Approximately 70% of athlete injuries are musculoskeletal. The function and structure of musculoskeletal tissues are reliant on the collagen-rich matrix.
Based on research, it has been shown that collagen, which is a protein, plays an important role in building and supporting cells, specifically connective tissue such as tendons and ligaments, but also cartilage and bones.
Scientific studies have indicated short term positive changes in knee cartilage with individuals consuming collagen supplements.
Bone broth contains gelatin which is broken down to collagen in the body. Many athletes use bone broth to achieve the same result as collagen. The issue, bone broth contains significantly less of the required amino acids than a collagen supplement.
Whey Protein Isolate is a complete protein, as it contains all the essential amino acids (ones we cannot manufacture ourselves). As a complete protein, it helps increase lean muscle mass and aids muscle recovery.
In contrast, collagen can also help create lean muscle mass (compared to resistance training alone), but it also eases joint pain and fights joint inflammation due to the high concentration of the amino acids proline, glycine, lysine and arginine.
Therefore, if an athlete uses collagen, not only will it support achieving lean body mass, but will also minimise issues associated with connective tissue.
The other issue to look at is the type of products themselves.
WPI has a very distinct flavour and can often be hard to mask. It is usually pumped with sugars or artificial sweeteners to try to hide the flavour, along with fillers like vegetable gum or lecithin to improve texture, consistency and flavour.
Collagen is flavourless and has no extra ingredients added to alter the end- product. So it is as natural as you can get.
Research on use of collagen for sports performance is still not extensive, however we know it is not harmful. Supplementation will not target the injured area specifically, however the research conducted has shown that timing of consumption is important, so that the relevant amino acid levels are at their highest during exercise.
To date the research indicates that consuming collagen before exercise, rather than during or after will achieve this, ideally 1 hour before exercise. This has been shown to result in greater collagen synthesis in the recovery period after exercise.
It may also be beneficial to consume the collagen with vitamin C. It is known that vitamin C is required for collagen synthesis, therefore having vitamin C at the same time will activate the collagen cross-linking within the matrix.
Although exercise and adequate nutrition will benefit collagen synthesis, it is believed that collagen supplementation may have a benefit of increasing collagen synthesis by 20% compared to no supplementation. Collagen supplementation has the potential to assist with training capacity, recovery, muscle soreness and injury management.
McAlindon, TE. et al. (2011). Change in knee osteoarthritis cartilage detected by delayed gadolinium enhanced magnetic resonance imaging following treatment with collagen hydrolysate: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Osteoarthritis cartilage. 19(4): 399-405.
Alcock, R. et al (2018) Bone broth unlikely to provide reliable concentrations of collagen precursors compared with supplemental sources of collagen used in collagen research. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. Vol 29(3): 265-272.
Shaw, G. et al. (2017) Vitamin C – enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vol 105 (1): 136-143.
Main photo credit: Julia Kuzenkov / Pexels