, emulsifying, and binding functionalities, gelatin is often used in food products, such as gummy candy, jellies, and sauce thickeners. You can guy gelatin from a store – Knox gelatin or Great Lakes gelatin.
What about vitamin C?
Vitamin C, an essential vitamin and strong antioxidant, is becoming well known for its critical role in collagen formation, thanks to Keith Barr, PhD, and his research team at the Functional Molecular Biology Laboratory at UC Davis. Dr. Barr and his team found that the combination of gelatin and vitamin C promotes the body’s optimal ability to produce collagen. They recommend combining 15 grams of gelatin with 50 mg of vitamin C one hour before a short loading exercise and six hours apart from other training sessions to maximize its potential impact.
Why Supplement with Collagen?
Collagen and gelatin supplementation is happening all over the country in collegiate and professional sports. Non-athletes are also using collagen to promote healthy hair, skins, and nails; as well as to decrease joint pain and for bone support. As we age, and the more stress we put on our body, the greater the impact on collagen production. Decreases in collagen production leads to:
- Wrinkles and thinner skin
- Stiffer, less flexible tendons and ligaments
- Shrinking, weakening muscles
- Joint pain or osteoarthritis due to worn cartilage
- Gastrointestinal problems due to thinning of the lining in your digestive tract
For athletes specifically, studies have indicated that adequate collagen production may help to:
- Protect connective tissues
- Reduce joint discomfort
- Support healthy joint maintenance
- Reduce the risk of injury
Getting collagen in a balanced diet can help our bodies regenerate what’s been lost or broken down. To ensure your body is making collagen you will want to eat protein-rich foods, like beef, chicken, fish, beans, eggs and dairy products; in combination with vitamin C rich foods, like citrus fruits, red and green peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and greens. If you’re an elite athlete, an every day runner, or even someone trying to ward off wrinkles supplementing with collagen or gelatin + vitamin C is a great option, especially if you are not eating enough protein-rich foods.
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Shaw, G., Lee-Barthel, A., Ross, M. L., Wang, B., & Baar, K. (2016). Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 105(1), 136-143.
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Zdzieblik, D., Oesser, S., Gollhofer, A., & König, D. (2017). Improvement of activity-related knee joint discomfort following supplementation of specific collagen peptides. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 42(6), 588-595.