It might sound crazy, but adding collagen powder-which is collagen peptides made from the connective tissues of cows and fish-to your morning coffee, smoothies, and porridge is the supertrendy thing to do in the wellness world. So what gives? Proponents of collagen powder say that it not only delivers a wallop of protein, but it also offers other benefits like soothing achy joints, improving gut health, and reducing the appearance of wrinkles.
Sports dietitian Angie Asche says, "If collagen is your protein of choice, I recommend consuming it about an hour before your workout along with a source of vitamin C to help strengthen your ligaments and tendons."
As someone paranoid about premature ageing (was that wrinkle there last week?), plagued by sporadic bouts of gastrointestinal distress, and with a set of knees that snap, crackle, and pop like an old person's, I needed to find out if this stuff was legit. First step: Do the research. Second step: Give it a whirl.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a structural protein made of amino acids that holds cells and tissues together like glue. As you age, the amount of collagen your body produces starts to decline.
When you shop for collagen powder, there are four common types you'll find: collagen peptides, beef collagen, marine collagen, and collagen whey. Collagen peptides mixes both into cold and hot liquids, while beef collagen is used to create a gel-like substance. Marine collagen is made from fish scales and also dissolves in cold and hot liquids. Then, there's collagen whey, which gives you the benefit of whey protein.
In terms of the quality of the protein in collagen, collagen actually ranks lower than whey and casein. The PDCAAS (protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score) of proteins is based on its bioavailability and how easily the body absorbs it. On a scale of zero to one, one is the best, and collagen has a score of zero.
"This is due to the fact that unlike whey and casein, collagen is not a complete protein. It lacks tryptophan, an essential amino acid, and is also very low in methionine," Asche explains. But a good option is to go for a collagen whey protein powder because it includes a blend of collagen and whey protein isolate and/or concentrate.
What are the benefits of collagen powder?
The science is promising. In one 2017 study vitamin C-enriched gelatin supplements can help improve collagen synthesis, which plays a role in injury prevention. Moreover, chicken collagen has been shown to help provide relief for rheumatoid arthritis patients.
When it comes to the skin benefits of collagen supplements, a 2017 study from Nutrients suggests that collagen peptides from bovine bone could help increase skin collagen content. Another 2015 study from the Journal of Medical Nutrition & Nutraceuticals shows that nutritional supplements with hydrolysed collagen and other skin-loving ingredients can lead to better skin elasticity and hydration and wrinkle prevention.
"While research is still slim on this, studies do show some promising results in terms of improving skin elasticity. I also feel it's important to note that applying collagen directly to your skin versus ingesting and digesting it will lead to different results in terms of improving your skin," Asche says. "To improve your skin, I recommend adding collagen powder to your diet and looking at your diet as a whole. Minimising your intake of highly processed foods, staying hydrated and consuming a diet rich in antioxidants, omega-3s, and vitamin A and C will help produce collagen naturally," she adds.
And although there aren't studies on collagen's effect on gut health yet, there's probably something to it, says holistic nutritionist Laura Schoenfeld. She notes that collagen's amino acids may also help prevent intestinal permeability (i.e., leaky gut)-a condition linked to a host of and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and celiac disease.
The 4 collagen powder benefits I experienced
Alright, that's all good, but now it's time to try it for myself. Here's what happened after I started adding two tablespoons of collagen powder to my morning coffee or smoothie for a month.
I stayed full until lunch
This is kind of a no-brainer, since two scoops of collagen adds around 20 g of filling protein to whatever you're eating or drinking. What makes collagen cool compared to other protein powders, though, is its versatility. It's taste free and completely dissolves in liquids, so my coffee still tasted like coffee, not some weird sludge. And no, heat won't mess with collagen's benefits, says Schoenfeld.
My joints became way less crunchy
For the past year and a half, I've suffered from a progressively achy and creaky right knee for no apparent reason-I can actually hear a disturbingly loud crunching every time I walk up the stairs. During week 3 of my experiment, however, I noticed that the crunching had become far subtler and my overall level of soreness had decreased. For that reason alone, I will take this stuff for life.
I stopped bolting to the bathroom
Not to overshare, but I probably end up running to the bathroom more than the average person. So I know healing my gut from the antibiotic-induced damage is going to be the key to alleviating those issues. Toward the end of this experiment, I noticed less cramping and I downgraded from bolt to brisk walk-so either this stuff is helping my gut heal, or it's a very happy coincidence.
My skin felt softer, but fine lines remained
Normally during winter, sporadic dry patches of skin will pop up on my face even if I moisturise. But those were greatly diminished and my skin felt more supple and squishy-in a good way. Unfortunately, I didn't notice any improvement in the increasingly obvious (and depressing) fine lines around my eyes.
Bottom line: If you want to try collagen, go for it
There's no harm in introducing collagen powder into your diet, but don't expect it to be a cure-all for all of your muscle-building, joint and skin needs. It's best to try a sample of collagen powder before you decide to buy an entire tub, as some varieties do have an aftertaste.