A couple weeks ago, I answered 20 of your burning questions about collagen. Today I’m back for part two of this series with 20 MORE questions.
Before starting, let me make a general disclaimer so I don’t have to sound like a broken record: To offer an optimal supplementation strategy with any confidence, you need a fairly substantial body of evidence to draw upon. While collagen is a hot topic, there really isn’t a ton of research on collagen supplementation yet, particularly not studies done in humans. That’s not to say we’re shooting blind here. We know that collagen used to be abundant in the human diet, and we need collagen to balance out the methionine we get from meat. Plus, there is a growing (but not yet extensive) literature on collagen supplementation, as well as a fair number of studies aimed at understanding the effects of specific amino acids—glycine in particular—that are found in collagen.
All this is to say, while I can provide my educated opinion about best practices, some of the nitty-gritty questions you submitted require data we simply don’t have yet. I’m hopeful that it’s forthcoming. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been able to glean from the available science.
Of all the topics I write about, collagen garners perhaps the most questions. Not that I’m complaining. I’m happy to wax on about the benefits of collagen all day long. I’ve said before that I consider collagen the fourth macronutrient, and it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. The more people who get turned on to it the better, as far as I’m concerned.
Collagen used to be abundant in the human diet, back in the days before we decided that gnawing on bones, eating the stringy bits, and boiling down the skin was “icky.” We lost a significant source of critical amino acids when we started eating the lean muscle and discarding the rest, and we’re less hearty as a species because of it. And yes, my company produces a line of collagen products, but that’s not why I harp on it so much. The opposite, actually. I started making collagen supplements because I think collagen should be on everyone’s radar, not the other way around. Frankly, I don’t even consider collagen “supplemental.” It’s food.
Today I’m rapid-fire tackling twenty questions that have come in recently. A bunch more remain in the queue, so I’m already planning a follow-up post. If there’s something else you’d like me to cover, leave your question in the comments section below.
If you’ve been a part of the Primal, keto, or clean-eating community for a while, you’re likely well aware of all the various reasons to add collagen into your daily routine. It contains glycine, it may improve your sleep and skin elasticity, and it might even been beneficial to healing joints and injuries.
Whether you take collagen to support your hair, skin, and nails or to aid in your post-workout recovery, supplementing your diet with collagen peptides is easy and effective.
We tend to associate supplement powders with adding a scoop or two into your blender to make a midday shake or early AM smoothie, but collagen peptides can mix into virtually anything. Taking collagen can become a culinary pursuit: this versatile supplement sneaks into coffee, baked goods, savory dishes, and so much more.
Here are 12 ways to use collagen that you may not have thought of yet.
When a person goes looking for information on “collagen” supplements, they often come out more confused than they went in. There are seemingly dozens of different varieties. There’s gelatin. There’s animal collagen. There’s marine collagen. Hydrolysate and peptides. And then there are all the “types” of collagen: type I, type II, type III, type IV, type V, and on down the line, each with unique properties and applications. Everyone seems to say something different. What are you supposed to believe? How does a person make sense of it all? What are differences between them? Let’s do that right now. Gelatin Gelatin is heat-treated collagenous animal tissue. Whether you’re a food manufacturer turning raw skin and bones into powdered gelatin for use in jello or a home cook slowly simmering beef knuckles in a pot on the stove to make rich bone broth that gelatinizes when cold, you are using heat to convert collagenous tissue into gelatin. Gelatin is partially soluble in water. While its chemical structure prevents it from dissolving in cold or room temperature water, it does dissolve in hot water. The health benefits of gelatin are equal to collagen. They have the same amino acid profile — lots of glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, alanine, lysine, and others. Inside the body, they’re all broken down into those same amino acids and utilized. Gelatin is fantastic to have in the kitchen. While you can’t just mix it into cold drinks or throw it in a smoothie like you can collagen hydrolysate, you can use it to thicken pan sauces, enrich store bought stock and broth, and make healthy jello treats or luxurious gelatinous desserts. Whenever I make a curry with coconut milk, as one of the final steps I whisk in a tablespoon or two of gelatin to thicken it up and give the curry that syrupy mouth feel. This is a game-changer, folks. Try it and you’ll see. This is also works in spaghetti sauce, soup, pretty much anything that includes liquid. Frying up a burger? Add some water to the pan, scrape up the fond (brown bits attached to the pan that are full of flavor), whisk in some gelatin, and reduce until it’s a thick sauce. Instantly download your Guide to a Healthy Gut Collagen Hydrolysate and Peptides Collagen hydrolysate and peptides both mix readily into hot and cold liquids, and they give your body what it needs to assemble its own collagen. Hydrolysis is the process, peptides are the end product. Collagen hydrolysate refers to the process of using enzymes to break the peptide bonds to produce collagen peptides. Animal Collagen All collagen you see is animal collagen because there is no collagen that comes from non-animal sources. Plants do not contain collagen. I’m sure some startup is hard at work on producing lab-grown collagen, which ironically might be far less problematic than lab-grown steaks, but it isn’t available for purchase yet. It’s all animals. What most people mean by “animal collagen” is land animal collagen—by far … Continue reading “What are the Five Different Types of Collagen? How to Choose the Best One for You”
Great news: If you’re already using collagen peptides for your hair, skin, and nails, you’re likely getting a bunch of other whole-body benefits.
