If you’re looking for collagen to boost your workout or lead to faster fat loss, don’t believe the hype. Collagen will work just as well as any other protein -- but you’ll pay a lot more for it (without any added benefit) and need to take more because collagen has a weaker amino acid profile. But, if you’re hoping for healthier skin, joint health benefits, and potentially some help fighting inflammation, then the right collagen product could be exactly what you need.
Collagen protein has many lofty health claims. If you look at some of the most popular collagen supplements, they’ll suggest that just two tablespoons can do everything from improving your workout performance to strengthening your muscles, lubricating your joints, to even improving your gut health.
But if you're going to sometimes pay more than twice the cost of most protein powders (and let's be honest, collagen is still just protein), it's a good idea to make sure you're getting your money's worth.
While a powdered (or pill version) of collagen might be the product you’re looking for, you’ll want to scan the label before you make your purchase.
What is Collagen?
Let's start with the good stuff: Collage is definitely important. Protein is essential to your body. It's why supplementing with a Plant or Whey Protein has become so important -- it's not just about building muscle or losing fat. Protein is tied to your longevity because it's a structural component of every cell in your body.
Collagen is a protein that helps make up the connective tissues in your body. It's important to your skin, hair, joints, bones, muscles, veins, and organs.
Your body produces collagen and you can get it supplementally. And that's where the importance of collagen comes to life: as you age, your body starts to produce less.
And it's crazy to think how early the process begins. Just as muscle building starts to naturally slow down around the age of 30, the same can be said for collagen.
And just like building muscle, a supplement can help, but finding the right supplement makes a big difference.
For starters, a protein powder alone is a better base because it provides all of the amino acids your body needs. When you have all of the amino acids, your body can then allocate them as needed. Get enough amino acids from your diet (or protein powders), and your body will take care of the rest.
On paper, just taking collagen should be a more direct approach. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple.
That's because the stomach acids in your body are not kind to most collagen formulas.
Before you buy a product, here’s a quick breakdown of what we know drinking collagen will do for your body.
Collagen and Your Skin
Most evidence on oral collagen supplementation shows that it can improve skin complexion and reduce so-called "imperfections."
Research suggests you can expect the following benefits:
- Increased skin hydration
- Fewer cracks and dry skin
- Fewer lines
- Reduces the appearance of cellulite in women.
While more research is needed, the skin benefits appear the most likely to hold the test of time because the collagen in protein is similar in structure to the collagen in your skin. And that's the exact reason why some other claims are a little more concerning.
Collagen and Joint Health
On paper, collagen should be great for your joints. But, the jury is still out because the type of collagen in your joints is very specific. In particular, type-II collagen is what you need to see a difference because that's the exact collagen found in your joints.
If you can find undenatured type-II collagen (often labeled UC-II), then you might find benefits such as less pain and swelling.
The problem? Most collagen sold is hydrolyzed collagen, which is not the same thing as UC-II. And it's a big difference. You see, hydrolyzed collagen is perfectly healthy, but it's not a good fit for your digestive process. Hydrolyzed collagen is broken down by your stomach acids and many believe it can't survive to help your joints. The UC-II has a different structure, which makes it more likely to be put to better use by your body.
But type-II collagen has a different chemical structure, meaning it can slip through the back door of the digestive process, maintain its chemical properties, and still offer you benefits.
Collagen and Fat Loss
You won’t find much about collagen improving your workout or helping with fat loss (or muscle gain, for that matter). If you're looking to support your fat loss goals, taking a high-quality protein powder will still be more effective because of many of the reasons listed above (more amino acids, bioavailability, and it's broken down better in your stomach).
But here's the best reason: remember how you pay twice as much for collagen? Well, that's only half of the story. You not only pay more but you also need to take more collagen than other forms of protein because it’s an incomplete protein (it doesn’t have the amino acid tryptophan). And since most collagen products have smaller servings sizes of protein (about 10 grams compared to 20 grams in the usual whey product), there’s a more economical -- and more effective -- protein solution.
What To Look For In Collagen?
To ensure that any supplements you take -- collagen or otherwise -- contain what they actually say they do (and nothing else), your best bet is to choose a tub that has been third-party tested by a company such as NSF International and, more specifically, NSF Certified for Sport.
Also, it's best to look out for UC-II supplements, as those are most likely to be handled and processed by your stomach so you can see the benefits of the products you take.