Everything You Need to Know About Collagen
Today's post is brought to you in partnership with Vital Proteins! We're talking about the difference between collagen peptides and gelatin, how it's sourced, how it's different from a traditional protein powder, the health benefits of collagen, and some ideas for incorporating the powerhouse supplement into your daily life.
What is collagen?
Just to make sure we're all on the same page, let's set the stage a bit. In the human body, there are 20 amino acids. Amino acids can be thought of as simple building blocks that can then be used to construct various sized chains, which we call proteins. The number of different proteins our 20 amino acids can make is EXTENSIVE, but today we're talking about just one: collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body, rolling in at around 30% of our total protein makeup. On the tiniest scale, collagen has a special triple-helical shape. These small pieces of collagen link up to form long fibrils that are essential to our body's connective tissues. Collagen is found (via different degrees of rigidity) in our ligaments, bones, teeth, skin, hair, cartilage, muscle tissue, and beyond! Collagen can be thought of like the frame that holds up and provides structure for an overnight camping tent. That frame can be firm or elastic, but those fibrils provide a great deal of structure for our tissues.
How is dietary collagen sourced?
Generally speaking, collagen is extracted from the hides and bones of animals. If you've ever whipped up a batch of homemade broth and then saw it turn to jelly in your refrigerator, the collagen proteins pulled from the tissues are to thank for the gel! While homemade broth is one example of dietary collagen, we actually have more options for the healthy protein available to us now. There are (essentially) two forms of collagen available in a dehydrated supplement form: hydrolyzed collagen (collagen peptides) and collagen protein (gelatin).
How are collagen peptides different from gelatin?
Though the two have the same spread of amino acids, you can think of collagen peptides as more broken-up than gelatin. As such, collagen peptides are (arguably) a little easier for the body to assimilate and leverage for hair, skin, nail, and other tissue growth/health. Collagen peptides will dissolve in both cold or hot liquids, while gelatin can only dissolve in hot. Collagen peptides also have no flavor or aroma, while gelatin can tend to infuse source characteristics (think: slight beef smell/flavor if sourced from beef). Also, while collagen dissolves easily into any liquid, only gelatin will cause a substance to gel (think: homemade gummies).
How is collagen different from protein powder?
Great question. Though collagen peptides/gelatin and a traditional (say, whey) powder can all be considered “protein powders,” their amino acid makeups are drastically different. While collagen IS found in muscle, its primary role is to help provide structure, but not necessarily mass. If you're looking for a protein powder to help with muscle growth, collagen won't help as much as a branch chain amino acid-filled whey-based protein powder like THIS one.
Are all collagen powders the same?
If you know me and my work, you know how much I stress the importance of quality sourcing! It DOES matter how our food is sourced so no, not all collagen powders are made the same because they're not all sourced from the same high-quality animals. There are two reasons I will (whenever possible) choose proteins sourced from true grass-fed, grass-finished cows or other responsibly raised/pastured animals:
- Avoid the secondary consumption of antibiotics or hormones that are used in conventional cattle (or other bred livestock) to help increase yield. GMO, pesticide-drenched feed used to grow said animals is another reason I do my best to opt out.
- Vote with my dollars by supporting an industry working to get the highest quality and most humane sources of animal protein on the market.
What are the health benefits of collagen?
Biochemistry is such an interesting, complicated melting pot of reactions. We know that we take in doesn't directly turn into our own tissue. For example, when we take a bite of steak, that steak doesn't automatically convert into more bicep on our own frame. Similarly, ingesting collagen (be it peptides or gelatin) doesn't automatically turn into healthy connective tissue of our own. What DOES turn into healthy body tissue is what we're able to assimilate. Taking in the concentrated amino acids found in collagen (especially glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline) gives your body the TOOLS to then turn around and build healthy connective tissues. Consuming collagen *empowers* your body to build healthy teeth, hair, skin, nails, etc.
