Collagen is being added to everything from protein bars to coffee creamer, and with good reason. It can help you build strength, burn fat, and beat stress. Here’s the best way to tap into its powers.
TEXT MIREL KETCHIFF PHOTO TED CAVANAUGH STYLING SARAH CAVE/EH MANAGEMENT
Collagen is taking the wellness world by storm. Once seen strictly as a skin plumper and smoother, it may have a whole range of health and fitness benefits, new research shows.
For one, collagen seems to improve joint health. Athletes with exercise related joint pain, who took 10g of collagen daily had a reduction of their symptoms, a Pennsylvania State University study found.
The protein, found naturally in your skin, tendons, cartilage, and connective tissue, may also help make you stronger and calmer. “Collagen contains the amino acids glycine and arginine, which help the production of creatine, a substance that enhances muscle strength,” says Dr Mark Moyad, author of The Supplement Handbook: A Trusted Expert’s Guide to What Works & What’s Worthless for More Than 100 Conditions.
Glycine appears to have a calming effect on the nervous system, which can improve sleep, Dr Moyad says. And it blunts the body’s inflammatory response to stress, protecting the stomach lining from anxietyinduced damage.
Since production of collagen slows in your 30s, bumping up your levels could be a smart move. But where you get it and how much you take are important. Try this four-point plan to determine the best sources and amounts for you.
ADD THESE TO YOUR MENU
“The best source of collagen is from whole foods,” says McKel Hill, dietitian and founder of Nutrition Stripped (@nutritionstripped). If you’re eating a high-protein diet, you should be getting collagen, she says. All meat and fi sh have it, but the things we rarely eat, like the tendons, offer the most. So if you’re trying to boost your levels, Dr Moyad suggests bone broth, made by boiling those collagen-rich parts. Egg whites and gelatin (as Jell-O or mixed with milk and stirred into coffee) are good options, too.
If you don’t eat meat, opt for plant sources of proline and glycine, two of the main amino acids in collagen, Dr Moyad says. You can get them in legumes like soya beans and spirulina, an edible blue-green algae that can be added to smoothies, as well as agar-agar, a substance derived from marine red algae that can replace gelatin in vegan desserts, he says.
KNOW THE KEY PLAYERS
Certain nutrients can kick-start the body’s production of natural collagen and maximise the effects of the collagen you get from foods or supplements. Dr Moyad calls out three vital factors: vitamin C and iron, which are both essential for collagen production, and omega-3 fatty acids, which protect the body’s collagen stores from damage.
You can easily get them from foods like bell peppers, broccoli, and citrus fruits (vitamin C), as well as shellfi sh, red meat, and dark leafy greens (iron), and salmon, mackerel, and other oily fi sh (omega-3s).
TURN TO SUPPLEMENTS
If you don’t eat much (or any) meat, you may want to consider collagen powder or pills if you’re aiming for a higher dosage, Dr Moyad says. Look for a supplement that’s approved for sale by the Health Science Authority (HSA). Start adding it to your diet slowly: First, take 1,000mg for two to three weeks. If you notice perks – your joints feel better or you fall asleep faster – stick to that dosage. But if you don’t see any effects, go ahead and increase your intake in increments of 1,000mg until you get results or hit 15,000mg, whichever comes first, Dr Moyad says.
TIME IT RIGHT
If you’re using collagen to step up your workout performance, consume it within an hour after exercise, just as you would with any other protein. People who did so improved their muscle strength and mass, according to research published in the British Journal of Nutrition. That timing appears to be critical because your muscles may be able to use collagen better to grow immediately after a workout, study author Denise Zdzieblik says.
On the other hand, if busting hunger is your goal, take satiating collagen in the morning or afternoon, depending on when you tend to get hungriest, Dr Moyad says. Supplementing your breakfast or lunch with a dose of collagen (it’s tasteless, so stir it into a smoothie or even water) will help take the edge off cravings.
EASY BOOSTERS FOR A QUICK DOSE OF COLLAGEN
PRIMAL KITCHEN COLLAGEN PROTEIN BARS
With flavours like coconut cashew and macadamia sea salt, plus 15g of protein, these are smart between-meal choices. Available on sg.iherb.com.
VITAL PROTEINS COLLAGEN CREAMER
Stir a spoonful of coconut, vanilla, or gingerbread creamer – which contains 10g of collagen – into your morning coffee. Available on sg.iherb.com.