Given how often it’s mentioned in lady’s skincare ads, it’s no surprise that many people assume collagen tablets are only for women who want to “reduce visible signs of ageing”. However, while this protein is an essential building block of skin, and does decline as we age, it’s also part of the fundamental structures of the body, including muscles, bones, cartilage, tendons and ligaments, as well as eyes, teeth, heart and the gut. As a result, healthy collagen is essential for everyone and is critical to the ongoing health and performance of any athlete, from the casual jogger or hobby weightlifter to elite professionals.
What is collagen?
The most abundant protein in your body, collagen is a versatile building block that can be rigid in bones or pliable in tendons and muscles. It makes up 1-6% of muscle, depending on the type, and is essential to the normal functioning of the heart and gut – muscles we use every day but don’t often think about. Although there are over 25 types of this protein, 90% of that found in the human body is Type I collagen.
Where does collagen come from?
Formed from amino acids, it can be created in the body or consumed as a food or supplement. A balanced and varied diet will typically contain enough of the right amino acids and collagen to support a basic level of proteins in the body.
Unfortunately, the highest levels of dietary collagen are often found in parts of the animals we no longer choose to eat, such as skin and connective tissues. You could choose to start using the whole animal more – making bone broth or a chicken soup with the whole carcass, for example, or eating wings with the skin on – or you could look to a supplement. Marine collagen supplements use carefully selected fish to create an easy daily dose.
Can you get plant-based collagen supplements?
Collagen is produced in the bodies of animals, so there are no plant-based supplements. If you are looking for a vegetarian or vegan alternative, you can boost the quantity of amino acids in your diet, trusting your body to do the conversion. Eggs, berries, citrus and tropical fruits, leafy greens and beans can all provide the amino acids needed to make collagen.
Benefits of collagen for men
1. Stay beautiful longer
It’s as true for men as for women. Collagen in the skin reduces as we age, leading to wrinkles and other signs. Even if looks aren’t important to you, healthy skin is our first defence against outside damage, from germs to UV rays. Collagen may also help prevent hair loss, reducing male pattern baldness.
2. Improve muscle mass
Collagen is an incomplete protein (it contains 8 of the 9 essential amino acids) but is still useful for building muscle mass. Up to 6% of strong muscles are made of collagen. A supplement can also count as part of a high-protein muscle-building diet.
3. Maintain joint health
It’s a sad fact that as we age our joints begin to suffer, often causing pain and limiting mobility. This can be a particular problem, ironically, for those in the best shape as fitness regimes such as running and team sports can put extra pressure on joints. Used in ligaments, tendons and bones, healthy collagen contributes to ongoing joint health.
4. Keep your heart healthy
The heart is a muscle, and collagen is an essential part of its construction. As it declines as we age, the effects of its loss are felt throughout the body, not just in the formation of wrinkles. Consuming collagen tablets, dietary collagen or amino acids as part of a healthy lifestyle may help maintain normal heart function.
5. Support your gut and gut biome
The stomach and intestines are also made up of muscles and connective tissue, so although they’re often overlooked as part of a fitness regime, it should be no surprise that collagen deficiencies are thought to cause gut problems, such as leaky gut.
6. Maintain bone health and teeth
A rigid form of collagen is found in bones and teeth. Like investing in a retirement account, protecting bones and teeth is something that’s best done young although the largest benefits are felt in old age. Whatever your age, taking care of yours is important and deficiencies can have a serious impact.
Easy ways to boost your collagen intake
Collagen is clearly important, but what can you actually do about it? If you’re a meat-eater, using more of the animal when you cook might be the easiest way to increase your intake. However, if you don’t love to cook, collagen tablets are an excellent choice. Collagen is an animal product and doesn’t contain gluten, carbs or sugar, so it’s easy to add to a Paleo, Keto or Whole30 program. For the same reason, it’s not suitable for plant-based, vegan or vegetarian diets. In this case, boosting your intake of amino acids may help your body produce more collagen.