Collagen in Sport: Is It Worth It?

Updated: October 13, 2023

Collagen. By this point, we’ve all heard about it. But what even is collagen? Should you be taking it for injury prevention? How much should you take? What about timing? And, most importantly: is it actually going to work?!

Note: This post is specifically looking at collagen supplementation for sport; it will not address collagen use for skin, hair or other areas.

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Quick Facts: Collagen

Collagen is the body's most abundant protein. It is found in skin, bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage. Collagen only exists in animals.

The most abundant amino acids in collagen are glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. It is not a complete protein because it is missing one essential amino acid: tryptophan. Collagen is also low in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs; leucine, isoleucine and valine).

Your body makes your own collagen, the same way you make the rest of your structural proteins. In order to make collagen in the body, there are key nutrients needed, including:

  • Amino acids
  • Vitamin C
  • Copper

Vitamin C and copper are both required for specific enzymes in the collagen pathway to function.

Collagen in the Diet

Collagen is found only in animal foods, but since you make your own collagen it's possible to get all of the collagen building blocks through a diet containing animal foods and a plant-based diet.

The best food sources of collagen are those where you consume or extract nutrients from connective tissue:

  • Slow-cooked meat on the bone
  • Fish with the skin on
  • Skin-on and bone-in poultry
  • Bone broth

For plant-based diets, it's important to consume sufficient and varied protein sources so that you get enough amino acids for collagen production. And no matter what type of foods you eat, you need sufficient vitamin C and copper in your diet.

While we can eat collagen-containing foods and foods with collagen building blocks, the only way to consume a very specific dose of collagen is through supplementation.

Collagen Supplements: What Are They?

Most collagen supplements are sold as collagen peptides, which are collagen proteins that have been broken down or hydrolyzed into smaller pieces. Collagen supplements are usually of bovine (cow), porcine (pork) or marine (fish) origin (remember, it's only found in animals).

"Vegan collagen" has also entered the market, which is made from genetically modified yeast and bacteria. These products have not been tested for efficacy and the information in this post is specifically referring to animal-based collagen supplements.

The Potential Benefits of Collagen in Sport

Collagen has the potential to increase your resiliency and your ability to respond to exercise. Increased resilience and capacity mean a lower risk of injury.

But, here's the million-dollar question:

Does ingesting collagen peptides actually increase the likelihood that your body will make more collagen?

In other words, will your body shuttle those building blocks towards collagen production vs. the production of other proteins?

The answer is, not surprisingly, we don’t really know.

Collagen Research Disclaimer

Before we get into what the research says about collagen, there's a few important points to know about collagen research.

The majority of collagen research is industry-funded by collagen supplement companies. This isn't automatically a bad thing, but it can increase the likelihood of bias. It means we need to look closely and dig into the paper beyond the abstract. We also don’t know what wasn’t published (ex. industry-funded trials with non-significant results).

The placebos used in collagen research are typically:

  • Maltodextrin (a sugar)
  • Silicon dioxide (a calorie-free food additive)

This means that in most studies, a collagen supplement is not being compared to another protein. In other words, studies are comparing collagen to nothing, not collagen to another amino acid source.

What Does the Research Say?

Ultimately, we can't control where amino acids go once we ingest them, but the idea is that we may be able to prime the body for collagen synthesis. Current evidence is mixed, but recent research is starting to fill in some gaps in the literature.

A well-designed study from 2023 compared collagen versus whey protein versus placebo among 45 recreational athletes (1). This study is unique amongst the collagen literature because the researchers compared collagen with another protein source and controlled for participants' diets, addressing two large limitations of previous studies. So, what did they find?

  • Collagen synthesis increased from an exercise stimulus in all three groups, suggesting that exercise is the crucial piece of the equation, not supplements.
  • Statistically, there was no difference in collagen synthesis between whey protein, collagen and placebo, but the trend favoured whey protein being most effective.
  • Blood levels of glycine and proline (the collagen amino acids) were highest amongst the collagen supplement group, but this didn't translate into improved outcomes compared to whey protein or placebo.

This study makes a significant contribution to the collagen debate, but we haven't reached definitive evidence just yet. The results are based on measurements taken after a single exercise bout on a single day. We gain a better understanding of the short-term impact of supplementation, but the long-term outcomes are still unknown.

The rest of the collagen literature shows more promising results, but we have to remember that these studies compared collagen to placebo (AKA nothing).

