Op-Ed: I’m A Strength Athlete And I Prefer Collagen Protein. Here’s Why

Casein. Whey. Hemp. Soy. I’ve added more different types of protein powder to my shaker-bottle than toppings to my morning oats. So when collagen started populating my newsfeed, I thought, “eh, why not” and so for the past month, I’ve been drinking collagen every morning.

What the Is Collagen?

As you probably know, protein is one of the three macronutrients your body needs to survive and thrive. Collagen is a type of protein. Specifically, collagen is a structural, fibrous protein that helps make up the connective tissues in our body, which means it’s in our skin, hair, joints, bones, muscles, veins, and organs. All collagen is made up of amino acids (the building blocks of protein), such as glycine, proline, and lysine, which our body uses to repair our tissues like  muscles, bones, and joints. Basically, collagen is the glue that holds these tissues together and help them withstand stretch.

Collagen makes up about 30 percent of the proteins within the human body, but the body’s collagen production decreases as we age, which means are bodies aren’t producing collagen as quickly as they once were. But after 25-30 our collagen levels drop by about 1 percent, which over the course of 15, or even 10 years, is significant.

Some blame this decrease in collagen production for on symptoms like slower wound healing, greater instances of joint pain, increase in frequency of broken bones, leakier guts, slower muscle recovery. And that’s why collagen supplementation has been getting so much attention.

Does the Research Back Up These Claims?

You’ve probably heard that you need protein to rebuild muscles after a workout. Because collagen is a protein, consuming it after a workout definitely can’t hurt. But research is limited. One study involving nine healthy women over the age of 70, suggests that taking collagen supplements may help preserve lean muscle in older women. But for one, the study was really damn small. And for another, I’m simply not a woman in my 70’s.

From my internet research-hunt, the claims that collagen helps with bone health are equally as unsupported. And I couldn’t find any studies that show collagens effects on gut health. That said, when I rang up Jenn Randazzo, MS, RD, CLT and Senior National Training Manager at Vital Proteins, she told me, “While the majority of our customers are using our products for beauty purposes – specifically, to boost the health of their hair, skin and nails – we’ve noticed a growing number of our fans, especially athletes, adding our products to their routine to help optimize gut health and protect their joints during training.”

There was one promising study, which found collagen supplements helped lessen joint pain among college athletes. After 24 weeks, researchers found that the collagen group had less joint pain at rest, and also when walking, lifting, standing, and carrying objects, compared to the control group.

Given the relatively little proof that shows a direct correlation between a decrease in collagen production and those symptoms, you might wonder why I’ve been doing this.

I have three answers, but none of them will likely satisfy.

First: Failing to wash my face post-WOD has done a number on my skin, and I heard it would clarify! Purify! Even! my exercise-induced acne. The most evidence surrounding oral collagen supplementation is that it is good for skin health. For example, one study found supplementing with collagen was effective at reducing the appearance of cellulite in women. (But so does a regular exercise practice, by the way.)

Second: I was give a whole bunch of it.

Third: I saw on Instagram that some of my favorite CrossFitters we’re doing it, and I’m a total fangirl.

What Did I Learn After a Month of Supplementing with Collagen Protein?

Well, it definitely revamped my breakfast routine.

Sometimes I’d stir the powder it into my Bulletproof coffee in a triumph of trendiness, while other times I’ll concoct an average tasting smoothie with Vanilla-flavored Collagen powder, ice, a banana, and a generous scoop of almond butter. And once or twice I added it to my water bottle as a nod to my journalistic commitment to drink the powder for a full four weeks.

On the days I mixed it in with my water or cold brew, the collagen tasted like nothing. But to be clear, the powders was pretty stubborn and didn’t mix into my beverage unless I really worked the mixture with a fork or blended it up in my Magic Bullet, instead, it’d sit on the top of my coffee like a thick grease. If you don’t have a blender, here’s the good news: it doesn’t curdle, which a lot of whey products tend to do.

In case you’re wondering, I tried both Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides and Bulletproof Collagen Protein and they were both equally flavorless and a little tricky to blend. When I was on the go I preferred Vital Proteins because they have stick packets, but when I wanted a flavorful smoothie I opted for Bulletproof because the vanilla flavor was actually pretty tasty.

So, did the powder make my skin as glowing and supple as Katrin’s? Did it make my aging joints any less creaky? Did the powder upset my stomach or make me gassy?

My skin is definitely clearer than it was a month ago. It could be that I’m less stressed than I was a month ago. It could be be that I got slightly better at washing my face after a WOD. It could be the collagen. But TBH, it’s probably the fact that I went to Florida for a week and soaked up a mega-dose Vitamin-D.

As for my joints? How do you measure the “creakiness” of joints? On a scale of one to ten? With a letter grade rating? On a scale of haunted house door to old suspension bridge? Honestly, I can’t tell whether or not my joints have been creaking more or less.

Here’s why I do love collagen powder: zero stomach aches. Seriously, not once did I feel bloated, uncomfortably full, nauseous, or gassy after starting my day with a serving. This isn’t a small feat given that some proteins just don’t go down very well.

And because it didn’t upset my stomach, starting my day with this protein-packed powder was a great way to get in some protein before I even had my morning cup of coffee. And because of the protein, I often felt fuller for longer than I usually do with just an oatmeal or apple and peanut butter breakfast.

Should You Try Collagen Protein?

If I’ve motivated you to check out the products, you’ve probably noticed that they aren’t cheap. Many brands charge up to $50 for a one month supply (more than double what a month supply of whey protein powder costs). Given the price, if you you’re on a budget already have a protein powder that you love, is reasonably priced, and doesn’t cause stomach aches, you can probably skip this. But if you have the spare cash and want a breakfast revamp (and the alluring promise of less achy joints and clearer skin), then there’s definitely no harm in trying it.

At the end of my experiment, I had only one question (and it was for myself), “Is it worth it, GK?”

Maybe, but may not. Either way, I’ll keep pretending.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured image: @martsromero