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Collagen Myth Busters

Collagen Myths

In this blog we are going to dissect some of the most common Collagen myths that we hear out in the marketplace.  If you make it to the end we also link one of our most recent podcast episodes where we discuss each myth in more detail.

Most of us gym-goers and exercising humans consume some kind of protein powder. We either eat it as a meal replacement or as an after work-out snack. It is also consumed in a smoothie with your favourite fruit. It is probably the most consumed sports supplement out there and it comes in all shapes and sizes.

There are also many types of protein powders out there these days. In my day, there was one…whey protein. If you liked it great and if you didn’t or, you reacted to dairy, tough. You still ate it/drank it because you wanted to look like Arnie and impress the girls at the beach. Then there was casein protein, which is a slow-release protein and often consumed in the evening. Nowadays there are more protein types than there are exercise machines in your local gym.

One of the new kids or most popular on the block is collagen protein and the sales are growing. So, what is collagen protein? I thought collagen was stuff in my body (hint: it is!)? and how does it compare or more importantly, what are some of the myths surrounding collagen protein? We will explore some of those myths below.

Myth 1. The only thing you need to worry about is what amino acids are in the protein.

When I went to University 30+ years ago (true, I am that old), we were told in organic chemistry that protein was simply broken down to amino acids, and then the body used it. We now know this not to be true. Here is some science on the topic. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial was employed to see whether supplementing with 15g of collagen (BODYBALANCE collagen) improved the body composition when compared to a placebo. Both groups performed the same resistance exercises and their macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein levels) were also tracked. The conclusion was that the group that consumed the collagen protein ended up with more muscle and greater strength.

I hear you saying that of course, this occurred because the placebo is ‘nothing’ however, the researchers measured the protein levels in the placebo group so the placebo ended up consuming more protein than the collagen group (1.66 g/kg/day in the collagen group and 1.86 g/kg/day in the placebo group)[1]. So if it just came down to the amino acids, surely the group eating more protein given the same exercise would put on more muscle, indicating there are other factors involved.

Myth 2. Collagen is lower in Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) so it can’t stimulate as much muscle growth.

Like most myths, there is an element of truth to this, but the previous myth should give you an indication that there is more going on here and collagen does somehow stimulate the muscle. Muscle growth is indeed stimulated by the BCAAs via the activation of the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1)[2]. The only problem is that excessive BCAAs may lead to insulin resistance. Don’t get me wrong, they are essential amino acids, but overstimulation of this pathway leads to insulin resistance[3], which starves the muscle of nutrition, stunting muscle growth[4]. The great news is that collagen upregulates several pathways to boost muscle mass, independent of mTORC1[5].

Myth 3. Collagen isn’t a Complete Protein.

Well, this myth is true because collagen doesn’t contain tryptophan[6] and tryptophan is an essential amino acid. My response to this is so what? Unless you plan on consuming nothing but collagen forever, you will get tryptophan out of the other foods you consume like fish, meat, eggs, or chicken etc.

Myth 4. There is nothing special about Collagen so there is no need to consume it.

This one is truly false. There is an amino acid in collagen that isn’t found in the standard Western diet, which is a clever amino acid called hydroxyproline[7]. If you consume proline in your diet then in most cases, you will make enough hydroxyproline because it is a non-essential amino acid. However; some people for various reasons don’t make enough of this stuff and there is heaps of it in collagen protein (there is none in whey protein).

Hydroxyproline plays an essential role in collagen synthesis in the body and thermodynamic stability of the triple-helical conformation of collagen and associated tissues[8]. Some people with poor wound healing for example have lowered levels of hydroxyproline in their blood[9]. This is why Vitamin C is often thought to help with wound healing because it helps to make hydroxyproline in the body. Remember Captain Cook (1770)? Ok, I am not that old either but his sailors lacked vitamin C, which caused a deficiency in hydroxyproline, which then caused the symptoms of scurvy[10].

Myth 5. Consuming Collagen doesn’t help your Skin.

