What is collagen?
Collagen is a structural protein that is the main protein in the connective tissue in our bodies and makes up 25 – 35% of protein in our bodies. Our bodies naturally produce collagen, but once we are in our mid-20s the production of collagen begins to decline. With less collagen being produced it’s logical that healing of the connective tissue takes longer once you get past your mid-20s. This could lead to less elastic tendons, ligaments, fascia and cartilage and slower recovery of damage to these body parts.
There are many types of collagen but the three main ones in our bodies are:
Type 1 – in skin, tendons, muscles, the vascular system, organs and bones
Type 2 – in cartilage
Type 3 – in the intestines, muscles, vascular system and uterus
The most common type of supplement available is Hydrolysed Collagen Powder or gelatin (which is a less refined and less versatile to use). Hydrolysed collagen is an almost tasteless powder that dissolves easily in water (and other liquids) and contains Type 1 and 3 collagens. It is made from either sea food (marine collagen) or beef (bovine collagen). Another type available is “bone broth” collagen which is essentially beef stock boiled down into a powder. This contains a variety of nutrients including Type 2 collagen.
What collagen might be able to do for you?
There is no doubt that a sensible running plan, where you gradually increase mileage and loading on connective tissue, is the best way of preventing major damage to the body as a runner. However, even when being sensible and following a structured programme it’s possible that connective tissue will become damaged to the extent that you consider yourself “injured”. As discussed above, this might be accentuated as you get older and your body stops producing so much collagen naturally. There is an excellent article on tendon injuries at this link: Overcoming Tendonitis – Steven Low
Taking a collagen supplement orally may help with this. A study found that when you took 15g of collagen (as gelatin) enriched with vitamin C it increased the amount of amino acids (being the key components of collagen) circulating in the blood 1 hour after taking the supplement. The study concluded that this increased collagen synthesis and that supplementation in this way could play a beneficial role in injury prevention and tissue repair. There are limits to this study as, for example, it’s not clear whether injury prevention and tissue repair actually results from increased circulation of these amino acids. The recommendation emerging from the study is therefore that any exercise/rehab should take place 1 hour after supplementation. This is so that your connective tissue has the maximum blood circulating through it when the amino acid concentration is at it’s highest. Some tendons have notoriously bad blood flow so forcing blood that is filled with amino acids through them seems to makes intuitive sense.
Aside from the possible benefits to connective tissue, some of the amino acids found in collagen have been reported to support the immune system and gut health. Collagen is also a good source of dietary protein. It should also be noted that vitamin C may also help tendon repair without the presence of any collagen supplementation.
If you are injured, the best thing you can do is to see a qualified physio/other medical professional and follow their advice. Supplementing with collagen may help to reduce the time you are injured or may help to reduce the risk of you getting injured. It may also have some other benefits. It is not a particularly expensive supplement and so it might be a good addition to your diet. However, if you are in any doubt about taking a dietary supplement you need to make sure that you consult a qualified doctor before taking anything.
For information, follow Dan Summers