What is Collagen? The Complete Guide to Collagen Supplements
What is collagen? In this ultimate guide, you’ll learn all about collagen protein, the best collagen supplements, the health benefits of collagen and how to add more collagen to your diet.
This post is sponsored by Vital Proteins. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make it possible for Root + Revel to provide free content and healthy living inspiration.
If you follow health trends, you’ve likely heard of collagen before. But for the uninitiated (or still confused–is it a supplement? a powder? a protein?), this is your ultimate guide to collagen.
Unlike a lot of health fads (did someone say Master Cleanse?), adding collagen to your diet is actually one of the most powerful, beneficial and effective things you can do for your health. Take it from one of my readers, who recently emailed me this gem: “You have helped me more than any doctor ever has by suggesting collagen–I’m halfway through with the second jar and my condition has improved by 50%.”
Talk about powerful! And, I couldn’t agree more. Ever since I started adding collagen to my butter coffee every morning, I’ve noticed smoother, softer skin, more regular digestion and less joint pain. Yep, these are all the perks you can expect from consuming collagen.
But because this is Root + Revel (and I’m me and I can’t not nerd out about all the nitty gritty health benefits of food), I’ve created the ultimate guide to collagen for you here. Because I know it sounds a little out there. I know it can be confusing. So keep reading on for a Q&A all about collagen, what it is, what it can do for you and where to find it.
Q: What is Collagen?
A: Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies–it’s found in our muscles, tendons, bones, skin, gut and even our blood vessels–making up 30 percent of the body’s protein.
In fact, there are at least 16 different types of collagen found in the human body. Put simply, collagen is the basic building block or “glue” that holds our body together. (source)
Unfortunately, as we age, our bodies produce less collagen, leading to wrinkles, saggy skin, digestion issues, brittle hair and nails, dimples (cellulite) and joint pain.
Not only that, but our lifestyle can also deplete our collagen levels. For example, eating a high-sugar diet, smoking and too much time in the sun can all hinder our collagen production.
Also, when you’re sick, going through a stressful time, or otherwise unhealthy (i.e. drink alcohol excessively, eat mostly processed foods, etc.), your body may not be able to produce enough of these amino acids on its own.
Fortunately, you can easily add collagen protein to your diet, thanks to certain naturally collagen-rich foods (see below) and a handful of brands who are now selling collagen supplements in powder, liquid, and capsule form.
Q: What Does Collagen Do?
A: Taking collagen supplements has a host of positive side effects–it improves your skin’s appearance, reduces joint pain, helps break down proteins and soothes your gut’s lining (AMAZING for anyone with digestion issues), increases your metabolism, strengthens teeth, nails and hair, helps your body detox AND reduces the appearance of cellulite (source).
But how does collagen do this? What is collagen made of?
Collagen is a protein made up of amino-acids, like glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine. Without these amino acids, your body’s cells can’t produce enough collagen.
So when you supplement with collagen peptides, certain cells (fibroblasts, osteoblasts) are stimulated to build new collagen, supporting connective tissue health, restoring the skin’s moisture, improving the elasticity, and so on.
But where does collagen protein come from? Like I mentioned before, collagen is naturally produced in our bodies, and in the bodies of animals, particularly in our connective tissues like cartilage (the ears, the tip of the nose and between bones) and within muscle tissue.
To make supplements, collagen is extracted from cartilaginous animal bones, connective tissues and skin (read more on that below).
Q: who should use collagen supplements?
The better question is who shouldn’t use collagen… and the answer is NO ONE!
Seriously, I have a hard time thinking of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from taking collagen supplements. But if you suffer from digestive issues (IBS, Leaky Gut, constipation, diarrhea, etc.), collagen can work wonders on healing your gut as it helps repair parts of the GI tract and improves nutrient absorption.
Likewise, if you suffer from joint paint (if you have Rheumatoid Arthritis or Osteoporosis or another autoimmune or inflammatory disorder) or if you’re an athlete, supplementing with collagen protein can help tremendously with reducing inflammation.
Which means collagen can also be helpful for anyone with inflammatory conditions, like eczema and acne (it also helps fade acne scars). In fact, collagen can even help temporary inflammation, like wounds, heal faster.
If you’re aging, collagen can help prevent wrinkles, plump your lips and tighten skin. If you want to lose weight, collagen can help boost your metabolism, reduce stretch marks, and get rid of cellulite.
If you have thin hair that’s often brittle or weak nails, collagen can help your hair and nails grow faster, thicker and more beautiful.
And if you have hormonal imbalances, like PCOS, emerging research shows that collagen can help support the body’s natural hormone production.
So yeah, pretty much everybody can and should supplement with collagen.
Q: How can I get more collagen in my diet?
A: The first way to get more collagen in your diet is to eat naturally collagen-rich foods, like high-protein foods, including beef, chicken, fish and egg shell membranes and yolks, and homemade bone broth.
