What is Collagen and How it Can Help Your Health and Performance
Content you'll find:
What is collagen?
Why is collagen unique?
What are the benefits of collagen supplementation?
Many of us have used supplements like Whey, probiotics, omega-three fish oil, and vitamin C as part of our daily lives. Many excellent research studies show how these supplements can support our health, well-being, and recovery from strenuous exercise.
But what about collagen supplements? For many, it's a brand new idea and a brand new supplement they have never come across before. Today, we'd like to share some of the science behind collagen with you. It's an exciting supplement with the potential to improve our health and performance. Let's look at how and why.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a vitally important protein found in skin and other connective tissues, such as ligaments and tendons. In fact, collagen contributes about 65-80% to the dry weight of tendons. Put another way, if you dehydrate a tendon, most of what is left are collagen (Kannus 2000).
Collagen also contains unique properties that help us successfully offset mechanical forces when running, training and playing sport (Goes, Lopes et al. 2020). The structural properties of collagen are vital to the health and strength of our joints, tendons, and ligaments (Gelse, Poschl et al. 2003).
An excellent way to understand collagen in the body is to compare it to clever engineering in skyscrapers. The tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at just over a half a mile tall, or 829.8m. For a building like this to withstand environmental forces, it needs to have incredible structure and strength, but it also needs to be adaptable and absorb load successfully. Collagen does the same for us in the body.
There are at least 28 different collagen types in the body, and they combine to help you live, move and be healthy (Leon-Lopez, Morales-Penaloza et al. 2019). The importance of collagen goes way beyond our day-to-day musculoskeletal health. Collagen is vital for our healing and healthy ageing too. As we get older, we lose collagen. This loss starts as we reach adulthood, and after 40 years of age, we can lose about 1% of collagen per year (Leon-Lopez, Morales-Penaloza et al. 2019).
Collagen helps us with many aspects of recovery and regeneration. This role of collagen includes wound healing, increasing bone density, helping with skin health, tissue regeneration, eye health, scalp repair and cell messaging. Collagen is central to cell survival and differentiation. In other words, we need collagen for our health and longevity, not just our fitness (Sugihara, Inoue et al. 2018, Choi, Sung et al. 2019, Jendricke, Centner et al. 2019, Gupta, Buyank et al. 2022).
Why is collagen unique?
At first glance, you might wonder why supplementing with collagen could be beneficial. After all, collagen is known to make up about one-third of the total protein in humans. Collagen is also the most abundant structural protein in the body.
Similarly, while most people understand the value of supplementation with Whey due to its high essential amino acid content, some have dismissed collagen because it is an incomplete protein, lacking an essential amino acid called tryptophan (Paul, Leser et al. 2019).
If we take this perspective and lump collagen alongside all other protein sources, could we be missing something? The answer is yes!
Collagen is unique for several reasons.
First, collagen is notable in having a very high concentration of three amino acids - glycine, proline and hydroxyproline - which work in synergy in a beautiful helix formation, wrapping around each other like strands of rope. In other words, the collagen matrix is more than the sum of its parts (Leon-Lopez, Morales-Penaloza et al. 2019).
Second, collagen digestion differs slightly from how we absorb individual amino acids from other foods. In the typical digestion of protein from foods like chicken, protein (polypeptides) are broken down (hydrolysed) in various stages. Ultimately, in the brush border of the intestine, individual amino acids then circulate in the bloodstream.
With collagen, digestion and absorption are a bit different (Kleinnijenhuis, van Holthoon et al. 2020). When we absorb collagen, instead of individual amino acids circulating, collagen travels around the body in peptides, and these collagen peptides are then used actively by the body (Iwai, Hasegawa et al. 2005).
For example, research has found that collagen peptides, such as proline-hydroxyproline (Pro-Hyp) and proline-hydroxyproline-glycine (Pro-Hyp-Gly), are present in our bloodstream up to four hours after ingestion (Iwai, Hasegawa et al. 2005). Simply put, with collagen peptides, these amino acids work as a team rather than on their own. This fact makes collagen special.
Third, the role of collagen goes beyond musculoskeletal health and cellular renewal. It is not simply a form of scaffolding, if you will, for structures in the body. Collagen peptides also act as signalling molecules. They communicate with other systems in the body that are important for our health.
For example, there is emerging research that collagen can help to reduce inflammation via its direct effect on the gut microbiota. A recent animal study showed that collagen helped increase the amount of commensal (positive bacteria) in the gut (Axarlis, Daskalaki et al. 2021).
Microbial balance in the digestive tract is critical for managing inflammation in the gut or on a broader and systemic level (Guido, Ausenda et al. 2021). It would be fantastic to learn that collagen peptides act as a signal for anti-inflammatory activity across systems in the body (Lima, Campos et al. 2015).