Clearly we humans are meant to consume a good amount of collagen. Our ancestors ate nose-to-tail, consuming skin and connective tissue, and boiling down bones to make broth. Gelatin and collagen would have been abundant in the human diet. They provide amino acids needed for a dizzying array of metabolic functions. The amino acids also serve as blocks for collagen in the body.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, providing structure and support for the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems. Crucially, we need glycine from collagen to balance the lifespan-shortening effects of methionine in meat.
Today I’m going to highlight some potential benefits that have nothing to do with skin, nails, or hair. I’ll say up front that I’m firmly on the pro-collagen train. I’ve noticed great results personally from taking it. That said, I’m not trying to make wild claims about collagen as a miracle supplement. These are areas of research I’m watching with interest. I hope to see more studies that help us understand when, why, and how collagen is most useful.
For decades, the health community had written off collagen as a “useless” protein. It wasn’t essential, in that it contained no amino acids you couldn’t make yourself. It didn’t contribute directly to muscle protein synthesis, so the bodybuilders weren’t interested. In all my years running marathons and then competing in triathlon at an elite level, no one talked about collagen. It was completely ignored, especially after the rash of collagen-based “liquid diets” ended up with a lot of people dead or in the hospital.
But you know my bias is to look at things from the perspective of human evolution and ancestral environments. And there is a ton of collagen on your average land animal. Close to half the weight of a cow is “other stuff”—bones, skin, tendons, cartilage, and other collagenous material. Most meat eaters these days might be throwing that stuff away, if they even encounter it, but humans for hundreds of thousands of years ate every last bit of that animal. Even as recent as your grandmother’s generation, utilizing every last collagenous bit of an animal to make soups, stocks, and stews was standard practice. This was the evolutionary environment of the ancient meat-eating human: rich in collagen.
People do not pay much attention to how to strengthen tendons and ligaments, until they suffer a tendon injury. Only then do you realize that training your tendons is just as important as working on muscle strength and endurance.
Our bodies “expect” a lifetime of constant, varied movement. From a very early age, most humans throughout history were constantly active. They weren’t exercising or training, per se, but they were doing all the little movements all the time that prepare the body and prime the tendons to handle heavier, more intense loads and movements: bending and squatting and walking and twisting and climbing and playing and building. It was a mechanical world. The human body was a well-oiled machine, lubed and limber from daily use and well-prepared for occasional herculean efforts.
Mark’s said it before: He advocates for collagen to become the fourth macronutrient. Collagen supports collagen-based structures in the body, such as fascia, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, skin, nails, and hair, and most of us just don’t get enough of it from meat, dairy, eggs, or plant proteins. Learn more about the important role glycine, the primary amino acid found in collagen protein, and check out our creative culinary ways to include more collagen in your diet.
Reasons to Include Collagen in Your Diet
Most people regard amino acids in one of two ways: essential, meaning our bodies can’t synthesize them, or inessential, meaning our bodies can. There’s also a third category of amino acids: conditionally essential, which become essential in times of illness and heightened stress. One such conditionally essential amino acid is glycine.
People don’t talk about oxtail stew these days, but it’s a true Primal-worthy classic. With an arguably richer taste than beef and more succulent feel when cooked for stew or soup, oxtail might just become a new favorite. But the real difference (and reason behind the appealing stewed texture) is the ample connective tissue—an incredible source of collagen for the benefit of skin, hair, joint health, performance and more. (Since we used bone broth here in lieu of water or regular stock, this recipe is one of the best you can make for collagen content.) You’ll enjoy warming up with this gelatinous, flavorful and hearty dish on a late winter night. And you might consider making an extra batch: it tastes even better the next day.
I’ll start with the bad news: There are no vegetarian collagen sources. Every collagen supplement you see on the shelf came from a living organism. Though somewhere down the line someone will probably grow legitimate collagen in a lab setting, it’s not available today or for the foreseeable future.
Now, some good news: Vegans and vegetarians probably need less dietary collagen than the average meat eater or Primal eater because a major reason omnivores need collagen is to balance out all the muscle meat we eat. When we metabolize methionine, an amino acid found abundantly in muscle meat, we burn through glycine, an amino acid found abundantly in collagen. If you’re not eating muscle meat, you don’t need as much glycine to balance out your diet, but it’s still a dietary necessity.