Most people associate protein with exercise recovery. After all, protein stimulates muscle growth, improves recovery, and enhances performance during your next workout.1 Yet, you might be surprised that athletes are ditching standard protein powders such as whey and casein for collagen. So, why do athletes take collagen?
Many think of collagen as a way to achieve smooth skin and voluminous hair. Yet the benefits of collagen go much deeper than improving physical appearance. It also supports optimal physical recovery. Collagen is crucial for the health of your muscles, bones, and joints. Moreover, collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. Put it all together, and that’s why athletes take collagen for their post-workout recovery.
Let’s dig deeper into why athletes take collagen protein and why you should include it in your daily wellness routine. I’ll begin by giving a quick review of collagen.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the fibrous protein that makes up 1/3 of the total protein content in the human body. It is the most abundant protein in your body. It provides structure, support, and strength to your joints, cartilage, bones, skin, and connective tissue. You can think of it as the “glue” that holds your body together.2
While there are an estimated 28 types of collagen, nearly 90% of the collagen in the body comes from types I, II, and III. Collagen is in the bones of cattle (bovine collagen), which are excellent sources of type I and III to support skin elasticity and hydration. It’s also in the skin of fish, which promotes the growth of type I and II collagen. Type II is essential for building cartilage in your joints and promoting an inflammatory response. Chicken collagen is abundant in type II collagen.
Your body synthesizes collagen from the nonessential amino acids proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline. Nonessential means that your body produces them on its own. Vitamin C, along with zinc, copper, and manganese, facilitates collagen synthesis.
However, at about age 35, your body’s collagen production begins to slow. By age 40, collagen begins to deplete faster than your body can produce. Moreover, over half of your body’s collagen is depleted by age 60.
As natural collagen production in your body declines with age, our connective tissues, including our tendons and ligaments, lose flexibility. This causes stiff, painful joints and places you at a greater risk for injury. As such, athletes are switching to collagen as their protein source post-workout to optimize recovery. Let’s dive into the benefits of collagen for athletes.
5 Benefits of Collagen For Athletes
There are several reasons why athletes take collagen after their workouts. I always recommend that everyone take four essential supplements daily. Yet, if I add a fifth supplement to that list, it will be collagen. Athletes have taken notice of the many benefits of collagen. Here are five reasons why.
1. Improved Athletic Performance
The amino acids proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline that make collagen protein support performance. Glycine and arginine are necessary for creating creatine, which is stored in your muscles and used for energy. Creatine also increases lean muscle mass and promotes muscle recovery during exercise.
Studies have shown that athletes who supplemented with collagen had more available creatine in their muscles than those who used other forms of protein after workouts.3 Another study in older men with age-related muscle loss noted that participants who took collagen supplements within 60 minutes of working out experienced a more significant increase in lean muscle mass and strength and a decrease in fat mass compared to those who didn’t use collagen.4
2. Collagen Supports Bone & Joint Health
One of the fundamental reasons athletes take collagen is to support joint health. Exercise stresses your joints and can cause damage, pain, and inflammation. Collagen protein promotes joint health and supports tendon and ligament repair after exercise. Because collagen comes from the tendons and ligaments of animals, a collagen supplement can support the synthesis of ligaments and tendons once your body absorbs collagen.
3. Collagen Promotes Lean Muscle Mass
You likely know that protein is a crucial component of your muscles, yet did you know that protein is collagen? Athletes take collagen to promote the growth of lean muscle. As you age and natural collagen production slows, muscle mass and testosterone also decrease. Testosterone is the male sex hormone needed for muscle synthesis in both men and women.
Research has proven that athletes that take collagen supplements after exercise build more muscle mass than those who exercised and received a placebo. Another reason why collagen helps with muscle is that it has amino acids such as glycine and arginine, which are essential blocks for creatine, which I mentioned earlier. This is a big reason athletes take collagen.
4. Collagen Supports Growth of Connective TIssue
All connective tissue and muscles in your body need collagen. Injuries are common in people that exercise. Some studies suggest that athletes that take collagen have a reduced risk of injury than those that don’t.5 Other studies suggest that collagen may help your body heal faster from injuries by supporting connective tissue growth.6
Athletes over 30 are more prone to knee injuries, shoulder problems, and lower back pain due to a decrease in collagen.
5. Collagen is an Ideal Source of Essential Amino Acids
Athletes take collagen because it’s an ideal post-workout protein powder. Collagen has a high amino acid profile that supports your body’s protein synthesis pre- and post-workout.