In short, when compared to traditional forms of protein, collagen is unique in its composition, absorption and signalling in the body.
The big question is, does this unique biological activity make collagen worthy of attention in our day-to-day life? Absolutely!
The research literature supporting use of collagen supplementation is substantial and growing all the time. Whilst there are still questions regarding timing, dosages and individualisation, the research is very optimistic about collagen as we look to the future.
What are the benefits of collagen supplementation?
Let's look at the potential benefits of collagen supplements for athletes through the lens of pain reduction, recovery from exercise and muscle strength.
1) Can Collagen help to reduce pain?
To begin, what is the evidence base for using collagen to reduce pain? The best place to start is meta-analyses and systematic reviews because they sit at the top of the evidence-based medicine hierarchy.
A 2021 systematic review assessed five trials investigating the effect of collagen supplementation on pain. Results were positive. It concluded that collagen could reduce joint pain, improve joint function, and improve pain thresholds with exercise (Khatri, Naughton et al. 2021).
This review supported the findings of a previous 2016 systematic review addressing collagen in osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, which can be debilitating for many people (Porfírio and Fanaro 2016). It concluded that collagen supplementation could positively affect people through improvements in bone mineral density, a protective effect on articular cartilage, and pain relief.
This 2016 review found that supplementing with 8 grams per day of collagen increased circulating glycine and proline levels, and 12 grams per day resulted in significant improvements in osteoarthritis and osteoporosis symptoms. It is worth noting that the new Kinetica product contains 20 grams of collagen, plus other nutrients that can help in its effect.
The potential for collagen to be helpful in pain reduction has been known in the research literature for some time. A randomised controlled trial in 2008 used 10 grams per day of collagen over 24 weeks, and results showed statistically significant improvements in joint pain at rest, when walking, standing, carrying objects and lifting (Clark, Sebastianelli et al. 2008).
New research adds to this weight of evidence. A 2021 double-blind, randomised controlled trial involving 180 participants looked to treat knee pain with 5 grams of collagen peptides versus placebo for 12 weeks (Zdzieblik, Brame et al. 2021). The average age of participants was 24, and they took part in all manner of activities, from running to team sports to cycling and fitness.
Results found a signiﬁcant reduction in "pain during activity" after treatment with collagen peptides compared with placebo. This improvement was reported by study participants as well as a physician who screened them.
Finally, a pilot study from the Australian Institute of Sport wanted to understand if collagen supplementation could help resolve Achilles tendinopathy as part of an exercise rehabilitation programme (Praet, Purdam et al. 2019).
Earlier research suggested collagen supplementation could help with ankle instability, so this study looked to put it to the test in a crossover trial and see how it might help as part of a more comprehensive exercise rehabilitation programme (Dressler, Gehring et al. 2018).
Results found that clinical outcomes improved under supplementation versus placebo, which was encouraging, especially when considering that participants in the study had been previously unresponsive to long-term physiotherapy.
The study might have performed better if participants rehabilitating their Achilles had a higher dose of collagen than 5 grams per day. A recent paper found that 2.5-15 grams per day of collagen are below the maximum level of collagen we can use in our diet (Paul, Leser et al. 2019). Athletes recovering from chronic injury might benefit from higher dosages, such as that found in Kinetica.
2) How can taking collagen support recovery from exercise?
What about the speed with which we recover from a hard workout? Could collagen help us bounce back quicker from a tough session? Early research suggests so.
A 2019 randomised controlled trial investigated the effect of 20 grams per day of collagen peptide on muscle damage, inflammation and bone turnover in recreationally active adults (Clifford, Ventress et al. 2019). Results showed that supplementation improved muscle soreness following exercise and countermovement squat jump height 48 hours post-session.
This insight can be helpful. One of the limiting factors for progressing fitness is recovery. Delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) is a normal byproduct of stressing the neuromuscular system after exercise. If we can use supplementation like collagen to improve regenerative activity in the body, that's positive.
A 2021 trial looked explicitly at collagen in aiding recovery after eccentric-focused exercise (Prowting, Bemben et al. 2021). The term "eccentric" describes the contraction of the muscle as it lengthens. In this case, the authors used five sets of 20 drop jumps. That is a lot of volume of work for the body.
There is a rapid eccentric lengthening of muscle groups upon landing with drop jumps, such as calves and glutes. This rapid eccentric lengthening typically creates a lot of muscle soreness post-workout due to the unique load placed on tissues. Compared to placebo, 15 grams per day collagen supplementation helped prevent declines in countermovement jump performance testing after the session.
