Should Runners Supplement With Collagen?
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What Is Collagen?
Collagen is the second most abundant substance in the body and accounts for about 30% of the total body protein. Its function is to help form a complex that supports organs and soft tissues/joints. There are three types of collagen that are most commonly found in supplements—Types I, II, and III. Types I and III are found more in skin, bones, blood vessels, and connective tissue, while Type II is found in joint cartilage.
We consume collagen from animal products, but our bodies can also make it by combining broken down amino acids (particularly glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline). Fruits and vegetables also support collagen formation and help prevent collagen degradation with their high Vitamin C content (citrus fruits, bell peppers, leafy greens, and berries).
How Can Collagen Help Runners?
As we age collagen production decreases and running itself is hard on the joints and tissues in the body. This often leaves runners looking for magical solutions to these problems. In general, if you are eating a balanced diet, using a collagen supplement is not necessary and most benefits of collagen supplements are overhyped in the media.
However, if you are a runner with frequent joint pain (osteoarthritis) or are dealing with a tendon or ligament injury and want to consider a little bit extra support, collagen supplementation could be considered.
A small, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5183725/) demonstrated that consuming 5-15g of collagen combined with 500mg of Vitamin C within one hour of exercise helped to double the rate of collagen synthesis in the ankle.
Another meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled studies published in International Orthopedics (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30368550/) showed collagen supplementation to be effective in improving osteoarthritis symptoms.
What’s The Best Way To Supplement With Collagen?
If you are a runner that is considering using a collagen supplement, there are a few things you should consider when choosing a good fit.
Choose a hydrolyzed or peptide version and be sure that your supplement is labeled with an NSF or Certified for Sport label, which offers an additional level of testing and certification for supplements. Keep in mind that collagen is not a complete protein so do not rely on it to get all of the amino acids that your body needs.
To achieve the best results, take 5-15g collagen with 500mg Vitamin C one hour before strength or cardio activity.
Strawberry Coconut Collagen Smoothie
½ cup unsweetened coconut or almond milk
½ cup water
1 banana (frozen)
1 cup frozen strawberries
1T shredded coconut
¼ tsp vanilla extract
¾ scoop collagen powder
Blend all ingredients in blends until smooth. Enjoy!
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Kylee Van Horn is a licensed Sports Registered Dietitian and competitive trail runner.