This is a crazy statement given the science on the topic. The best type of collagen for improving skin health is a type of collagen peptide called VERISOL. This can be sourced from bovine, fish, or pig collagen, and studies have found it benefits the skin matrix and reduces wrinkles[11].

The Take-Home Message

Collagen is great stuff. The evidence suggests that getting a 15g serve of Bodybalance Collagen protein daily if you want to put on muscle. I don’t recommend you substitute meals with a protein drink because you focus on optimum health, you should be consuming real foods. And as for the other proteins, they are fine. Some can be nasty on your digestion, but they can still be used.

Remember, don’t dismiss collagen as an option because it is not complete or doesn’t have enough BCAAs or for any of the before-mentioned myths.  For more information and for more myth busters including ‘Should Vitamin C be supplemented with a collagen powder’ checkout out our podcast on the topic below.

 

References:

[1] Oertzen-Hagemann V, Kirmse M, Eggers B, et al. Effects of 12 Weeks of Hypertrophy Resistance Exercise Training Combined with Collagen Peptide Supplementation on the Skeletal Muscle Proteome in Recreationally Active Men. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1072. Published 2019 May 14. doi:10.3390/nu11051072

[2] Blomstrand E, Eliasson J, Karlsson HK, Köhnke R. Branched-chain amino acids activate key enzymes in protein synthesis after physical exercise. J Nutr. 2006 Jan;136(1 Suppl):269S-73S. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.1.269S. PMID: 16365096.

[3] Yoon MS. The Emerging Role of Branched-Chain Amino Acids in Insulin Resistance and Metabolism. Nutrients. 2016;8(7):405. Published 2016 Jul 1. doi:10.3390/nu8070405

[4] Ostler JE, Maurya SK, Dials J, Roof SR, Devor ST, Ziolo MT, Periasamy M. Effects of insulin resistance on skeletal muscle growth and exercise capacity in type 2 diabetic mouse models. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Mar;306(6):E592-605. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.00277.2013. Epub 2014 Jan 14. PMID: 24425761; PMCID: PMC3948983.

[5] Oertzen-Hagemann V, Kirmse M, Eggers B, et al. Effects of 12 Weeks of Hypertrophy Resistance Exercise Training Combined with Collagen Peptide Supplementation on the Skeletal Muscle Proteome in Recreationally Active Men. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1072. Published 2019 May 14. doi:10.3390/nu11051072

[6] Paul C, Leser S, Oesser S. Significant Amounts of Functional Collagen Peptides Can Be Incorporated in the Diet While Maintaining Indispensable Amino Acid Balance. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1079. Published 2019 May 15. doi:10.3390/nu11051079

[7] Paul C, Leser S, Oesser S. Significant Amounts of Functional Collagen Peptides Can Be Incorporated in the Diet While Maintaining Indispensable Amino Acid Balance. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1079. Published 2019 May 15. doi:10.3390/nu11051079

[8] Srivastava AK, Khare P, Nagar HK, Raghuwanshi N, Srivastava R. Hydroxyproline: A Potential Biochemical Marker and Its Role in the Pathogenesis of Different Diseases. Curr Protein Pept Sci. 2016;17(6):596-602. doi: 10.2174/1389203717666151201192247. PMID: 26916157.

[9] Srivastava AK, Khare P, Nagar HK, Raghuwanshi N, Srivastava R. Hydroxyproline: A Potential Biochemical Marker and Its Role in the Pathogenesis of Different Diseases. Curr Protein Pept Sci. 2016;17(6):596-602. doi: 10.2174/1389203717666151201192247. PMID: 26916157.

[10] Peterkofsky B. Ascorbate requirement for hydroxylation and secretion of procollagen: relationship to inhibition of collagen synthesis in scurvy. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991 Dec;54(6 Suppl):1135S-1140S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/54.6.1135s. PMID: 1720597.

[11] Proksch E, Schunck M, Zague V, Segger D, Degwert J, Oesser S. Oral intake of specific bioactive collagen peptides reduces skin wrinkles and increases dermal matrix synthesis. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(3):113-9. doi: 10.1159/000355523. Epub 2013 Dec 24. PMID: 24401291.