What Should Men Know About Taking Collagen?
Collagen is often (mis)represented as a ‘womens’ supplement - and we think it’s about time that changed. And it seems so do you. Not only is there something inherently a bit ‘icky’ about claiming that such a ubiquitous supplement is only really relevant for women, because after all - many men also care about their skin and ageing too - but the nutrition and bioactives found in functional foods are rarely binary. Thankfully, we are slowly seeing a change, as more men are adding collagen to their supplement stacks.
Of course there are some key differences, but the reality is men also have connective tissues, joints, skin, tendons, blood vessels, guts and bones. Men also age over time and come across some of the lifestyle factors which lead to collagen breakdown including sun exposure, smoking, diet and pollution.
With the all universal benefits available from collagen supplementation, let’s take a closer look at why more men may be pressing *add to cart*.
What does collagen actually do?
In short (and if you want the long - head to this article, collagen is the most abundant protein in our body. It’s a structural protein and therefore responsible for giving our skin, joints, bones, vessels and all other connective tissues their form, elasticity and firmness. However, as we age collagen production starts to slow. When our collagen levels decline, we begin to see a downturn in many aspects of our health - whether that be aches and pains in our joints, increased risk to injury or skin elasticity. This is when collagen supplementation steps in to support.
What are some key benefits for men in particular?
Clearly women aren’t the only ones who care about their skin health, let’s banish that old stereotype shall we? Collagen supplementation plays a role in the hydration and elasticity of our skin and positively influences the skin ageing process. As the body’s largest organ, skin is composed of two layers; the dermis is the deepest and collagen is its main player.
The aim of oral collagen supplementation is to reach the dermis from within to restore collagen synthesis and there’s an abundance of clinical reports that provide evidence for collagen supplementation to support the health of our skin.
A key systematic review looked at all measures of skin ageing including wrinkle number, dryness, moisture and elasticity. Across 10 publications it reported that all of the studies on collagen peptides, ranging from 8 weeks to 12 months duration, resulted in improved skin health using these parameters (1)
Although hair loss is closely tied to genetics and hormones, losing your hair is still a big deal when and if it happens.
Whilst collagen for skin care gets a lot of airtime, there is a holistic nature to collagen and how it benefits our whole-body health. Your hair is mainly made up of keratin and collagen contains some of the amino acids that your body needs to build this important hair protein.
However where it really seems to make a difference is in your hair follicles. Collagen keeps hair follicles hydrated, supple and strong. When you ingest collagen peptides, they can be deposited into the hair follicles and may then support your hair strength and health.
Hair follicles can also be damaged by free radicals which develop in the body as a result of biological processes but also from stress, air pollutants, smoking, chemicals, poor diet and alcohol. Some studies are now looking into the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of collagen peptide supplementation as another way to combat this (2).
Muscle for longevity
Protein is the long-standing hero for exercise and muscle health. Far from being something only people who lift weights should care about, our muscle health is the key to longevity. Whilst the focus for many has often been on ‘fat-loss’; in fact ‘muscle gain’ is a much more beneficial viewpoint. Whether or not you want them to be visible, being ‘under muscled’ can have a detrimental effect on your overall well being. Beyond locomotion and preventing you from falling, muscle is a metabolic sink , helping you to regulate your blood sugar.
In order to stimulate Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS), studies show you need an intake of 20-30g of protein in a serve. Easier said than done for many people who rely on a couple of eggs for breakfast (that's only 12g of protein folks) and when we are also recommending that people have a varied and balanced diet (e.g. don’t forget your healthy fats, fibre and plants too). It’s important therefore to search for creative ways to hit your protein target, usually by layering up different sources of protein.
Now, there are MANY sources of protein which can be used to support muscle protein synthesis and as ever, we remind our audience that we recommend getting different plant and animal sources across your week. However, collagen isn’t often thought about as a type of protein (which is exactly what it is) and can be used as a great way to up your overall intake of protein, especially at breakfast. It should be noted that collagen only contains 8 out of the 9 essential amino acids it needs to be a ‘complete protein’. Without the amino acid tryptophan, it is an ‘incomplete protein’, but the terms ‘essential and non essential amino acids’ are misleading because in reality you need them all! Collagen can still help you achieve your daily protein intake and act as a complementary source of amino acids as part of a diet which uses other sources of protein too (3).