All that being said, here are my top 5 heath benefits of collagen:
- Help heal your gut. This first reason is where, in my opinion, dietary collagen started to gain traction as the most intriguing supplement of our time. As we became more aware of how our gut health is tied intrinsically to our overall heath, we also became motivated to support gut health through nutrition. Collagen can help strengthen/rebuild gut lining while also helping to restore a proper lining.
- Promote healthier, more vibrant skin. Think back on my analogy of collagen acting as the frame for an overnight tent. This elastic framework, just like all parts of our body, goes through constant regeneration. As we age, that regeneration slows down and could use a little help. Offering our skin the tools it needs (glycine and proline) to build more of its own collagen can help tremendously! People who consume collagen regularly have noticed a more elastic texture to their skin in addition to less dryness.
- Promote heathy hair and nail growth. Same as for skin, offering up more building blocks for the connective tissue that's crucial for hair/nail growth can go a long way to promote faster growth!
- Support quality sleep. Glycine is the (dare I say miraculous?) amino acid responsible for collagen's wonderful impact on quality sleep. Glycine has the ability to counteract a specific stress hormone, which in turn helps us to feel more calm and prepared for quality rest without the drowsy effects of other sleep aids.
- Promote joint health. Dietary collagen can also help support regenerative joint health! This is especially important for anyone who works out consistently or for anyone who suffers from a degenerative bone/joint disease (think: arthritis). Collagen can help reduce inflammation and help you rebuild stronger tissues over time, therefore reducing pain and potential for injury.
Why does the body lose collagen over time?
The process of aging can be summed up by two main principles: our bodies become less efficient at rebuilding tissues while our bodies also become less efficient at assimilating nutrients needed to rebuild those tissues. This is why supporting a healthy gut and then providing that gut with an abundance of healthy nutrients is paramount to maintaining consistent health throughout the years. Our body is in a constant state of losing and then rebuilding body tissue, collagen is one of these. As we lose collagen in our skin, joints, nail beds, digestive system, etc, our body has to work to rebuild as best it can. Unfortunately, amino acid reserves for rebuilding these tissues naturally diminish over time. THIS is why dietary supplementation with responsibly sourced collagen can help so darn much.
I am so in! How often can I take collagen?
I personally make it a point to take in at least 20 g of collagen each day! I can accomplish this by adding a scoop of collagen peptides (dissolves in cold or hot liquids) to my hot or cold coffee in the morning and then by adding another scoop in my after-dinner lemon/ginger tea. I also try to take in gelatin (only dissolves in hot liquids) at least 2 times a week via either a soup, jello, or homemade gummy.
What are the options for responsibly-sourced collagen?
Here are a few of my favorites!
- Grass-Fed Collagen Peptides – what I add to my morning coffee or evening lemon ginger tea.
- Collagen Creamer with Coconut Milk – LOVE this for coffee, too! It comes in Vanilla, Coconut, or Gingerbread.
- Grass-Fed Beef Gelatin – great for making jello or gummies at home!
- Collagen Beauty Water – I will toss several of these packets into my bag when I travel. I just add one to a bottle of water, shake, and enjoy a tasty collagen-rich drink while I'm on the go!
- Bone Broth Collagen – I like to think of this one as instant, delicious, nutrient-dense soup. When I'm feeling a little under the weather and don't have fresh broth in the house, I'll add a scoop of this to hot water for a soothing beverage.
I don't *just* get collagen-containing products from Vital Proteins. They're also one of my most trusted sources for the following thoughtful, fabulous products:
- Beef Liver Capsules – great for those of use who have a hard time getting in dietary liver on a regular basis.
- Organic Whey Protein – this is one of the “cleanest” whey proteins on the market. It's sourced from grass-fed sources and contains ONLY whey protein. WIN!
- Beauty Boost – collagen isn't all our skin, hair, and nails need for healthy, regenerative growth. There are several key micronutrients made available (I'm looking at you, biotin) in this handy bottle that can help tremendously!