What’s The Deal With Collagen?

Have you heard about the new miracle supplement called collagen?

I’ve heard it’s good for pretty much everything! It’s so miraculous that it’s being placed in everything from protein bars, oatmeal, pancakes, and even skin creams.

If you are like me, whenever you see a supplement all of a sudden show up in everything you buy it causes me to pause and wonder why? In my experience, when the hype is high, the benefits tend to be overblown.

But before we go down the rabbit hole of all the benefits of collagen let’s talk about what collagen is so we can help frame the discussion around its benefits and potential uses.

At a high level collagen is a protein and just like all proteins, it is made up of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of the tissues that make up our body. Some amino acids our body can make on its own, while others we need to get from our diet. When we eat muscle meat from animals and certain types of plants we get protein containing the amino acids that are useful for building and maintaining our muscle.

Collagen contains a different set of amino acids than what is found in muscle meat and some plant protein sources. Collagen is a special type of protein that makes up the hair, skin, nails, and connective tissue of animals, so when we consume collagen protein it contains the amino acids that help build and maintain those parts of our body.

While some people still struggle to eat adequate protein from muscle meat and plants, many many more people eat little to no collagen protein


We just don’t eat the parts of the animal that contain collagen in high amounts. At best some people might eat some chicken on the bone or with the skin on but since these parts of the animal are also higher in saturated fats and saturated fat has been demonized by mainstream media and practitioners, many people also tend to avoid these parts of the animal as well. Lots of times if they do get served a piece of chicken with the skin on they remove the skin before eating it. When the meat comes on the bone, they very rarely knaw on the parts of the bone that contain the collagen. As a result we are left with a diet that is pretty much devoid of collagen.

If you are a vegan or vegetarian and are not eating animal products the chances are even greater that your diet is devoid of collagen because there are no plant based sources. It appears that one company has found a way to synthesize collagen from yeast, but I have yet to see any end user products being sold using this technology.

Now that we have a better idea of what collagen is and where it comes from, let’s now look at what benefits we can get by consuming collagen.

When most people think of what collagen is good for they first think of the benefits for hair, skin, and nails. One meta-analysis showed that supplementing with collagen for 90 days showed improvement in skin aging, as it reduces wrinkles and improves skin elasticity and hydration [1]. Researchers propose that this may be due to collagen supplementation providing the precursors to our own collagen synthesis and production and can stimulate skin turnover [2].

The next benefit of collagen people think of is joint health. Much like our skin, the connective tissues in our joints are made up of collagen as well. The traditional suggestion on dealing with pain in joints, known as osteoarthritis, is to take something to suppress the pain, like an NSAID, or to avoid moving the joint in a way that causes pain. Neither of these are good long term solutions. A meta analysis done on people with osteoarthritis showed that supplementation with collagen showed significant improvements in osteoarthritis symptoms. Another study done on college athletes showed that 24 weeks of collagen supplementation reduced joint pain [3].

What about collagen and body composition? We know we need adequate protein intake (and a form of resistance training) to build muscle and change our body composition so collagen should work too right?

Not exactly.

Yes, collagen is a protein, but the amino acids in collagen are different from what we find in something like whey or casein protein supplements, or in muscle meat. The main difference is that collagen lacks the amino acid tryptophan making it an incomplete protein. In addition it has smaller amounts of leucine, which is responsible for sending the signal to build muscle.


As a result of collagen’s’ amino acid profile, it is not the best protein if the goal is to add muscle mass.

Why then do we see studies showing gains in lean mass and loss of fat mass when supplementing in collagen[4]?

It’s likely due to some of the effects of collagen on your joints and pain in those joints.

If supplementing with collagen improves joint pain and integrity, you will likely be able to lift more weight more frequently. So it’s not the protein from collagen itself that is changing your body composition, it’s the fact that collagen allows you to lift heavier and more frequently that is causing the shift in body composition.

Another reason that collagen could help with body composition changes is that while it lacks tryptophan and leucine, it is very high in another amino acid glycine. One of the benefits of glycine is that it can improve sleep. Sleep is a huge component of making body composition changes. Getting the right amount of sleep has been shown to aid in recovery from training and also improve diet quality and adherence, both of which will play a big role in your body composition goals.

Again it’s not the collagen that is directly impacting body composition changes, instead its the downstream effects of adding collagen to your diet that is then improving other aspects of your life causing the body composition changes.

Now that we have a good amount of background information on what collagen is and what benefits you can get from it, the next question is whether you should add it to your diet and if so how much?

First off, as always, I think getting collagen in its natural form is going to be your cheapest and easiest way to consume it. That means consuming things like the skin, cartilage, and bones of animals. Perhaps the best way is to get chicken, turkey, or fish with the skin on and on the bone. Eat the skin, and try to eat some of the tough stuff at the end of the bones. Crispy salmon skin is AMAZING!!!

Another natural way to get collagen is to consume bone broth. You can stack the above suggestion on top of this one by buying a whole chicken and after you are done with it, take the carcass and throw it in the Instant Pot or slow cooker and make some bone broth with it. Use the bone broth as a cooking liquid, make soups with it, or just drink it as a nice warm comforting beverage. To kick up the collagen content of your bone broth you can add things like chicken feet and pigs feed to the broth.

