Guest Blog by Rachel Eagleton, Clinical Nutritionist.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and is largely responsible for providing structure and strength to our connective tissues. Most people who are involved in sports will at some time experience injury to these tissues –their tendons, ligaments or even  bones or cartilage. These tissues can be very slow to heal, causing much frustration and subsequent re-injury if you return to high training loads without adequate rehab or healing time. This blog will discuss the evidence for collagen supplementation for tendon repair.

What does the evidence say about collagen supplementation for tendon repair?

It’s recently been shown that taking 15g collagen with around 48mg of Vitamin C, 30-60mins prior to targeted training such as jumping rope, will double the collagen production after those sessions compared to undertaking the session without such nutritional support. This is great evidence for the effectiveness of collagen supplementation for tendon repaid.  15g of collagen is around one serve of  VPA Collagen Pro. Collagen intake has also been showed to improve function, instability and pain perception in ligament and joint damage. Crucially, the studies that produced positive results combined supplementation with targeted tendon/joint exercises or resistance training.  The theory is that the additional availability of the key amino acids required for collagen production allows the tissues to strengthen in the direction and for the purpose of the targeted activity to which they are being subjected in that active period of collagen peptide availability. So, taking collagen supplements without complementary exercises is unlikely to have any effect on injury healing or the prevention of injury.

What collagen supplementation protocol should I use?

If you’d like to try collagen supplementation, a suggested regime would be:

  • Take 10-15g collagen 30-60mins prior to 10 minutes of individually-designed targeted connective tissue exercises with supplemental 48mg Vitamin C (eg a small 100mL glass of orange juice).
  • See your physio for a program of targeted exercises.
  • For injury prevention: 2-3 sessions/week with ideally a 6 hr window between other sessions.
  • More sessions may be required if you are addressing a specific acute or chronically occurring injury. Discuss this with your physio.

What about other nutrients?

There are many micronutrients involved in collagen formation and any additional free amino acids or peptides from supplementation will not be effectively used for collagen production if you are lacking in Vitamin C, E, A, sulphur and lysine in particular. Adequate amounts of these nutrients along with good hydration, sleep, regular exercise and avoidance of alcohol and smoking will do far more for collagen production and creating healthy bodily tissues then popping a few gummies or tablespoons of powdered collagen every day and neglecting these other elements.

Will collagen supplementation help my skin?

Much of the hype within the general population around collagen supplementation is for its role in the ‘beauty’ connective tissues such as in your nails, skin and hair. Many of the positive studies in this area were found to have substantial conflicts of interest and the outcomes were self-reported – sooo….not exactly top science! Additionally, most beauty collagen supplements contain small amounts of collagen so are unlikely to be effective to any great degree, so you’re far better off taking a collagen sports supplement for a higher dose of collagen. However, despite this – there is a small amount of genuine positive evidence to support supplementation for the improvement of these tissues, but the findings have been insufficiently consistent to ascertain effective dosage-response levels.  So while you are recovering from your injury you might also strengthen your hair and nails!

References: Shaw et al. (2017) Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. Am J Clin Nutr. 

Read more:  Supporting your recovery from injury through nutrition

Rachel Eagleton (MHumNut)  is a university qualified Clinical Nutritionist based in Sydney, Australia. She is also the busy working mum of two teenagers, so is practical and realistic with her advice. Rachel offers private consultations to improve your sporting performance, or your general health and well-being. You can find her at racheleagleton.com.au and on Facebook and Instagram for more healthy tips.