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Fact checked by Andrew Lenau, ISSA CPT & Sports NutritionistFACT CHECKED
Updated On: October 11, 2023
Collagen is a protein that, lately, has been front and center in the fitness world, heralded as a "must-take" supplement.
And, since I described it as a protein, my bet is that you're assuming gym goers take it to help hit their protein goals. But that assumption would be incorrect.
Interestingly, while it is a protein, collagen shouldn't be used as a way to hit your macros.
You see, many different compounds are made up of proteins, even hormones like insulin. Some of our food also contains protein, but not all proteins serve the same purpose. The best way to think of them is as tools. Each tool has a specific job, but if you use a hammer to saw some wood, you're not getting anywhere.
While lean meats, whey protein, and seitan may be great for building muscle mass in women, collagen is not. However, if you're looking for benefits such as reduced joint pain, better skin, and thicker hair, collagen is likely a great supplement to add to your arsenal.
Let's discuss what collagen is, the best collagen benefits for women, and everything else you need to know.
Table of Contents:
Collagen is one of your body's many types of connective tissue found in your joints and skin.
Its rigidness can vary depending on what specific function it is performing. For example, when found in the skin, it provides elasticity and stretch. On the other hand, it can be far more rigid than muscle, such as in tendons to support joints.
There are 28 different types of collagen, which explains its versatility, but here are the four most common:
If you want to dig deeper into its uses and makeup, read: What Is Collagen? Everything You Need To Know.
Collagen is the body's primary connective tissue, either keeping things elastic or providing much stiffer support, depending on the specific collagen peptides.
That's why it's vital to keep your joints and skin healthy. With decreased collagen production, you risk injury, dysfunction, or chronic pain.
It also plays a role in your ears and blood vessels, and low collagen production and absorption can cause scurvy. While many people associate scurvy with low vitamin C, vitamin C is necessary for absorbing collagen. So if you're not eating your citrus, you're not getting collagen!
Although you should always eat a balanced and healthy diet rich in collagen, vitamin C, and many other essential nutrients, our body can also produce collagen naturally.
It's synthesized from multiple components, primarily the amino acids glycine and proline. When the two of these combine, collagen is known as pre-collagen. A hydroxyl group then connects the procollagen to another proline and lysine. This structure then goes through a process known as glycosylation to become collagen.
Proline makes up about 17% of the body's amino acids, with glycine coming in at 33%. Working together, they make collagen the most abundant complete protein in the human body, accounting for approx 30%².
As mentioned above, the term "protein" is just a word that designates a compound comprising a string of amino acids.
However, different proteins can have very different jobs. Nutritional protein, which we generally refer to as protein, is primarily responsible for muscle recovery and growth. While collagen can assist in producing muscle proteins in times of need, its central role isn't a muscle builder.
So what does it do, and why should women care?
Perhaps the most popular reason for taking collagen supplements, the health of your skin highly depends on it. About three-quarters of your skin is made of the stuff, making it wildly important.
Collagen gives skin elasticity, or the ability to be stretched and return to its original condition. When the collagen in your skin begins to lose its elasticity, it sags and causes wrinkles.
This issue can be exacerbated with age as our bodies naturally lose collagen, even with proper nutrition and skin care³. However, we can make it worse by skimping out on collagen supplementation.
In 2019, a review looked at multiple studies on the effect of collagen supplementation for 4-24 weeks using 2.5g-10g daily, finding that both short and long-term use of collagen improves overall skin health, in addition to increasing skin elasticity, skin hydration, and dermal collagen density⁴.
Further, it's generally safe with no harmful side effects.
We discuss this in detail in our article: Does Collagen Help With Weight Loss? But, it's important, so let's talk about it here too! Eating a daily collagen supplement may even help improve your body composition and help with fat loss.
Several studies have shown that collagen supplements help preserve lean muscle mass when dieting. Body recomposition is complicated, so make sure you understand the ins and outs of what's involved before relying on a collagen supplement.
Another area where collagen can play a huge role in helping maintain a healthy weight in postmenopausal women.
When women age, their collagen production decreases along with hormonal changes during menopause. As a result, it's not uncommon for them to gain unwanted weight in a phenomenon known as estrogen deficiency-induced obesity.
While not totally understood, studies have shown that collagen supplements may be able to help mitigate the effects of this. A rat study demonstrated that daily collagen supplementation was "beneficial in ameliorating estrogen deficiency-induced obesity and its associated risk factors⁵."
Studies have also shown that other protein sources can maintain body composition better, so think of this collagen benefit as an added perk, but it shouldn't be your sole reason for taking it.
And you still need to include a protein powder in your supplement line-up as well. Any of these 14 Best Protein Powder Supplements are great options!
Cartilage is a connective tissue found in joints as it sits between the bones, protecting them from rubbing against one another. Unfortunately, due to wear and tear in life, cartridges break down over time which can cause severe joint pain.
It just so happens that one of the primary compounds that make up cartilage is collagen. Researchers believe that one possible way to mitigate cartilage and connective tissues breakdown is by taking collagen supplements.
Since collagen sits within the cartilage matrix and can accumulate within, supplementation leads to a surplus, causing thicker and stronger cartilage.⁶
We should note that research is "promising," yet a lot of the specifics are unknown. Some of the possible benefits include:
If collagen does work, it would be crucial for everybody. However, it could be of even more significant benefit to women.
In adults over 50, studies show that osteoporosis affects one out of three women while affecting one out of five men⁶. This means that postmenopausal women are almost approximately 1.6x more likely to be involved. Women also tend to have other issues associated with joint health.
