In the past decades, we’ve seen collagen being used for skin, hair, and nails, but now over the past few years, collagen has been taking the fitness world by storm. But does collagen for runners really work? And why should be consider taking collagen supplements?
While collagen might not be a magic cure-all for athletes and runners, there are many reasons why collagen supplementation should seriously be considered.
Can I be honest? Besides digging up research to consistently show that running isn’t bad for our knees, I haven’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about my joints!
Until of course, I started getting more questions from our athletes about their joints and longevity.
Suddenly, I was on the hunt for ALL the information, tools, tips and tricks to keep them healthy. One that surprised me was collagen, I mean isn’t that just for great skin? Nope!!
A recent clinical study showed, bioactive collagen peptide (BCP) supplementation demonstrated a positive effect on pain and mobility in osteoarthritic patients. Not only that, but in the athletic population activity-related knee pain was reduced by 37.5%! Just me, or does that sound like it’s totally worth our time to get educated about collagen peptides?!
What is Collagen?
Collagen is a protein that is found in our bones and connective tissue. Collagen serves as the framework or webbing for a lot of the body’s soft tissue because it is strong and flexible.
It also happens to be the most abundant protein in the body, making up over 30% of all protein. It’s found in muscles, bones, skin, blood vessels, nails, joints, digestive system, and tendons.
Collagen what helps give our skin strength and elasticity, along with replacing dead skin cells. When it comes to our joints and tendons, in simplest terms, it’s the “glue” that helps hold the body together.
The 20 amino acids in the body serve as the building blocks for collagen, and four of them, namely glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine, are directly involved in collagen production.
Fun fact, there are 16 different types of collagen, but only there are three that are most important to runners which are Type I, Type II (skin, tendons, ligaments), and Type III (joints) which are used to reinforce our structural systems, like our bones.
Type II is primarily used in cartilage, and it has a rigid structure that allows for shock absorption. When your collagen levels are optimal, your ligaments and joints are more flexible, and your body is better able to withstand the pounding that comes with long distance running.
Like a lot of things, our production of collagen decreases as we age which leads to those distinguished laugh lines and yes, waning cartilage in our joints. Luckily, studies seem to indicate that we can supplement collagen!
What are the Benefits of Collagen for Runners?
Let’s start with the main one on my mind: joint health for runners.
Collagen production naturally declines with age, and the impact of running on the body’s joints and tissues can be significant. And although it may not be necessary for everyone, especially if you’re consistently eating a balanced diet, many of us can benefit from it.
And please remember there is NO HIGHER levels of osteoarthritis in runners than non-runners. So running itself is not what damages our joints, it’s usually the poor form, lack of strength work, etc.
If you’re a runner who suffers from frequent joint pain (osteoarthritis) or has a tendon or ligament injury and wants to consider a little extra support, collagen supplementation may be worth considering.
Nearly every doctor I saw while trying to figure out my knee injury in 2017 seemed to imply that once issues start you simply can’t reverse them. But the study above proves that’s not true, as do the experiences of many others.
Under close supervision, some of the subjects did regular, moderate exercise that included cycling on a stationary bike and performing knee bends with light weights.
At the end of four months, their knees were assessed, using a special test called delayed gadolinium-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging, and compared with those of members of a control group.
The results: the exercisers had a significant increase in a key ingredient in knee cartilage known as “glycosaminoglycans.” That 50-cent word describes chains of sugars that contribute to the tissue’s resiliency, or ability to absorb the constant loads (walking, sitting, carrying weight) of ordinary living.
And that’s not all.
Research published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that taking 5-15 grams of collagen and 500 milligrams of vitamin C within an hour of exercise doubled rate of collagen synthesis in the ankles.
Another meta-analysis published in International Orthopedics found that collagen supplementation was effective in alleviating the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Other Benefits for Runners:
For runners the benefits are obvious and immediate:
- Reduces joint pain
- Improves strength in tendons, ligaments, and joints, and improves flexibility
- It can help with gut health, and brain health, and even lead to weight loss
- It is known to accelerate muscle recovery and also reduce muscle soreness
- Overall reduces inflammation and improves healing of connective tissues
- Improves mobility by essentially lubricating the joint
- Increases bone density to reduce stress fractures
Why Supplement with Collagen?
If your body isn’t making enough of something and you need it to feel your best, it’s time to find it through food, nutrition, and supplements.
I’m all about the one-two punch of using both because I know I don’t eat a perfect diet of no sugar, only whole foods, never processed, etc (but if you do, tell me the secret).
Not many foods contain straight collagen because it is indeed from the bones of animals, but you can use foods to enhance production and protection.
- Bone broth does actually contain collagen (I love drinking homemade broth). Note: beef is best for skn, while chicken is best for joints!
- Eggs are one of the other few foods to contain collagen
- Wild salmon helps with activation of collagen
- Leafy greens contain chlorophyll that helps prevent breakdown by eliminating toxins and encouraging collagen production
- Oranges provide Vitamin C which helps the amino acids needed to form collagen
- Berries and tomatoes help protect the skin from damage and collagen breakdownOther whole foods like beans also contain what we need to produce collagen. But it’s not always easy to eat everything that’s needed for optimal collagen levels.
Other whole foods like beans also contain what we need to produce collagen. But it’s not always easy to eat everything that’s needed for optimal collagen levels.
Why Consider Taking Collagen Supplements?
As you can see, there aren’t a ton of foods that directly provide collagen, which is why it’s worth finding a high-quality supplement.
I love Vital Proteins because it not only dissolves well in water but contains a high amount of protein which is an ongoing goal for me!
I can drink one of the flavors like Peach Matcha on its own, or combine it with 1/2 a scoop of protein after a lift to make sure I’m hitting my protein goals.
What’s the Best Collagen for Runners?
I personally love taking this collagen powder from Vital Proteins daily, and recommend it to all my clients. Here’s why:
- Collagen will continue to aid my knee to repair because it’s good for joints, tendons, and cartilage
- 1 scoop is 8 grams of protein, no carbs 30 calories
- It may boost metabolism by helping to maintain muscle mass and improving digestion
- Contains Lysine which is really good for dropping cholesterol
- Contains Leucine which helps to regular blood sugar levels
- Helps to soothe the stomach, which reduces total body issues
- There is also some research indicating better muscle-building results from animal proteins, since I can’t do dairy I love this option
- Totally tasteless, so it can be mixed into just about anything.
What about Vegan Collagen?
Unfortunately, this does not exist. Collagen as noted above is created from animals. You can help your body though with some of these options:
- Vegan protein powder with all essential amino acids
- Silica (found in whole grains, mangos, spinach)
- Vitamin C
Hopefully this guide around collagen for runners gave you some new insights (even if you aren’t currently running!). As with all things, I say try it out for at least 30-60 days and then judge for yourself if it’s helping.
What works for one never works for us all.
Looking for more ways to injury proof your body or stay healthy
- Skincare in your 30’s and 40’s to avoid brownspots
- How to Relieve Running Knee Pain
- Workouts You Can do With Knee Pain
- Best Running Shoes for Knee Pain
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