If you’re trying to build muscle and improve your body composition, nutrition matters. Eating a balanced diet that includes enough of the three macronutrients along with micronutrients that support muscle growth will help your body build new muscle tissue. Some people take it a step further by adding nutritional supplements to their muscle-building nutrition plan. Some of the most popular are protein supplements and creatine. However, more people who weight train are taking collagen supplements.
Why are collagen supplements growing in popularity? Collagen is tough, fibrous protein found in your joints and in the deeper layer of your skin. It’s collagen that keeps your skin firm and wrinkle-free while joint collagen helps your joints stay healthy. Because collagen is so integral to joint and skin health, collagen supplements have skyrocketed in popularity.
Although unproven, some small studies suggest that collagen supplements may benefit skin and joint health if you take them regularly. But there’s also some evidence that collagen supplements support muscle building when you strength train. Can taking collagen in supplement form help with muscle hypertrophy, the enlargement of muscles in response to strength training?
What a Study Shows about Collagen for Muscle Growth
You might be surprised to learn that up to 10% of muscle tissue is collagen. Plus, collagen is a major component of tendons, the strong bands of tissue that connect muscles to bone. So healthy collagen matters for joint and muscle health. The question is whether taking exogenous collagen in supplement form helps with muscle hypertrophy.
In one study of 53 men, researchers looked at the effects of collagen supplements on muscle growth. The men were divided into two groups. One group took 15 grams of collagen daily while the other took a placebo pill. Neither the subjects nor the researchers knew who got the collagen and who got the placebo. After 12 weeks, they assessed their muscle growth and strength gains.
The results? The group that took the collagen supplement enjoyed greater strength gains and more pronounced increases in muscle mass. Although this sounds encouraging and will be enough for some people to jump on the collagen bandwagon, it’s only one small study. However, there’s a physiological basis for how collagen might boost muscle growth. Taking collagen as a supplement may supply the building blocks glycine and arginine that muscles need for growth.
Another study in older men with sarcopenia, loss of muscle due to aging, found that those who took 15 grams of collagen peptides each day and exercised for 12 weeks gained more muscle than guys who exercised without taking collagen. They also developed greater muscle strength relative to those who took no collagen.
Other Benefits of Collagen Supplements
Although you can’t say with certainty that collagen supplements are the key to muscle growth, small studies suggest it may have anti-aging benefits for the skin. In one study of 69 middle-aged women, those who took 2.5 to 5 grams of collagen daily for 2 months enjoyed improvements in skin elasticity. Skin that’s more elastic is less prone to wrinkling. Other small studies show that collagen supplements reduce skin wrinkling, dryness, and boost wound healing. However, some of these studies were sponsored by companies that make collagen supplements.
Based on limited research, collagen supplements could also help with joint pain due to arthritis. Since collagen is a component of joint tissue, collagen supplements may help rebuild the lost cartilage. For example, one study of people with knee pain but without arthritis found that supplementing with low-dose collagen improved range-of-motion of the knee after three months. It also increased the time it took for the subjects to experience joint pain during a workout. The participants also recovered faster from exercise.
Another study found that subjects with osteoarthritis who took a hydrolyzed collagen supplement experienced reduced joint pain after six months on the supplement. If collagen improves joint function and reduces joint pain, it could reduce the need for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAID) and that’s better for health, due to the side effects of NSAID.
Plus, one study showed that taking a collagen supplement can modestly increase the diameter of tendons, the bands that connect muscles to bones.
Types of Collagen Supplements
Collagen is a large molecule made of many amino acids. Most collagen supplements contain collagen peptides, smaller strands of amino acids that they body can absorb and assimilate easier. You might also see the term collagen hydrolysate. This is another term for collagen peptides. It simply means that the collagen is hydrolyzed or broken down into peptides for easier absorption.
The Bottom Line
Small studies suggest that collagen supplements could modestly aid muscle growth in people who strength train. The evidence is strongest for older men who have lost muscle because of aging. It’s not clear whether the same benefits apply to younger individuals who have more muscle mass.
However, collagen would only be one more tool in your toolkit to build muscle. You still need to get the basics right – good nutrition with enough protein, a well-designed strength training program, adequate sleep and recovery, and stress management. As an added perk, there’s also some evidence that collagen supplements could be beneficial for bone and skin health too.
Taking collagen supplements appears to be safe and there are vegan collagen supplements available too. Manufacturers use bacteria or yeast to synthesize vegan collagen in a manner that yields collagen that’s free of animal products.
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