And you can also take collagen supplements, like powdered collagen peptides. This is my favorite way to get collagen because you don’t have to take any pills and the powder is completely odorless and tasteless, and it dissolves in pretty much anything.
Q: What’s the difference between collagen and whey protein, gelatin and bone broth?
A: You might have heard the terms “collagen” and “gelatin” used interchangeably, or maybe you’re not sure what the difference is between collagen protein and regular whey protein powders. So let’s take a look:
- Are collagen peptides the same as gelatin? Yes and no. This is kind of tricky–see, gelatin is made from collagen. When collagen breaks down, it becomes gelatin. BUT collagen peptides are actually broken down gelatin proteins. Think of it like this–you start with animal bones, which are loaded with collagen. When you simmer those bones in water, you get bone broth, which contains gelatin because the cooking process has broken down the collagen. But then, when you take the gelatin and use an enzymatic process to break that down, you get collagen peptides. I know that probably sounded like I was talking in circles, but here’s what you need to know: they’re made from the same stuff, just in different forms. AND, most importantly, what this means for you: gelatin will “gel” in cold liquids, collagen peptides won’t. So you can mix collagen peptides into both cold and hot liquids and they won’t firm up, but if you add gelatin to cool liquids, they will (hence how you get “jello”).
- What’s the difference between collagen and whey protein? Whey protein is super common in the protein powder industry. It’s a component of milk that has been separated from casein when milk curdles, which means it’s made from dairy and can be inflammatory. Plus, while whey protein is helpful for muscle regeneration, the benefits stop there, unlike collagen protein whose list of health benefits is a mile long. So I recommend skipping whey protein in favor of collagen protein.
q: Which Collagen Supplement is Best?
A: Like all supplements, collagen isn’t closely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. So it’s super important that you do your research and pick a high-quality collagen. You want to make sure you get one that’s completely colorless, odorless and tasteless. Ideally it will be from grass-fed animals or sustainably-caught fish, and non-GMO and/or organic. And you’ll want to make sure there are no artificial ingredients or additives used.
My favorite brand of collagen is Vital Proteins, which is made from grass-fed, pasture-raised bovine hides from Brazil. In fact, the pasture size for each animal is one animal per 2.67 acres and the use of added hormones is stricly prohibited, putting the farm in line with the Global Animal Partnership 5-step animal welfare rating standards.
The natural peptides are highly bio-available, digestible and soluble in cold or hot liquids, as they’re tasteless and odorless. You’ll never even know they’re in there!
They sell a ton of different collagen products in addition to collagen peptides, as well, all of which I highly recommend:
- We covered their Veggie Blend here, which is a great addition to savory dishes.
- Their gelatin is great in desserts, like gummies, puddings, and even cheesecakes like we used here.
- They also offer a Marine Collagen, which is made from fresh wild-caught snapper, making it a great boost for your immune, digestive, and central nervous systems. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have a fishy taste at all–I add it to smoothies and soups all the time!
- And their brand new Bone Broth collagen is a revelation!! No more planning in advance and bottling up dozens of jars full of broth. Now you can just add a scoop to some hot water and you’re good to go!! How great is that?!
- They also recently launched Collagen Beauty Water, which blends collagen with hyaluronic acid and probiotics to help enhance skin hydration, improve skin elasticity, and maintain firm skin. Personally, this is a bit too chunky for me to just drink in plain water, but I love it in smoothies!
And I absolutely love their travel-size stick packs, which mean you can continue your collagen habit on vacation (likely when you need it most!).
Lightning Round: Collagen Supplements Q&A
Alright, I think I’ve covered just about everything you could possibly want to know about collagen now, but in case you have a few lingering questions, welcome to the lightning round. Let’s get to these rapid fire:
- Are collagen peptides vegetarian? No, collagen is made from cartilaginous animal bones, connective tissues and skin. Marine collagen can be helpful for anyone who doesn’t eat meat or is a pescatarian.
- When is the best time to take collagen supplements? There’s really no wrong time to take collagen, and I personally take it in my coffee every single morning. But some research shows that because your body repairs and regenerates while you sleep, taking collagen right before bed can be super helpful. You can take collagen with or without food.
- How much collagen should I take? The serving size for collagen is typically about 15-20 grams, or 2 scoops. You can certainly take more or less depending on your needs, but just remember that more isn’t always better.
- Can you take collagen supplements while pregnant and/or breastfeeding? Yes, absolutely! Collagen is totally safe to take while pregnant and breastfeeding (it’s a natural protein that’s already found in your body, after all!) and it can help you avoid the dreaded stretch marks! Plus, getting enough collagen while pregnant is critical because it provides essential proteins that promote optimal health for a growing baby. That said, I always recommend speaking with your doctor regarding your specific health needs while pregnant and nursing.
- How should I store collagen supplements? Easy, just keep it in a cool, dark area away from moisture, like your pantry.
Have you tried collagen yet? Share your experience in the comments below!
Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser
Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I’ve linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust.
Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser
Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I've linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust. There is no additional cost to you.