An interesting 2017 study looked at supplementation after exercise on ligament synthesis in adults doing six minutes of skip rope. Results showed that 15 grams of collagen were enough to increase collagen content in engineered ligaments (Shaw, Lee-Barthel et al. 2017).
The authors of this study concluded: "The current data strongly support the hypothesis that starting an exercise bout 1 hour after consuming 15 g gelatin results in greater collagen synthesis in the recovery period after exercise."
Thus, if the goal is to strengthen collagen, taking the Kinetica product before you workout could be beneficial.
3) How can Collagen supplementation benefit Body Composition & Muscle Strength?
Finally, let's look at collagen's potential benefits on getting leaner and improving muscle strength. Improving body composition by reducing body fat and increasing overall muscle mass are common goals for many in the gym. What can the research tell us here? It's good news.
In multiple studies, collagen supplementation has been shown to help increase fat-free mass compared to placebo when combined with resistance training. This benefit of collagen is evident in different populations - including young men, premenopausal women and older men with sarcopenia (Zdzieblik, Oesser et al. 2015, Jendricke, Centner et al. 2019, Kirmse, Oertzen-Hagemann et al. 2019).
It is worth talking about the effect of collagen in keen exercisers in a little more detail. A 2019 study recruited 57 men (average age of 24) who regularly train and gave 29 of them 15 grams of collagen daily, and the other 28 exercisers a placebo. These two groups then followed a resistance training programme for 12 weeks, and the study looked to control for nutritional factors by using a food diary.
At the end of the three months, those on collagen saw a statistically significant improvement in fat-free mass (p<0.01). This result indicates that the likelihood of this happening by chance was very low. A potential drawback of this study was that body composition was measured via bioimpedance rather than the gold standard of DEXA.
However, another study in 2021 used DEXA as part of the trial setup to ensure accurate data capture (Zdzieblik, Jendricke et al. 2021). This randomised controlled trial had 97 participants who trained three times per week over 12 weeks under the supervision of a trainer. The average age of participants was in the late 40s.
What were the results? Those taking collagen peptide supplementation saw a significant improvement in fat-free mass, going from an average of 60.4kg to 63.8kg at week 12. That is a solid anabolic response, especially for this middle-aged group. In summary, the group got leaner, reduced their waist size, added muscle, and saw bone mineral content go up.
In 2018, the International Olympic Committee issued a consensus statement on dietary supplements for the high-performance athlete (Maughan 2018). Looking at broad recommendations, it concluded that collagen at 5-15 grams per day with 50mg of vitamin C could potentially help with training capacity, recovery, muscle soreness and injury management by increasing collagen production, thickening cartilage and decreasing joint pain.
With Kinetica, you have a premium product. Each serving provides 20 grams of collagen, but on top of that, there are synergistic nutrients to help you. There is 150mg of glucosamine sulphate, 100mg of chondroitin sulphate, 250mg of turmeric extract, 4mg of black pepper extract, 50mg of vitamin C, and also 500 μg of copper.
This combination of nutrients makes this collagen product special. For example, Vitamin C is known to help boost the effect of collagen peptides on healing (DePhillipo, Aman et al. 2018). Black pepper can help increase the bioavailability of curcumin found in turmeric, and turmeric has consistent anti-inflammatory outcomes (Roshdy, Rashed et al. 2020, Ferguson, Abbott et al. 2021). A new meta-analysis also shows the combination of glucosamine sulphate and chondroitin sulphate is more effective in treating osteoarthritis (Meng, Liu et al. 2022).
In short, this new Kinetica product provides you with an excellent all-around level of nutrition support to help you in your training and day-to-day life. It's also a great compliment to the other products offered by Kinetica. Enjoy!
About the Author
Justin Buckthorp is a Kinetica Ambassador, a Health and Performance specialist and founder of 360 Health and Performance, a company passionate about helping people thrive. Justin has over 20 years’ experience working in clinics, professional sport, and corporate wellness, as well as extensive training in preventative health, functional medicine, strength & conditioning, and human performance.
Justin holds an MSc in Personalised Nutrition from Middlessex University and has a vast range of experience in numerous fields. He was an educator in the fitness industry delivering courses for the National Academy of Sports Medicine in the UK, has supported Team Europe in Ryder Cup events since 2008, and has sat on the European Tour Medical Advisory Board since 2009.
Justin is motivated by helping others achieve their goals, and in 2012 he founded 360 Health & Performance which leverages technology and education to help people in sport, the workplace, and healthcare. Justin also continues to support PGA, European Tour, LPGA Tour and LET golfers, which includes helping Justin Rose win the US Open in 2013, Olympic Gold in 2016, the Fedex Cup in 2018, and go from a world ranking of 70 in 2009 to world number one in 2019.
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