So what’s all the fuss about collagen?
You’ve probably heard of it, but have no idea of the benefits it can provide. Could collagen be the missing link in your health and fitness regime?
BY MATT LEGGE
Collagen is an excellent source of protein that has unique benefits over other proteins as it can directly support (food and hydrolysed collagen) or stimulate growth and repair (collagen bioactive peptides) of collagen. It is the main component of the connective tissue in our bodies.
Connective tissue holds our tissues together, providing structural meshwork or scaffolding to house and hold our muscles, bones, ligaments, and membranes together. Collagen adds strength and integrity to our body tissues.
Collagen makes up
- 85% of your tendons
- 70% of ligament tissue
- 70% of cartilage
- 30% of your whole body’s protein
- 25% of the weight of your bones
- 10% of your skeletal muscle (and 30% of your muscle strength and power is generated by this muscle collagen)
* Women will make and destroy totally new collagen on a monthly basis as part of the menstrual cycle to build and shed endometrium.
Where do I get it?
There are many ways to increase your collagen intake. They are all so very different, so it is important to understand the different supplement products and dietary sources of collagen and how they are digested and absorbed.
Collagen has a unique amino acid profile compared to other sources of protein. It is a rich source of hydroxyproline, which is an essential building block for collagen and connective tissue and is only found in collagen.
There are no known vegan or vegetarian sources of this amino acid. If not sourced directly from collagen, it must be made in the body from proline. This is one of the unique features of collagen over other protein sources.
It is also an excellent source of arginine and glycine in particular. Arginine opens up the blood vessels in the muscle and aids recovery and regeneration of muscle.
Glycine works with arginine for regenerating energy levels and fuelling exercise. Glycine also works with the hydroxyproline for connective tissue synthesis. Glycine is the simplest amino acid building block/precursor for several pathways involved in antioxidant defence systems, glycogen replenishment, and neurotransmitter function.
However, compared to other proteins, collagen is lacking in the main amino acids associated with building muscle and burning fat (that is, BCAAs, leucine, isoleucine, and valine). For this reason, hydrolysed collagen as a source of amino acids is inferior to whey and many plant-based proteins due to the lack of these particular amino acids.
Hydrolysing collagen all the way to purify the protein as amino acids provides a product that can be greater than 99 per cent amino acids and no carbohydrate or fats. But the amino acid profile by itself leaves a lot to be desired, and although it contains the unique amino acids for collagen, it does not have the necessary amino acids to make it as effective as whey for supporting muscle growth and recovery.
What foods are good sources of collagen?
Connective tissue from animal meats is the best source of collagen. Offal, ligaments, tendons, tripe, tongue, skins, cartilage, chicken sternum and carcass, bone broths and meats will all contain collagen.
This will be digested and broken down to supply amino acids as a source of protein and will then be added to your pool of amino acids to be used as your body chooses. While this won’t necessarily stimulate collagen in your body, it will make sure the necessary amino acids for collagen renewal are available.
What about vegans?
As noted earlier, there are no vegan and vegetarian sources of collagen. Instead, look for mucopolysaccharide plants high in proline and your body can make the hydroxyproline. Grazing animals get a lot of their dietary proline and cofactors for collagen from insects they consume as they graze.
In fact, animals that do not eat enough insects commonly suffer from arthritis and connective tissue weaknesses. So the vegan diet may need extra support for connective tissue cofactors.
Another great feature of collagen is the ability to custom-make peptides out of the protein chain. What does this mean?
Hydrolysing protein will digest it or process it all the way to single amino acids such as arginine or leucine. But it is possible to stop this process before it is broken all the way down and leave some amino acids joined together.
When amino acids are joined together, they are called peptides, which can be biologically active and can act like a drug or a poison. For example, gluten is a peptide found in wheat protein that is active and has bad effects. Glutathione is a peptide that is an antioxidant in our body that is good.
Why hydrolysed collagen peptides work
What makes collagen bioactive peptides different to other proteins is that the peptides have been made with a purpose in mind and designed to be delivered to the body and induce a response — for example, to stimulate muscle growth, increase fat-loss, increase bone or cartilage or skin.
Once these designer peptides enter the gut, no further digestion is needed and the full peptide is absorbed intact and is functional, meaning it acts like a drug or extract in its own right. The peptide is then broken down inside your body, and the amino acids that it is made of are liberated, so they are available as building blocks to do the required job.
It is essential to know exactly what the particular collagen peptide is designed to do and select the peptide that is right for you. Each branded TM peptide has a particular function. Research the peptide to know what you are taking.
Other proteins (hydrolysed collagen, whey, soy, pea etc) are either processed into their amino acids or are susceptible to digestion and broken down into amino acids in the gut and absorbed. They do not have a specific role or function or activity in the body compared to other protein-rich foods.
This is the difference between supplying functional protein that forces change and supplying protein and aminos to make up your protein portion of your macros. The building blocks may or may not be used and just add to the pool to be picked up and used as part of normal processes.
The bioactive peptides from collagen have very high levels of bioavailable arginine. As the collagen peptides are absorbed intact and the amino acids are liberated in the periphery, arginine can bypass the issues with poor oral absorption of L-arginine from the gut and deliver it directly to the muscle tissue.
Hydrolysed collagen and collagen peptides are alkalising.
The potential renal acid load (PRAL) rating for one 20 gram serve of collagen (-1.5 PRAL) is better than 100 grams of fresh green broccoli (-1.2 PRAL), which sits at a negative value for acid load, meaning it is actually alkalising in our bodies.
20 grams of whey (+14.7 PRAL) and casein (+4.2 PRAL) or 100 grams of egg white (+29 PRAL), on the other hand, are very acidifying in our bodies.
Cosmetic purposes of collagen
Seventy per cent of the dermis is collagen. The dermis is the puffy, plump, spongey, elastic layer of your skin that hides the creases and wrinkles of life and the peaks and troughs known as orange peel skin of cellulite. Collagen can help to restore this layer to reduce the signs of ageing and cellulite and to plump lips and fill cheeks.
Collagen cannot cross the skin and your skin cannot digest the collagen to make it small enough to be absorbed. Pre-digested or hydrolysed collagen that is broken down into amino acids is no longer collagen but is a source of amino acids that do not pass the skin to create dermal collagen. New technology with the peptides may lead to some exciting discoveries in the future, so watch this space.