Protein powders and fitness supplements seem to only be growing in popularity, but one that hasn’t been discussed quite as much as the others is collagen. A form of protein, collagen plays an important role in the look and feel of your skin and the strength of your tissues.
While proponents of collagen are abundant in the realms of skincare and beauty, athletes are now turning to collagen for athletic performance and recovery. But what exactly is collagen, and what can it do for your fitness routine?
What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein naturally found in your body. It’s a major part of your connective tissues, such as your muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and blood vessels. Collagen is what provides the elasticity and structure between these important bodily elements.
Collagen naturally breaks down over time, but the body is capable of rebuilding it. Unfortunately, age hampers this ability, so less and less collagen is produced over time. Bad habits like smoking, drinking excessively and eating a poor diet can also affect the amount of collagen present in the body. This can cause changes in the skin, weaken muscles and stiffen connective tissues.
Collagen supplement products have long held popularity in the beauty space because of their ability to improve the appearance of wrinkles and reverse other signs of aging. These supplements often use shorter chains of amino acids, called peptides, so they are more easily absorbed by the body and used to both build new collagen and jumpstart the body’s natural collagen production process.
However, collagen supplements may not only be beneficial in the beauty market. They have also found a foothold in the fitness space.
Collagen’s role during your workout
Emerging bodies of research have indicated that collagen may play an important role in the health and maintenance of the muscles and joints you stress during workouts. Here are a few ways collagen may improve fitness.
Muscle mass maintenance
Muscle loss related to age is often related to the body’s decrease in collagen production. In older adults, this can cause weakness. Collagen has been shown to reduce this muscle loss in seniors, but it may be useful in maintaining muscle mass in younger athletes, as well.
In addition to merely maintaining muscle mass, though, some studies suggest that collagen supplements used after exercise can aid in building more muscle and improving strength.
The cartilage that cushions your joints requires collagen to stay healthy. Over time, this cartilage can break down due to age or excessive wear, leading to the painful effects of osteoarthritis. This can be particularly challenging during workouts, making it harder for you to run, climb or lift without pain. Collagen supplements are believed to help maintain cartilage and joint health and reduce pain.
By working to improve muscle mass and stabilize joints, collagen may have overall benefits for athletic performance. Whether you are a casual gym user or a pro in your sport, collagen can provide the building blocks for your body to remain healthy.
Incorporating collagen into your lifestyle
There are numerous ways to add collagen into your meals and workout recovery periods to maximize its athletic performance benefits. First, collagen can be found in a variety of foods, such as bone broth, chicken, pork and eggs. Eating these foods will bolster your protein intake, including collagen.
However, collagen found in food may not be as effective as collagen supplements at achieving fast-acting results in fitness. Supplements are typically hydrolyzed, meaning the collagen has been broken down into peptides for easier absorption. Using a powdered collagen supplement in a post-workout shake or smoothie can deliver bioavailable collagen that your body can put to use more easily. Experts suggest taking collagen supplements within an hour before or after a workout for the best results.
Another important thing to remember is that collagen does not last forever. Thus, the results you may get from taking a collagen supplement as part of your fitness routine may last for some time, but they will eventually fade. The only way to maintain the health effects of collagen is to continue taking it over time.
As with all supplements, speak with your doctor before taking collagen, and always do thorough research on the supplement you purchase to verify its ingredients and effectiveness. With the right one, you might start to look and feel better, inside and outside of the gym!