A very small, non-industry-funded study showed that circulating blood levels of glycine and proline peaked one hour after consuming a collagen supplement (1); however, whether this translates into increased collagen synthesis is unknown. Three small studies have tested collagen synthesis after supplementation: two found an increase in collagen synthesis (2, 3), but the other (which was slightly larger) found no change (3).

Other early research indicates that collagen supplementation may:

  • Reduce exercise-related joint pain (6, 9, 10, 11)
  • Have a moderate benefit on recovery and muscle soreness (4, 5)
  • Reduce the risk of injury (7, 8)

These benefits may sound appealing, but the research quality doesn't support definitive or conclusive statements. Considering and interpreting these findings in the context of the recent literature (1) and other studies that have not demonstrated befefits of collagen supplementation (12), underscores that fact that we have numerous unanswered questions around the mechanisms and potential benefits of collagen supplementation.

What We Don't Know

Are collagen supplements better at promoting collagen synthesis or other desirable outcomes than other proteins?

Maybe, but probably not. Remember that collagen is usually compared to maltodextrin or silicone dioxide, limiting what we can conclude from that evidence. Two studies comparing whey protein versus collagen show that whey protein, but not collagen, increases muscle protein synthesis after exercise (1, 13). Another study found no significant difference between collagen and whey protein on muscle strength (14).

Only one study has tested collagen versus whey protein on collagen synthesis, and we learned earlier that neither was more effective than placebo for promoting collagen synthesis (1).

Do collagen supplements have an advantage over getting the collagen building blocks through diet?

This question hasn’t been tested yet and most studies have not even controlled (at all or adequately) for diet. Without knowing diet specifics for a study's population or comparing to a group with specific dietary interventions, it's difficult to know the precise effect of collagen or its advantages over dietary strategies.

One thing is for sure though: collagen supplementation cannot make up for a poor diet that is lacking in adequate calories, protein and other key nutrients.

Should You Supplement With Collagen?

Consider these questions to help you determine if you might benefit from collagen supplementation.

Do you need to take a collagen supplement?

No, you don't. It's entirely possible to support healthy collagen production in your body through a varied and balanced diet that includes adequate amounts of high-quality protein.

Could it be harmful to take a collagen supplement?

As far as we know, also no. None of the collagen research so far has shown any negative effects.

If you regularly do activities that put a significant load on your tendons and ligaments, could supplementation help you prevent injury?

Current evidence is mixed, but given the large limitations in most of the research it's not yet a supplement that deserves a widespread recommendation. However, collagen supplementation is not harmful and some studies do show a potential benefit, so it is something you can consider if it's available to you (alongside a healthy diet!).

How to Supplement Most Effectively

If you're thinking "not harmful, might work... good enough for me!" then you'll want to supplement in the most effective way.

Take 10-15 grams of collagen peptides 30-60 minutes before training.

With high circulating levels of collagen’s amino acids, the idea is that adding a training load will help to “push” those into collagen production.

You can also consider using collagen prior to more targeted training sessions where you will be stressing your connective tissue. This type of protocol is how most of the collagen research in sport has been conducted. For example, a climber might want to use collagen before a hangboard training session, as this specifically targets the tendons and ligaments in the fingers.

Ensure you have a diet that is rich in vitamin C (think brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables).

If you train in a fasted state, choose a collagen supplement that contains vitamin C or take collagen with a vitamin C supplement.

Should you use collagen as a protein supplement?

In short, no. Collagen has a unique amino acid profile, but it’s missing one essential amino acid and it’s low in BCAAs, so it is not considered a high-quality protein. Other complete proteins (e.g., whey, pea) are going to give you a better amino acid profile for use as a protein supplement.

Should you use collagen as a way to promote muscle protein synthesis?

Collagen will be less effective than a complete protein source for muscle protein synthesis. Studies looking at muscle protein synthesis and/or muscle strength outcomes have consistently found collagen to be ineffective (1, 13, 14, 15, 16). This is likely because it is an incomplete protein with low BCAA content (BCAAs, especially leucine, have a key role in promoting muscle protein synthesis).

Bottom Line

Despite some promising data for collagen use in sport, the claims made about collagen are ahead of the research. Recent research is contributing more pieces to the puzzle, suggesting that the short-term benefits may be minimal. Ultimately, more high-quality research is needed before definitive recommendations can be made.

If you choose to supplement with collagen, it should be consumed as part of a healthy diet along with effective training, rest and recovery.


