Collagen seems to be everywhere lately, serving as the latest supplement craze for runners. The creators of some collagen supplements are claiming it improves joint, skin and bone health. We asked Jamie Sheahan, M.S., R.D., out of Vermont to tell us more about the popular supplement so every runner can make an informed decision about whether or not they want to use it.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a structural protein found in connective tissue in the body. That means it’s a key component of muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments. I think of it as the glue that holds our body together. Many think of it as it relates to beauty products as a reduction in collagen, as age causes our skin to lose elasticity. We can consume collagen in the form of animal products, but our bodies also make collagen from amino acids and other nutrients.
How can it be beneficial to runners?
Because collagen is important for building tissues that are important for runners, many believe collagen supplementation can benefit performance. Many also believe collagen can help decrease joint pain that is often associated with impact exercise, like running. However, there are few well-designed studies on the efficacy of collagen in improving bone or joint health.
Do you recommend collagen supplements to your clients?
I do not recommend collagen to my clients and do not personally take it as a supplement. I only recommend supplements when I can point to a solid body of scientific literature supporting health and performance claims, and as of right now, the evidence just isn’t there to justify collagen supplementation for athletes.
Is there a certain population that would benefit from supplementation?
Studies have shown that collagen supplementation may improve joint pain and swelling for those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, the most recent studies on collagen supplementation and RA have found it only to be effective in relieving pain in the short term and the effects likely will not last longterm.
What, if any, are the drawbacks to taking these supplements?
Other than the potential for an allergic reaction, there are no serious side effects to supplementation. Some reported side effects include nausea, gastrointestinal distress and headaches. Vegans and vegetarians should be aware that many collagen supplements are derived from animals.
Is there a certain brand, dosage or criteria to look for?
Individuals can get enough collagen by eating a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods. If one prefers to consume a supplement, then it really comes down to personal preference in regards to powder versus pill versus liquid, etcetera. The thing to be aware of when using any collagen-based product is the addition of other ingredients, like the added sugar you would likely find in a collagen bar.
In your opinion, why is collagen having a moment right now?
I think collagen has garnered attention as the new “it” food thanks to the Paleo diet craze. For so long, animal products were shunned by dieters–then the Paleo diet came along and made it not only acceptable to eat meat, but encouraged.
The diet touts collagen as a pseudo silver bullet that can do everything from easing joint pain to reducing wrinkles and signs of aging. With promises like that and plenty of A-list celebrities singing its praises, it’s no wonder collagen is having a moment in the spotlight. But like so many “super” foods before it, the claims are exaggerated and months from now we will have moved on to another trendy food. Remember when kale was a thing? Someday we will be saying that about collagen.