WHAT SHOULD I BE LOOKING FOR IN A COLLAGEN SUPPLEMENT?
Author: Brad Sloss, HBSSc., MA, CPT
20 years as a college professor
Key Account Manager at Mammoth Supplements
Personal Training Cert Provider - PTS canfitpro
Heart & Stroke Instructor
A founding member of the Advisory Committee of the Health & Fitness Promotion program at Conestoga College.
Municipal experience includes Recreation Programming, Active Living and Facility Management.
Fitness Positions includes Regional Health and Fitness Director and Personal Trainer
Contributor: Warren Karr, Popeye’s Supplements
Chances are that if you are reading this article and are a Popeye’s Supplements customer, you are aware of the several proven benefits of collagen, namely:
- Wellness & Active Living
- Skin Care
- Muscular Benefits
- Joint Function
- It is the most abundant protein (approximately 30%) in our body and ostensibly, the most important one
For years, collagen has been one of health & wellness best kept secrets. Brought to popularity by the Keto craze (and keto coffee lore) collagen really took flight in 2019 and has only continued to grow exponentially. Whenever a supplement explodes into the mainstream consciousness, literally everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. While more choice is usually a good thing, when it comes to selecting a collagen supplement there are several considerations to be made, including:
- Not all collagen supplements are created equal
- There are specific ingredients required for collagen to work
- There are several collagen types and sources all yielding different benefits and absorption
- Some added ingredients are fillers and can be detrimental
- Taste: is flavouring a good or bad thing?
What Collagen Supplement Should You Buy?
You should be looking for a supplement that works best for you and your needs. The industry, especially the social media marketing component, is full of hype trying to capitalize off new customers that have heard they should be taking collagen but cannot navigate between the myriad of options. That said, attention spans are short, so the temptation to put development money into a 15 second influencer video often generates orders . . . just look at your IG or TikTok feed!
- I can picture someone saying: “Oh, but ‘glamgirl79’ and ‘buffboy99’ on TikTok say that product-X is the bomb and tastes amazing!!”
Today, this style of marketing is EXTREMELY effective. But we need to ask ourselves this question: What is the purpose of the product???? It takes money to pay the influencer so just how much of an investment has gone into the actual product I’m taking? And how can you POSSIBLY explain the benefits in 20 seconds or less?
Putting a quality supplement in your body is essential to get the desired results. By the end of this article, you should have an excellent idea as to what should be in your collagen supplement to ensure uptake, what the label should state and finally what optional ingredients can take your good supplement and make it great!
What Every ‘Good’ Collagen Supplement Should Have:
A good collagen formula must have a few simple ingredients, all having a specific purpose for the product to work or to be most effective. When shopping for your supplement, these three ‘musts’ NEED TO BE ON THE LABEL. If they are not, keep looking!
- Tryptophan: The addition of tryptophan completes the amino acid profile, thus making the collagen a complete protein (all 9 EAA’s present in sufficient amounts) and fully releasing the positive benefits of collagen.
- Vitamin C: Having a good dose of vitamin C is absolutely essential in a collagen supplement; without it, collagen cannot be absorbed.
- Hydrolyzed Collagen: The hydrolyzation process breaks down collagen into small molecular fragments to enhance absorption; so small that the peptides are measured in kilodaltons (Leon-Lopez et al 2019). This may also be shown on the label as “collagen peptides”.
Beyond this, the source and type of collagen used are also important to note because each source and type has specific benefits.
Here are the Three Main Types:
- Unhydrolyzed collagen: This is the non-processed form of collagen where the amino acids are still fully bound to one another in full strands. Unhydrolyzed collagen is very difficult for the body to digest and is relatively ineffective to be taken as an oral supplement.
Gelatin: Before hydrolyzed collagen was available, collagen was most often taken in the form of gelatin. Gelatin is collagen that has undergone
only partial-hydrolyzation, leaving a powder or gel that will only dissolve in hot liquids and is not absorbed very well – think Jell-O – with app. 2g protein + 19g sugar/22g serving while it tastes good, you are getting a lot of bad to get only a small amount of partially absorbed “good”.
- Hydrolyzed Collagen (also known as collagen hydrolysate or collagen peptides): Hydrolyzed collagen is the proven choice and is superior to gelatin and unhydrolyzed. As mentioned, a primary reason is that it is in a form that your body can absorb and use immediately and efficiently which will be explored in more detail.
Hydrolyzed Collagen Types & Sources:
While 28 types of collagen have been classified, 16 have been identified in our body. The two most prevalent are types I and III and make up the majority (approx. 90%) of the total collagen found in our body. For this reason, collagen supplements are made up of these two forms and can be found from two unique sources each offering a different combination of type I and III collagen, each with its own specific benefits.
Marine collagen provides Type I collagen, recognized as the most bioavailable
- Sourced from fish – ensure this ingredient is from wild caught species
- A 100% marine sourced collagen will not contain Type III collagen but is still and excellent option, especially for those with dietary restrictions
Bovine collagen provides both Types I & III
- Sourced from cattle – look for grass-fed, pasture-raised
- If it doesn’t state this, then you can safely assume it is not!
