Collagen supplements have exploded in popularity in recent years. In fact, sales of collagen supplements increased of 34% from 2017.
What’s the reason for this stark increase in collagen supplement sales?
Well, there is a good amount of research indicating that it may be helpful for improving skin quality, reducing wrinkles, and decreasing joint pain.[2,3,4]
As such, it’s fairly common nowadays to find collagen as a buzzword on many “functional foods” including protein bars, coffee creamers, teas, and baked goods.
And, as is commonplace in the media, when a particular supplement starts to the number and size of the claims surrounding the supplement get a bit blown out of proportion.
One of the most frequently advertised benefits of collagen supplements is that it helps build muscle and that it should be a “must” in any muscle-building supplement stack.
But, what’s the truth?
Are collagen supplements good for building muscle?
Let’s find out!
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the primary structural protein in the body found in bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, the GI system and the vasculature. It also happens to be the most abundant protein in the body, accounting for up to 35% of total body protein content.
To date, 29 different types of collagen have been identified, but the vast majority of collagen found in the human body consists of types I, II, or III.
How Do Collagen Supplements Work?
When we ingest protein (be it collagen, whey protein, or any other protein source), it is digested and disassembled into individual amino acids by enzymes present in the GI tract. Upon arriving in the small intestine, the individual amino acids are transported to the bloodstream and head to the liver.
Any amino acids not used by the liver get re-released into the bloodstream to be used by the body where they are needed to perform a wide array of functions, including:
- Cellular repair
- Muscle recovery and growth
- Neurotransmitter synthesis
- Hormone production
- Hair, nail, and skin maintenance and growth
The reason collagen supplements have received particular interest as of late is that as we age, natural collagen production declines. As such, supplementing with collagen can provide the body with the amino acids it needs to stimulate collagen production, thereby improving skin, nails, and hair health as well as joint integrity.
Amino Acid Profile of Collagen
Like all proteins, collagen is composed of different amino acids, 19 to be exact.
The amino acids most prevalent in collagen are:
This is noteworthy due to the fact that hydroxyproline is not found abundantly in most foods common to the human diet.
However, the uniqueness of collagen’s amino acid composition is also its undoing when it comes to building muscle.
Collagen Protein and Muscle Building
If you’ve recently been infatuated with all the hype surrounding collagen, and you’re considering ditching your whey protein for collagen peptides, you may want to hold off on doing that.
You see, collagen is an incomplete protein, meaning it is missing or deficient in one of the nine essential amino acids that the body requires to construct proteins. If your body does not have sufficient levels of all nine essential amino acids present in the bloodstream, protein synthesis (and therefore muscle recovery and growth) is severely hampered.
In the case of collagen, the essential amino acid it is missing is tryptophan.
But, that’s not the only reason collagen protein is an inferior choice for a protein powder when it comes to building muscle.
Collagen protein is also pretty low in leucine.
Leucine is a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) that serves as a powerful stimulator of mTOR -- the metabolic pathway that drives protein synthesis, and ultimately, muscle growth.
So, collagen protein has not one, but two strikes against it.
Now, you might be wondering why some ads for collagen protein powder hype it as a muscle builder.
Well, that’s because some research conducted in older adults, who have a low intake of dietary protein and sarcopenia (age-related loss of muscle mass), noted that supplementation with collagen protein helped increase muscle strength and size.[10,11]
Given the likelihood that you’re neither old nor deficient in daily protein intake, the results of these small studies are likely not applicable to you.
So, does this mean collagen is useless?
No, not entirely.
First, remember that collagen can help improve the quality and appearance of your hair, skin, and nails. And, it can also help reduce wrinkles and decrease signs of aging.
Beyond that, collagen supplements may also help reduce joint pain and increase joint range of motion. As you’re likely aware, joints, ligaments, and connective tissue can take a beating from intense exercise, just like your muscles do.
In this way, collagen can be an indirect supporter of muscle growth in that it helps fortify the supporting structures of the body that allow you to move pain-free and enable you to keep training hard day in and day out.
The Bottom Line on Using Collagen for Building Muscle
Collagen is an important structural protein in the body whose production decreases with age, which is part of the reason we develop wrinkles, thinning hair, and achy joints.
Supplementing with collagen protein can help reduce signs of aging, decrease joint pain, and improve the quality of your hair, skin, and nails, which is exactly why we’ve created 1UP Hydrolyzed Collagen Peptides.
However, when it comes to muscle building, collagen is not the best option if you’re looking for a protein powder. To support muscle growth and recovery, you’ll want to use a complete protein. One that’s particularly high in leucine.
For that, there’s no better option than 1UP Nutrition’s line of whey protein powders.
- Decker KJ. Collagen product sales are skyrocketing, from supplements to food. Nutritional Outlook. Published June 11, 2018.
- Czajka A, Kania EM, Genovese L, et al. Daily oral supplementation with collagen peptides combined with vitamins and other bioactive compounds improves skin elasticity and has a beneficial effect on joint and general wellbeing. Nutr Res. 2018;57:97-108.
- Asserin J, Lati E, Shioya T, Prawitt J. The effect of oral collagen peptide supplementation on skin moisture and the dermal collagen network: evidence from an ex vivo model and randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2015 Dec;14(4):291-301. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12174.
- Liu X, Machado GC, Eyles JP, Ravi V, Hunter DJ. Dietary supplements for treating osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2018;52(3):167-175.
- EASTOE JE. The amino acid composition of mammalian collagen and gelatin. Biochem J. 1955;61(4):589–600. doi:10.1042/bj0610589
- Parenteau-Bareil R, Gauvin R, Berthod F. Collagen-Based Biomaterials for Tissue Engineering Applications. Materials (Basel). 2010;3(3):1863–1887. Published 2010 Mar 16. doi:10.3390/ma3031863
- Barbosa MA, Martins MCL, eds. Peptides and Proteins as Biomaterials for Tissue Regeneration and Repair. Cambridge, MA: Woodhead; 2018:127-150.
- Marlena Gauza-Włodarczyk, Leszek Kubisz, Dariusz Włodarczyk, Amino Acid Composition in Determination of Collagen Origin and Assessment of Physical Factors Effects, International Journal of Biological Macromolecules. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2017.07.013
- Gran P, Cameron-Smith D. The actions of exogenous leucine on mTOR signalling and amino acid transporters in human myotubes. BMC Physiol. 2011;11:10. Published 2011 Jun 25. doi:10.1186/1472-6793-11-10
- Hays NP, Kim H, Wells AM, Kajkenova O, Evans WJ. Effects of whey and fortified collagen hydrolysate protein supplements on nitrogen balance and body composition in older women. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(6):1082-1087.
- Zdzieblik D, Oesser S, Baumstark MW, Gollhofer A, König D. Collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training improves body composition and increases muscle strength in elderly sarcopenic men: a randomised controlled trial. Br J Nutr. 2015;114(8):1237-1245.