Is collagen for runners effective, and should any runner be taking it? Let’s break down what collagen is and what the science says to come to our conclusion!
Most athletes, especially runners, have heard of collagen or seen supplements advertised. Some people swear by it, and others claim that it’s completely unnecessary. If you’ve done any research at all, I’d bet that you’ve heard both sides of the debate.
So, what is collagen? What does it do? Could supplementing with collagen help your health or performance?
What is Collagen?
Collagen is one of the most abundant proteins in the body, making up about 30% of total body protein. Collagen is found in organs, soft tissue, and joints.
It is unique from other proteins in the body because it’s both durable and flexible.
There are at least 12 types of collagen, but supplements are normally made of types I, II, or III. Types I and III reinforce the structure of skin, connective tissue, bones, and blood vessels, and type II promotes shock absorption in joint cartilage.
The body produces collagen on its own from certain amino acids, specifically proline, hydroxyproline, and glycine. Certain micronutrients, like vitamin C and copper, also encourage collagen production and aid in absorption.
When accompanied by proper nutrition, physical activity increases collagen synthesis threefold, but on the other hand, physical activity can result in the loss of collagen and increased brittleness of tissue as well.
Collagen for Runners
Collagen and running may prove to be beneficial. While all runners don’t NEED to supplement with collagen, collagen supplementation won’t hurt.
If you’re eating foods rich in the amino acids that support collagen synthesis (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and soy products) in conjunction with vitamin C (citrus, bell peppers, strawberries, and legumes), a supplement might not offer you any additional benefits. Many leucine-rich foods are also rich in collagen.
However, if you’re injured and feel like you’re experiencing more pain or slower healing than you’d like to see, you might consider a collagen supplement.
Similarly, if your joints, tendons, or ligaments are under increased stress, such as while training for a marathon or ultramarathon, a collagen supplement might improve your recovery and decrease your risk of injury.
Collagen Benefits for Athletes and Runners
The most common reasons that runners choose to supplement with collagen are osteoarthritis or the incidence of a tendon or ligament injury—and for good reason.
Research shows that collagen supplementation decreases post-workout pain from osteoarthritis and strengthens tendons, ligaments, and joints to improve range of motion and flexibility.
In addition to improving the quality of healing for runners and athletes, collagen may increase the rate of healing, which reduces recovery time.
Unrelated to healing, supplementing with collagen may help prevent injury by promoting strong and flexible tissue. Collagen-rich tissue is more prepared to absorb the impact of unpredictable movements and heavy forces than brittle tissue.
Also, collagen supplementation may help increase bone mineral density in postmenopausal women.
The Best Collagen for Athletes
If you do choose to add a collagen supplement to your regimen, choose one that is NSF Certified or Certified for Sport. The best collagen for runners will be a hydrolyzed or peptide version, as your body will absorb this form more efficiently.
If possible, choose a collagen supplement that contains vitamin C and possibly copper in order to promote absorption and further synthesis in the body.
More specifically, studies show that 5-15 g collagen taken alongside 500 mg vitamin C about one hour before physical activity is most effective for joint and tissue support. Considering collagen and vitamin C are the active ingredients, try to choose a supplement with minimal additives.
Here are some of the best collagen options for athletes:
Collagen and Running: Can it Improve Strength and Speed?
In summary, as we’ve covered, while collagen can be helpful to decrease pain from osteoarthritis or increase the rate of healing, it is not meant to build muscle, speed or intensity.
A healthy athlete’s body likely produces sufficient collagen on its own. Most runners do not need to supplement collagen, unless they are experiencing signs and symptoms of defective joints or connective tissue.
Additionally, if you’re looking for a supplement to accelerate muscle repair and growth, collagen would not be the first choice. Collagen is geared towards supporting structural elements in the body, so a complete protein—such as whey or a plant-based protein powder—might be a better option.
Lastly, collagen supplements are relatively new to the fitness industry and still call for more research on dosing, production, and composition. However, no adverse side effects have been reported.
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Lugo, J.P. Letter to the editor UC-II® Undenatured type II collagen: update to analytical methods. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 16, 29 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-019-0298-3
Shaw G, Lee-Barthel A, Ross ML, Wang B, Baar K. Vitamin C-enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Jan;105(1):136-143. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.138594. Epub 2016 Nov 16. PMID: 27852613; PMCID: PMC5183725.