Moreover, collagen protein contains eight essential amino acids, meaning your body does not make them on its own and can only come from your diet. The eight essential amino acids found in collagen include:
- Histidine – supports the growth and repair of damaged tissues.
- Isoleucine – regulates energy levels and facilitates wound healing.
- Leucine – Regulates energy levels and promotes the production of human growth hormone, one of the hormones produced during exercise.
- Lysine – Supports muscle building and bone strength and promotes hormone production.
- Methionine – Supports healthy hair, skin, and nails.
- Phenylalanine – Facilitates the production of brain hormones released during exercise, such as endorphins.
- Threonine – Needed to create glycine and serine
- Valine – Promotes muscle growth and tissue repair.
When you consider the amino acid profile of collagen, you can see why athletes take collagen. Yet, not all collagen protein powders are created equal. Let’s talk about the best form of collagen for athletes.
The Best Form of Collagen
When collagen proteins get hydrolyzed, they are broken down into smaller, easy-to-digest particles called peptides that your body can absorb. The collagen you find in many “health foods,” beverages, and moisturizers are not typically hydrolyzed and provides little to no benefit.
Many collagen supplements are also not from grass-fed or natural sources, which means you could get more than you bargained for. If it’s not from grass-fed or natural sources, the chicken, cow, or fish your collagen came from could contain pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This can get into your collagen products through cross-contamination.
If you’re looking to add collagen to your wellness routine, I recommend that it comes from grass-fed, pasture-raised, or natural sources and is hydrolyzed. Before I tell you about my favorite collagen powder, let’s talk about when athletes should take collagen.
When Should You Take Collagen?
Whether you’re an athlete or just looking to reap the benefits, collagen can be taken any time of the day. However, the best time for athletes to take collagen is within an hour after their workouts for optimal results. Muscle recovery takes up to 72 hours after exercise, yet it begins within the first hour. Collagen supports muscle repair and connective tissue growth, which both break down during exercise.
According to most fitness professionals, the “anabolic window” to promote muscle growth is 15 to 60 minutes after working out. This is the optimal time to get the most out of post-workout nutrients such as collagen protein.7
If you want to add collagen to your post-workout routine– and you should– then I have some exciting news I will share with you!
Adding Collagen to Your Post-Workout Routine
It’s hard to ignore why more athletes take collagen protein after workouts. The benefits for muscle recovery and joint health, promoting lean muscle mass, and the abundance of essential amino acids make it a great post-workout supplement. Yet, how can you ensure you get the most out of your collagen?
As a medical doctor, I can tell you many of the collagen powders on the market simply do not work! I have personally struggled with choosing a natural collagen powder, and that is why I formulated Collagen Protein.
Collagen Protein contains 100% grass-fed, pasture-raised bovine collagen. It includes types I and III collagen to promote healthy bones and joints. This collagen powder contains the nonessential amino acids found in abundance in collagen, along with eight of the nine essential amino acids your body needs for optimal recovery and performance.
Collagen Protein is one of my absolute favorite supplements and the closest to a complete protein you’ll find in a collagen supplement. It is tasteless and very easy to add to a post-workout shake or even to your hydration post-workout drink.
The Final Word
There are many reasons why athletes take collagen, yet everyone can reap the benefits of adding collagen to their wellness routine. For athletes, even beginners, the benefits of collagen are hard to ignore. Collagen promotes athletic performance, facilitates the creation of creatine to support lean muscle mass, may reduce the risk of injury, and supports healthy bones and joints. This makes collagen the perfect post-workout supplement.
- Post-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat After a Workout. Arlene Semeco, MS, RD and Celia Shatzman. Healthline. 2021.
- Collagen Structure and Stability. Matthew D. Shoulders and Ronald T. Raines. Health & Human Services Public Access. 2009.
- The effects of collagen peptide supplementation on body composition, collagen synthesis, and recovery from joint injury and exercise: a systematic review. Mishti Khatri, et al. Amnio Acids vol 53. 2021.
- Collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training improves body composition and increases muscle strength in elderly sarcopenic men: a randomised controlled trial. Denise Zdzieblik, et al. The British Journal of Nutrition. 2015.
- Training and Nutrition to Prevent Soft Tissue Injuries and Accelerate Return to Play. Keith Bear. Sports Science Exchange. 2015.
- Collagen and fibronectin in a healing skeletal muscle injury. An immunohistological study of the effects of physical activity on the repair of injured gastrocnemius muscle in the rat. M Lehto, V C Duance, and D Restall. Bone Joint Surgery. 1985.
- The role of protein and amino acid supplements in the athlete's diet: does type or timing of ingestion matter?. M Lehto, V C Duance, and D Restall. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2002.