Connective Tissues are the wingmen
Whilst muscles often play the leading role, the importance of our connective tissues and Extracellular Matrix (ECM) in this story is often overlooked. Each individual muscle is surrounded by connective tissue and within the muscle there are two distinct extracellular ECM structures. These furnish support and protection for the muscle cells.
Without our wingmen, the lead actors would not be able to shine so bright. Stiffer connective tissues impair muscle-fibre contractility and reduce muscle strength. And no clues for guessing what our connective tissues and ECM is composed of? Yep, collagen. In fact the beneficial effects of collagen on our musculoskeletal system are thanks to the stimulatory effects of the peptides (often paired with exercise) on the extracellular matrix of connective tissues, improving structure and load-bearing capabilities.
And it seems that just upping your protein through any old means may not be the optimal way to support your connective tissues. Several studies (4) have demonstrated that having 20-38g of protein such as whey did not increase intramuscular collagen protein synthesis or tendon collagen synthesis rates and therefore collagen supplementation may be the preferred way to support connective tissues.
Collagen and Exercise: The Dream Team
Alongside food (protein), physical activity is the other key anabolic stimuli for muscle tissue. Emerging research is now pointing to a particular link between combining collagen supplementation and exercise for increased benefits and results. Collagen has a beautifully complex amino acid profile, and is high in the key amino acid glycine but is often low in leucine - the main amino acid which gets the pat on the back for muscle mass. However, collagen still delivers plenty of the amino acids that contribute to muscle growth and clinical trials have seen participants supplementing just 15g collagen alongside resistance training or exercise, gaining more muscle mass and strength than those who completed exercise by itself (5,6)
Further to this, researchers have been interested in looking at the effects of collagen supplementation post exercise and have seen an improvement in recovery 24 and 48 hrs post training. What this means is with less muscle soreness and quicker recovery rates, you can continue that upward fitness trajectory. (7)
Further studies are needed, however the sports industry and Universities with Sports Medicine and Nutrition faculties are accelerating this research area.
Alongside muscles, joints and tendons also need some care and attention. In a 2021 systematic review it was concluded that around 5–15g collagen peptides per day appears to be beneficial in improving joint functionality and reducing joint pain (8)
Furthermore, collagen has been shown to be successful in reducing knee pain across a number of different athletes. (9)
A newer and more difficult area of research (based mainly on the location within the body) is that of collagen and gut health. For generations, bone broth and gelatin have been used to support and repair the all important gut and therefore theoretically collagen peptides should also be a great tool. Research has now found that the gut utilises some key amino acids found in collagen peptides such as L-glutamate, which acts as a fuel source for the intestinal cells. (10). Proline and Glycine, two of the most abundant aminos in collagen are also used by our gut lining.
Whilst there are many animal studies looking at this, human studies are next in line to support the claims. In a recent clinical trial, after eight weeks of collagen supplementation (10g two times a day), 93% of those who completed the study experienced improvements in digestion, including bloating.
Heart health is a growing concern, especially as we age. Collagen supplementation is now being explored and researched as a way to improve aspects of heart health and potentially reduce heart attack risk. Studies have found that collagen supplementation improved a marker of blood vessel stiffness as well as the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol in those with an elevated ratio (11)
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions of the peptides are also a huge area of research. A 2021 cell study that found that collagen also reduced oxidative stress in human blood vessel cells exposed to free radicals.
We love a bit of personalised nutrition and intuitive wellness here at Ancient + Brave and whilst not every supplement out there is suitable for every body, collagen has a great safety profile and benefits for most of us - regardless of our sex.
- The impact of collagen protein ingestion on musculoskeletal connective tissue remodeling: a narrative review - PMC