What is collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body and is responsible for providing structure and strength to our connective tissues. Connective tissues include tendons, ligaments, bones and cartilage. Most sports people will at some point experience injury to these tissues. Connective tissues heal very slowly in comparison to other tissues. This can cause 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?
Taking 15g collagen with around 48mg of Vitamin C, 30-60mins prior to targeted training such as jumping, doubles collagen production after those sessions, when compared to a placebo. 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 improves 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. So, taking collagen supplements without complementary exercises is unlikely to have any effect on injury healing or the prevention of injury.
How should I take collagen?
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. Take 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. 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.
Collagen supplements for skin, hair and nails.
Much of the hype around collagen supplementation is for its role in improving 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 . This is not exactly top science! Additionally, most beauty collagen supplements contain small amounts of collagen. You are unlikely to benefit from the dose of collagen these supplements provide, so you’re far better off taking a sports supplement. Despite this, there is a small amount of genuine positive evidence to support supplementation for the improvement of these tissues. However, 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.