You can also buy bone broth from the store. Perhaps the best bone broth brand I have tried is Bonafide Provisions.

While bone broth is nice and eating the skin and cartilage of animals is great it may not be for everyone so supplementation may be a better option for some. As I said, there is no shortage of collagen supplements out there today, so how do you know which one to pick? The thing I look for when buying a collagen supplement is where the collagen is coming from. I try to buy collagen supplements coming from grass fed/pasture raised/wild caught animals. The type of animal is not as important as the environment in which it was raised.

In addition you may notice that when looking at collagen supplements that there are different types of collagen. They are numbered and range from 1-5 (usually they are denoted using roman numerals). Most of the research however has been done on type 1 and type 3 collagen because those are the types of collagen that are found in hair, skin, ligaments, and tendons. Type 2 collagen is what makes up cartilage, so type 2 collagen is also starting to become popular. In general I think if you find a collagen supplement that contains an array of types of collagen that will be best for general health use cases. If you want to target a specific benefit then you might want to look at getting a supplement with that specific type.

The other advantage to using a supplement is that you can ensure a specific dosage of collagen. Much of the research has been done using anywhere from 3-60 grams of collagen. However, most of the studies that showed benefits when supplementing with collagen used between 10-20g of collagen so I would suggest you try to add at least 10g but can go as high as 20g.

In addition for the collagen supplementation to be maximally effective you need to have enough Vitamin C in your bloodstream [5]. If your supplement does not have Vitamin C in it, you can add it separately when taking your collagen supplement.

When supplementing with collagen it also appears to help if you take the supplement about an hour before some kind of exercise or movement. This is because tissues like tendons and ligaments have poor blood flow, and movement will help increase blood flow to these tissues. By having the collagen an hour before exercise it ensures that the collagen has time to make it into the bloodstream and the exercise or movement will help ensure it gets delivered to the tendons and ligaments [6].

Finally when it comes to collagen it appears that the supplemental form might be more effective than the collagen you find naturally in animals due to the supplement being hydrolyzed. The hydrolyzed collagen proteins make it easier for the proteins to make their way into the target tissue.

I know that was a lot to digest so here is a quick summary of what to look for when it comes to collagen

  • Eat foods containing collagen like meat, chicken, and fish on the bone and with the skin. You can also make or buy bone broth as another natural way to get collagen.
  • You can optionally take 10-20 grams of a collagen supplement
  • For general health look for a collagen supplement that contains multiple types of collagen
  • Make sure the collagen supplement also contains Vitamin C and if not add a Vitamin C supplement along side your collagen supplement
  • Ideally take your collagen supplement one hour before exercise or some kind of movement

Personally I use Anceient Nutritions Multi-Collagen Protein. I really enjoy the vanilla flavor but they have other flavors as well. It contains a wide variety of different types of collagen, comes from pasture raised animals, and contains Vitamin C. Since I generally workout in the early afternoon, I put it in my water in the water and drink it during the morning hours before I go and workout. As far as dosage goes, I just do 1 scoop which is about 10g of collagen but I also consume skin on, bone in meat and fish throughout the week, so I figure between the supplement and the foods I am doing pretty good on collagen intake.

I can’t pinpoint any specific benefits and tie them directly to collagen supplementation or intake, however I have not experienced any major soft tissue injuries in a few years and my hair, skin, and nails are all pretty healthy (at least in my opinion).

When it comes to collagen I think this is another situation where modern food consumption has eliminated an important nutrient from our diet. As we moved further away from being involved in the processing of our food, in this case animals, and became more and more privileged, we eliminated the habit of consuming the collagen containing portions of the animals. That in combination with unfair deamonization of the parts of the animals containing collagen, the skin, due to its fat content, put us in a serious collagen deficit. I think this is why people can report serious improvements in their health when they start supplementing with collagen.

Certainly including more ancestral eating patterns back into our lives will help add more collagen into our diet and get you many of the benefits. However, it also appears that supplementation may enhance the effectiveness of collagen, so this is a case where a combination of eating collagen containing foods and add in a small amount of collagen via supplementation can have an even greater effect.

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Bonus: Looking for a good podcast on the topic, check out this one from my buddy Dr. Mike T Nelson!

  1. (n.d.). Effects of hydrolyzed collagen supplementation on skin aging. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ijd.15518
  2. (n.d.). Collagen supplementation for skin health: A mechanistic systematic …. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jocd.13435
  3. (n.d.). 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary …. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18416885/
  4. (2021, September 7). The effects of collagen peptide supplementation on body …. Retrieved November 12, 2021, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00726-021-03072-x
  5. (2016, November 16). Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent …. Retrieved November 12, 2021, from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/105/1/136/4569849
  6. (2016, November 16). Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent …. Retrieved November 12, 2021, from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/105/1/136/4569849

2 thoughts on “What’s The Deal With Collagen?

  1. If the graph is anything to go by, appears I’d be better off supplementing with whey protein concentrate? Collagen was recommended as beneficial to those with osteporosis.

    1. Hi Deb, are you referring to the table comparing whey and collagen?

      Both can be useful, but it depends on what you are trying to do with them.

      There is some evidence on collagen helping with new bone formation but whey could be beneficial indirectly for that as well. Is your goal to improve osteoporosis?

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