Perhaps you’ve heard of collagen for its ability to make your skin and hair shine. But that’s not all this naturally occurring protein can do — it could also give your fitness routine a glow-up. And understanding how collagen affects your workouts can help you decide if it’s the right supplement for your sweat sesh.
Collagen is a protein that makes up much of your tissue, like tendons, ligaments, muscles, and skin, says Rhiona Robertson, naturopath and nutritionist at The Beauty Chef supplement brand. In fact, it’s the most abundant protein in your body. As you age, however, your body produces less and less collagen (hence wrinkles), which is why supplements are commonly used to boost skin and hair health. But that’s not the only benefit you’ll reap if you take extra collagen, says Samantha Cassetty, RD, a wellness expert and registered dietitian who works with the nutrition company Reserveage. Since it’s such an integral part of your tissue, a daily dose of the stuff can support joint, bone, and muscle health as well, she tells Bustle.
1. It Supports Joint Health
Your joints experience wear and tear as you age, and that deterioration is in part due to decreased collagen production. And since it’s a critical component of your connective tissue, keeping your collagen levels high with the help of a supplement can boost joint health, says Cassetty.
Doing so will translate over to your workouts. Taking a daily dose of collagen (between 2.5 to 15 grams per day, depending on your goals) can help reduce joint pain and increase mobility, according to 2012 research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Research also suggests that collagen could reduce inflammation, which can occur as your body heals from an intense workout or overuse injury. Moral of the story? Collagen could help keep your joints happy and healthy in the gym.
2. It Helps Prevent Injury
Having stronger joints and connective tissue can also help you avoid injury. Connective tissue problems like ligament and tendon tears, dislocated joints, and muscle sprains and strains are among the most common sports injuries, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. So boosting joint health via collagen supplements could help minimize your susceptibility for those aches and pains, says Cassetty.
3. It Could Boost Muscle Mass
Collagen is an essential ingredient for keeping your muscles working at their best, adds Cassetty. And research suggests that giving your body that extra dose of the protein could help you gain more muscle mass and strength than you would otherwise, particularly once you start losing muscle as you age, according to a 2015 study in The British Journal of Nutrition. So while it isn’t a magical muscle-builder, collagen can support tissue health as you get older to help keep your muscles in tip-top shape for workouts in years to come.
4. It Could Prevent Bone Loss
The same goes for your bones, says Robertson. Collagen is, you guessed it, a major building block within your bone structure: It helps keep your skeleton strong and sturdy. Like other tissues in your body, bone density decreases as you age in part due to less collagen production. Taking a collagen supplement might mitigate some of this deterioration and prevent bone and joint diseases like osteoporosis, according to a 2000 study in the journal Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism.
While it won’t save you from exercise-induced issues like fractures, taking a collagen supplement could help protect your bones from all those hours you put in at the gym.
Should You Take Collagen For Your Workouts?
While collagen is generally considered safe for anyone to try, Cassetty recommends checking in with your doctor before taking it if you’re pregnant or nursing. And if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, know that many collagen products come from animals, so opt for a veg-friendly supplement if you’re plant-based.
If you’d like to work collagen into your fitness food repertoire, there are tons of options out there, says Cassetty. Try powder, gummy, or tablet supplements, or get it the old-fashioned way by consuming collagen-rich snacks like bone broth, fish with the skin on, and eggs. She recommends taking your supplement within an hour of finishing your workout to get the most out of your dose.
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Rhiona Robertson, naturopath and nutritionist at The Beauty Chef supplement brand