When choosing a collagen product, these two are your best choices. From here, ensure the product states that it is either hydrolyzed or in peptide form (should be clearly stated on the label). Why? Without being reduced in size, unhydrolyzed collagen powders are effectively unabsorbed due to their large size and tightly wound amino acid structure. When hydrolyzed, these particles are so small, they are measured in kilodaltons, a unit so microscopic that 1kD = 1 hydrogen atom! Hydrolyzed collagen comes in at around =<10kD, perfect for maximum uptake, even in those with compromised digestive tracts or those who have undergone bariatric surgery.
From a sports nutrition standpoint (and all of you reading this who love to lift) this is an amazing post workout protein given its easy uptake and the absence of blood in the gut immediately following intense exercise. You will absorb this and start that repair process!
A Little More Info on Joints and Hair:
A chain of Type I collagen is a unique structure due to an unusual abundance of three amino acids: Glycine, Proline and Hydroxyproline. This last amino acid is unique to collagen and is what gives it a unique molecular shape: a triple helix. This winding coil allows it to flex and stretch without breaking and provides enormous tensile strength. This is why collagen is so important to tendons: gram for gram type I collagen is stronger than steel, allowing tendons to handle the stress pressed upon it by muscle contraction and transfer this force to our skeletal structure. (Lodish H et al.)
With respect to hair, the protein elastin is very important. It keeps your hair strong and growing; collagen is used to make elastin and when in short supply, your hair can suffer in look, feel and growth.
How Much and How Long Do I Need to take Collagen?
Research shows that you can expect to take 10-15 grams per day for at least 8 weeks to see results in your hair, skin, and nails (Buromand 2015). For stronger bones, joints and ligaments, research shows you should take collagen for at least 6 months (Clark, K. et al 2008). Here is where product quality is so critical. If your collagen supplement is in unhydrolyzed or non-peptide state, you would need to take so much more (3-5x the amount) to absorb what you can get from a quality sourced product.
Like anything health and fitness-related, consistency matters! You must take collagen consistently to get the benefits. Your body cannot optimize the benefits of collagen supplementation without a steady stream of building blocks (Leon-Lopez et al 2019). So, make sure your collagen supplement provides 10 grams of hydrolyzed collagen per serving, and take it daily, not occasionally.
Another amazing way to increase collagen intake is to also add it to your prepared foods. Adding a scoop of collagen to your pancakes or other baked goods is a fantastic way to fortify those low-protein foods with something that is not going to impact the taste of the finished product – perfect for kids! As alluded to earlier, adding collagen post-workout is a great way to help with recovery plus the added benefit of mixing it with whey or vegan protein adds a boost of inflammation-fighting glycine (the 3rd amino acid found in high concentrations in collagen).
Flavoured or Unflavoured
Some collagen supplements are flavourless, whereas others come in a variety of flavours. While we would not discourage using flavoured collagen; there appears to be more pros to flavourless and some of the trendier brands are sacrificing quality for flavour.
Companies focused on health and wellness avoid artificial sweeteners and flavouring; these are also the brands that focus on good quality raw materials. Companies that market their collagen on the “best
taste” or “texture” invariably have a different focus, and these are the ones to really scrutinize for the key elements of product quality discussed earlier.
Below, I’ve put together a few pros to help you make your decision:
Collagen Supplement Enhancers & Detriments:
As mentioned previously, to work, collagen requires the presence of Vitamin C, which works synergistically with collagen in the absorption process as well as tryptophan to complete the amino acid profile.
But what other vitamins, minerals or herbs would enhance a collagen supplement? And what additives are detrimental and therefore should be avoided?
Collagen Supplement Enhancers:
- Anti-inflammatory & Oxidative Stress Reducers: Zinc, Bromelain, CoQ10, Elderberry, Grape Seed, Milk Thistle, T
- Immune System Boosters: Vitamin C, Elderberry, Zinc, Vitamin E, Vitamin D.
- Skin & Joint Hydrating Enhancers: Hyaluronic Acid, Coenzyme-Q10, Biotin, Vitamin C, Devil’s Claw.
- Energy & Mood Enhancers: Biotin, Tryptophan, Omega 3 fatty-acids, Zinc.
Avoid These in Your Collagen Supplement:
- Fillers: Carrageenan, Magnesium stearate, Titanium dioxide, Starch, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Stearic acid, Simethicone, Vegetable gum, Talc and Propylene glycol.
- Artificial colours – these is zero need for any dyes in a product as these are a major concern to your overall health (Red Dye #40, Blue #2, Yellow #5 as examples)
- Synthetic flavours – most companies don’t list these or will have a generic “artificial flavour(s)” hidden in the extra ingredients list
- Sweeteners – these cut into the serving size and may reduce the amount of collagen per scoop.
In Summary and to assist in your search for a perfect Collagen product for you, here is a Collagen Search Checklist:
- Tryptophan (essential – without it, collagen is not a complete protein)
- Vitamin C (essential – at LEAST 60mg as a base dose)
- Formula has enhancers: Antioxidants, Immune Boosters, Joint/Skin/Mood enhancers
- Type I and III - Hydrolyzed Collagen sourced from grass fed Bovine and/or Marine
- No fillers/low-grade ingredients
- 10-gram serving size
- Unflavoured - OR - if flavoured, done so naturally
- Product quality tested