Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, making up about 30% of all protein. It provides structure and strength to tissues like skin, bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Collagen is crucial for athletes and active individuals as it supports joint health, aids in recovery, and helps prevent injuries. With collagen supplements growing in popularity, many are wondering if taking collagen can boost athletic performance. Here’s an in-depth look at the research on collagen and how it may benefit muscle recovery, injury prevention, and overall athletic performance.
The Role of Collagen in Muscles and Connective Tissue
Collagen is the main structural protein found in connective tissues like tendons, ligaments, cartilage, bones, and skin. It forms a matrix that gives strength and structure to these tissues. Collagen also makes up 10% of muscle tissue, where it connects and supports muscle fibers.
During exercise, collagen provides stability and transmits force through the tendons from the muscles to the bones. This allows for coordinated and efficient movement. The collagen matrix also helps disperse the forces placed on joints and connective tissue during exercise and impact.
For athletes, maintaining and supporting collagen is important for:
- Joint stability and injury prevention
- Transferring muscular forces efficiently
- Providing bounce and recoil in connective tissues like tendons and ligaments
- Aiding in tissue repair and recovery after strenuous exercise
Boosting Collagen Synthesis with Supplements
The body continually produces collagen to maintain tissues and repair minor damage. But collagen production naturally declines with age. Athletes have higher collagen demands due to increased activity and repetitive, high-impact movements. Research shows collagen supplementation can compensate for increased collagen breakdown during intense training.
Several studies find that taking hydrolyzed collagen supplements increases collagen synthesis and production of new connective tissue in tendons and muscles. A 2019 review reported collagen peptide supplements taken before and after exercise improved collagen synthesis by up to 200% compared to baseline.
Increased collagen strengthens connective tissues and may reduce injury risk. A small 2020 study gave basketball players 10 grams of collagen daily for 6 months. The collagen group had a significantly lower rate of joint injuries compared to placebo. More research is still needed, but boosting collagen production with supplements shows promise for improving tissue integrity and resilience.
Collagen for Muscle Recovery
Collagen may also enhance exercise recovery. During strenuous or unaccustomed exercise, microscopic tears occur in muscle fibers and connective tissues. Inflammation follows, along with muscle soreness and stiffness.
Adequate rest, nutrition, and collagen are needed for proper tissue repair and muscle recovery. Studies indicate collagen supplements help:
- Increase satellite cell production – cells responsible for muscle growth and repair
- Reduce post-exercise muscle damage and soreness
- Accelerate recovery of strength after high-intensity exercise
- Increase collagen content and tensile strength in tendons after exercise
In one study, supplementing with collagen peptides increased athlete’s knee extensor and flexor strength 96 hours after intensive exercise. Other research found trained weightlifters recovered faster and experienced less DOMS when taking collagen protein after eccentric resistance training. The improvements suggest collagen provides key building blocks used to reinforce and regenerate muscle and connective tissues after training.
Additional Performance and Recovery Benefits
Along with directly supporting muscles and connective tissue, preliminary research indicates collagen may benefit athletic performance and recovery in other ways, including:
- Improving joint comfort and mobility
- Promoting cartilage health and reducing risk of osteoarthritis
- Reducing inflammation after exercise
- Increasing availability of amino acids for muscle protein synthesis
- Supporting bone mineral density
- Promoting sleep and recovery through increased tryptophan intake
The unique amino acid profile of collagen contains higher concentrations of glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline compared to most protein sources. Consuming collagen provides essential amino acids for rebuilding muscle, along with anti-inflammatory amino acids like arginine. This spectrum of amino acids supports exercise recovery.
Collagen is also rich in tryptophan, an amino acid precursor to serotonin and melatonin. Tryptophan is shown to improve sleep quality when consumed before bed – an important factor for recovery.
Types of Collagen Supplements
If you’re considering a collagen supplement, there are a few different forms to choose from:
- Collagen peptides – These contain small collagen protein fragments that are easily digested and absorbed. Peptides have the most research backing their efficacy and safety.
- Gelatin – Cooked collagen that forms a gel. It contains proteins of varying sizes derived from collagen.
- Hydrolyzed collagen – Collagen that has been broken down into smaller fragments using enzymes or heat. It contains a wide range of collagen pieces and amino acids.
- Undenatured collagen – Collagen in its whole, intact form. It’s challenging for the body to break down and absorb collagen in this form.
Collagen peptides or hydrolyzed collagen are likely the most effective forms for supporting exercise performance and recovery. Look for a high-quality product sourced from grass-fed, pasture-raised bovine or marine sources.
Recommended Collagen Dosage
Studies investigating collagen for exercise performance and recovery use dosages ranging from 5 to 20 grams per day. Most supplements contain 10 to 30 grams of collagen per serving.
A good general guideline is:
- For general wellness, 10 grams (1 scoop) per day
- For athletes and active adults, 15-20 grams (1-2 scoops) per day
It’s best to take collagen supplements in the morning or night on an empty stomach for optimal absorption. Consuming collagen with vitamin C may further boost collagen synthesis. Taking collagen consistently for at least 4-12 weeks provides the greatest benefits.
The Bottom Line
Early research suggests supplemental collagen may support exercise performance and recovery in athletes and active individuals. Collagen aids in building and repairing connective tissues, helps reduce muscle damage, and accelerates recovery after exercise. It supports overall joint, bone, and muscle health in active people with high collagen demands. More robust clinical studies are still needed. But the preliminary data indicates collagen is a promising supplement for improving athletic performance and physical function.