Granted, this difference appears to occur after menopause, but this doesn't mean only menopausal women need to worry. By then, it may be too difficult to reverse any damage done quickly. Instead, women should pay attention to the joint health benefits of collagen from an early age.
Leaky gut syndrome describes a state in which the gut does not function properly, so toxins and nutrients are lost and may even seep into the blood. As a result, various ailments can occur, such as bloating, fatigue, and even Crohn's disease.
The best way to think about leaky gut is as an umbrella term for a problem within the gut and digestive system. Depending on what exactly it is, an array of symptoms could appear. Unfortunately, even with all the talk, leaky gut remains unrecognized as a medical condition, but this doesn't mean that nothing happens.
Collagen supplements may help improve gut health by optimizing the gut biome, but take caution when consuming too many collagen peptides.
Complete collagen protein may be better, as studies have shown that high collagen peptide consumption can cause issues in the gut biome⁷. Mind you, these studies have been done on rats, and the effects on humans aren't entirely known.
As collagen is a supportive protein, it is one of the primary components of our arteries and other blood vessels. Because of its elastic nature, sufficient collagen consumption enables the arteries to flex and bend, promoting healthy blood flow.
However, if you're at a deficit, your arteries can stiffen, potentially causing atherosclerosis, AKA the narrowing and hardening of blood vessels.
Luckily, one 6-month study found that taking 16g of collagen protein daily results in significantly more flexibility in arteries. Other studies have shown that collagen tripeptide treatment improves the transcription of aortic endothelial cells. As a result, it can result in a decrease in atherosclerosis and other heart issues⁸.
What makes collagen different from other supplements like whey protein is its huge amount of proline and glycine. These are the main components of collagen, and collagen protein packs a ton to bolster the body's natural collagen production.
Therefore, supplemental collagen will ensure a sufficient supply for joint lubrication, connective tissue elasticity, skin health, and more to counteract the natural loss of collagen from aging.
Most collagen supplements come in two forms: pills or powder. Both have some benefits and drawbacks, but we think there is a clear winner.
You will almost certainly see what's known as hydrolyzed collagen. Similar to hydrolyzed protein powder, it's a protein that has been broken down during production, so your body can utilize it faster.
Collagen pills have become very popular over the years. These usually come in gelatin capsules that have been filled with collagen powder. Basically, just like any supplement in pill form, it's a pre-measured dose that's convenient to take.
However, because the collagen pills have gone through extra production steps, they're going to cost more. Also, because you need to eat a bit of collagen to get benefits, it usually requires you to swallow multiple pills daily.
These can cost anywhere from $15-$30 per 180g of collagen, lasting you anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months, depending on why you're taking it (See below).
Further, because the pills are pre-measured, you're stuck with doses that fall in those multiples.
When compared with collagen pills, we much prefer collagen powder. Collagen powder is usually much cheaper than when taken in pill form. For example, for $15-$30, you can get anywhere from 300-500g of collagen powder.
If you're concerned with accurate dosage, you can open up a package and use a measuring device to choose how much you want. Plus, you can easily mix it in shakes or juice.
Klean Collagen+C is one of the best-unflavored collagen powders. Each container has 304 grams of powder, and every serving features 14 grams of bovine-sourced hydrolyzed collagen and 50 grams of vitamin C.
These two factors combined make it a potent option with specific bioactive collagen peptides that give you the best bang for your buck. Plus, online reviewers say it has very good mixability and can be added to other drinks without affecting the taste.
A great capsule option is Life Extension Bone Strength Collagen Formula, which in addition to being in convenient pill form, includes additional powerhouse ingredients, such as calcium, dried plum fruit extract, and magnesium.
And if you'd prefer to shop around for other options to meet your specific needs, read our article on the 9 Best Collagen Supplements!
The amount of collagen you take will significantly depend on why you're taking it. Ranges run anywhere from 2-15g, which is a huge difference. To ensure you're eating enough collagen and not wasting money, here are the top 3 reasons to take collagen and the proper dose for each.
As you can see, if you're taking a collagen hydrolysate supplement for skin or bone health, you only need to take 5g max.
Again, even if studies have shown that collagen can be effective for muscle growth, it's nowhere near as good as whey. Therefore, use collagen for your skin and bones and stick to whey (or casein!) for building muscle mass.
For more dosing information, check out our article: How Much Collagen Per Day? Ideal Dosing For Best Results.
Here are some of the commonly asked questions about collagen benefits for women.
As a lot of your skin is comprised of collagen, taking collagen supplements can help keep your skin's natural elasticity, smoothness, and youthful glow.
Collagen benefits the connective tissue between and attached to bones, so maintaining an adequate supply can prevent wear and tear on your bones.
Yes, taking supplemental collagen is generally considered safe, but make sure you look for a reputable company that is third-party tested.
For best results, take collagen daily, especially during times of increased physical activity, injury, or aging.
The optimal time to take collagen is when you can remember to do so, so whichever works for your schedule is fine. If you take a daily vitamin C supplement, taking collagen at the same time can increase absorption, so keep that in mind.
Collagen supplements are great for women looking to improve their hair and skin health, while ensuring their joints stay healthy and ready to tackle tough workouts.
None of us can stop time, but we can slow its effects. Strong, healthy joints and enhanced skin hydration are just a couple of reasons women should put a quality collagen supplement in their daily routine.
Ready to add a collagen supplement to your stack? Make sure to check out our 9 Best Collagen Supplements to choose the right one for you!
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February 20, 2024
February 20, 2024
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