Everywhere you look these days, health enthusiasts are dumping collagen protein into their coffee and smoothies, and for good reason. The benefits of collagen are numerous and impressive, and I highly support collagen supplements for most people looking to feel their best. In this article, I’ll give an overview of what collagen is, cover the benefits of collagen, and make recommendations for the best collagen supplements and how to use collagen.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, and is found in connective tissue, muscles, bones, skin, tendons, and throughout your digestive tract. It serves to hold various parts of the body together and gives skin and organs their elasticity and flexibility. Our body produces collagen on its own, but production tends to decrease with age, diets high in sugar, and exposure to chemicals, so supplementing with collagen is helpful for many people. It’s one of the 10 supplements I take and discuss in this post on top supplements.
Some people refer to “collagen protein,” “collagen peptides,” or “collagen powder,” which are all basically the same thing. I give a bit more information on the structure and distinction of collagen peptides (as well as the benefits) in this video.
Top 7 Benefits of Collagen
- Collagen supports gut health, especially in those with leaky gut. It helps seal the digestive tract and rebuild intestinal tissue that has been damaged. I work with clients every single week that are experiencing symptoms of leaky gut, which basically occurs when stress, chemical exposure, and food intolerances widen the gaps of the intestinal tract and allow food particles to pass through to the bloodstream. The food particles that aren’t supposed to be there cause an inflammatory response and creates a vicious cycle of digestive discomfort, low energy, and nutrient malabsorption. For these clients, a collagen supplement is an incredibly helpful part of the healing protocol. Even if you don’t have leaky gut, though, collagen can support overall gut health and help you absorb your nutrients from food more effectively. If you love your coffee in the morning, but feel a bit icky or acidic when you drink it on an empty stomach, adding collagen can reduce the acidity and side effects of coffee first thing in morning! See below for more suggestions on how to use it.
- Collagen supports youthful, radiant skin, restores skin’s elasticity, can reduce cellulite, and has an anti-aging effect. Who doesn’t want healthier, more beautiful skin? Adding collagen can help your skin look years younger and healthier!
- Collagen helps you grow strong nails and hair, and aids in reversing hair loss. This has been the second most noticeable benefit for me (the first is less bloating and icky feeling when drinking coffee on an empty stomach!). I have had weak, brittle nails for as long as I can remember, despite my overall great nutrition, but after having had collagen daily for about 6 months, I noticed strong nails for the first time in my life!
- Collagen helps reduce joint pain and deterioration: As it helps reduce inflammation, collagen can help with rheumatoid arthritis, and by increasing the fluidity of connective tissue and supporting cartilage, it can also help osteoarthritis, as well as general joint pain.
- Collagen supports muscle repair, recovery, and growth, as well as wound healing. If you’re working out regularly, but want to avoid traditional protein powders (often loaded with artificial preservatives, colorings, and sweeteners), collagen may be a great way to replenish your protein after a tough workout!
- Collagen can support heart health. Proline (an amino acid in collagen) helps control blood pressure and can be preventative for arteriosclerosis; arginine (another amino acid) helps with vasodilation and improves circulation
- Collagen enhances your clean protein intake. Those Americans who are taking in too much protein are often getting it from low-quality sources like processed red meat. But many of us are not taking in enough protein to support our activity levels and help us build lean muscle (which then burns fat). If you don’t want to add another chicken breast or protein shake to your day, collagen can be a great way to get in pure, clean protein.
How to use collagen
Hydrolyzed collagen (or collagen hydrolysate) has been processed to break down the amino acid chains into small units that are easy to absorb. In fact, up to 90% of hydrolyzed collagen is absorbed by your body, vs. about 27% of the collagen you ingest from food! The hydrolyzation process also makes it easier to use, so it won’t clump up in room temperature or hot liquids (note that if you buy “gelatin,” which is often confused with hydrolyzed collagen, it will get clumpy!). This makes it very easy to incorporate into your daily diet – you don’t have to drink anything separate to get in your collagen, just find something you’re already drinking and add it in.
Personally, I put a scoop into my coffee each morning (with Nutpods). Since I’m generally drinking coffee after I work out, but before I have breakfast, this helps the acidic coffee not impact my digestion, and provides some muscle-supportive protein to help my workout recovery. Note that while I do prefer coffee with collagen over plain coffee on an empty stomach, I still encourage you to drink at least 16 ounces of water before drinking coffee at all. This is easy for me to accomplish, since I’m working out well before my coffee.
If you’re not a coffee drinker or don’t want to add collagen to your coffee, try adding it to hot tea, soup, yogurt, oatmeal, chia pudding, or anything else with enough liquid to absorb a few tablespoons of collagen powder. If you want to add it to an icy cold beverage, add to a room temperature liquid, stir, and then add ice, to avoid clumping. Many people bake with collagen to add protein to standard baked goods, and while I think this is a step in the right direction, I worry that high heat could damage the protein structure, so I encourage you to consume most of your collagen outside of baked goods.
Bone broth is another way to get collagen into your diet. Bone broth is naturally rich in collagen, and has many health benefits, including immune support, gut healing, joint support, and delicious taste! Making your own bone broth is simple, but many stores are offering freshly made bone broth these days, too! It’s a great snack, can be a delicious soup base, can be used to add flavor to sautéed veggies, and can even be sipped as a tea!
Best collagen supplements
Because collagen is an animal product (coming from the hides, bones, and muscles of animals), I think it is important to get a good-quality product, preferably coming from grass-fed animals. Grass-fed collagen limits your exposure to the toxins, antibiotics, and chemicals that may be ingested with poorer quality animal products.
There are several types of collagen. Type 1 makes up 90% of the body’s supply of collagen, and is particularly supportive of tendons, ligaments, organs, skin, GI tract, and wound healing. Type 2 is most useful for supporting cartilage and reducing the impact of arthritis. Type 3 is good for organs, skin, and blood vessels. Types 1 and 3 come mostly from bovine (cow) sources, while Type 2 comes mostly from chickens. Ideally, we would get a mix of Types 1, 2, and 3, to get the most benefits from our collagen intake.
There are several great brands of collagen available today. I personally buy Sports Research collagen (a grass-fed source of Types 1, 2, and 3) because it is the cheapest high-quality product I have found. When I am traveling, I bring packets of the Great Lakes collagen. I have also used Dr. Axe Multi-Collagen Protein, which I think may be the best product on the market. It contains Types 1, 2, 3, 5, and 10, and comes from grass-fed bovine, chicken, fish, and egg sources … but it’s quite expensive. And finally, Vital Proteins and Naked Nutrition both do a fantastic job at marketing through health influencers, so you’ve likely seen them popping up in your Instagram feed. I think they’re great products – they’re simply more expensive than my two preferred options.
Here is a chart comparing the types and cost of each of the best brands of collagen:
In short, collagen protein has become popular for good reason – the benefits of collagen are great and it is easy to incorporate into your every day lifestyle. I highly encourage you to try it for 2-3 months, and I’m confident you’ll start experiencing the benefits of collagen for yourself!
Now it’s your turn … Have you tried collagen? What benefits of collagen have you experienced?