1. Aussieker, T., Hilkens, L., Holwerda, A. M., Fuchs, C. J., Houben, L. H. P., Senden, J. M., VAN Dijk, J. W., Snijders, T., & VAN Loon, L. J. C. (2023). Collagen Protein Ingestion during Recovery from Exercise Does Not Increase Muscle Connective Protein Synthesis Rates. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 55(10), 1792–1802.

2. Shaw, G., Lee-Barthel, A., Ross, M. L., Wang, B., & Baar, K. (2017). Vitamin C-enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 105(1), 136–143.

3. Lis, D. M., & Baar, K. (2019). Effects of Different Vitamin C-Enriched Collagen Derivatives on Collagen Synthesis. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 29(5), 526–531.

4. Clifford, T., Ventress, M., Allerton, D. M., Stansfield, S., Tang, J., Fraser, W. D., Vanhoecke, B., Prawitt, J., & Stevenson, E. (2019). The effects of collagen peptides on muscle damage, inflammation and bone turnover following exercise: a randomized, controlled trial. Amino acids, 51(4), 691–704.

5. Zdzieblik, D., Oesser, S., Gollhofer, A., & König, D. (2017). Improvement of activity-related knee joint discomfort following supplementation of specific collagen peptides. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 42(6), 588–595.

6. Bruyère, O., Zegels, B., Leonori, L., Rabenda, V., Janssen, A., Bourges, C., & Reginster, J. Y. (2012). Effect of collagen hydrolysate in articular pain: a 6-month randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. Complementary therapies in medicine, 20(3), 124–130.

7. Zdzieblik, D., Brame, J., Oesser, S., Gollhofer, A., & König, D. (2021). The Influence of Specific Bioactive Collagen Peptides on Knee Joint Discomfort in Young Physically Active Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients, 13(2), 523.

8. Clark, K. L., Sebastianelli, W., Flechsenhar, K. R., Aukermann, D. F., Meza, F., Millard, R. L., Deitch, J. R., Sherbondy, P. S., & Albert, A. (2008). 24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain. Current medical research and opinion, 24(5), 1485–1496.

9. Lis, D. M., Jordan, M., Lipuma, T., Smith, T., Schaal, K., & Baar, K. (2022). Collagen and Vitamin C Supplementation Increases Lower Limb Rate of Force Development. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 32(2), 65–73.

10. Praet, S., Purdam, C. R., Welvaert, M., Vlahovich, N., Lovell, G., Burke, L. M., Gaida, J. E., Manzanero, S., Hughes, D., & Waddington, G. (2019). Oral Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides Combined with Calf-Strengthening Exercises Enhances Function and Reduces Pain in Achilles Tendinopathy Patients. Nutrients, 11(1), 76.

11. Dressler, P., Gehring, D., Zdzieblik, D., Oesser, S., Gollhofer, A., & König, D. (2018). Improvement of Functional Ankle Properties Following Supplementation with Specific Collagen Peptides in Athletes with Chronic Ankle Instability. Journal of sports science & medicine, 17(2), 298–304.

12. Bongers, C., Ten Haaf, D., Catoire, M., Kersten, B., Wouters, J. A., Eijsvogels, T., & Hopman, M. (2020). Effectiveness of collagen supplementation on pain scores in healthy individuals with self-reported knee pain: a randomized controlled trial. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 45(7), 793–800.

13. Oikawa, S. Y., Kamal, M. J., Webb, E. K., McGlory, C., Baker, S. K., & Phillips, S. M. (2020). Whey protein but not collagen peptides stimulate acute and longer-term muscle protein synthesis with and without resistance exercise in healthy older women: a randomized controlled trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 111(3), 708–718.

14. Zdzieblik, D., Jendricke, P., Oesser, S., Gollhofer, A., & König, D. (2021). The Influence of Specific Bioactive Collagen Peptides on Body Composition and Muscle Strength in Middle-Aged, Untrained Men: A Randomized Controlled Trial. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(9), 4837.

15. Kirmse, M., Oertzen-Hagemann, V., de Marées, M., Bloch, W., & Platen, P. (2019). Prolonged Collagen Peptide Supplementation and Resistance Exercise Training Affects Body Composition in Recreationally Active Men. Nutrients, 11(5), 1154.

16. Oikawa, S. Y., Macinnis, M. J., Tripp, T. R., McGlory, C., Baker, S. K., & Phillips, S. M. (2020). Lactalbumin, Not Collagen, Augments Muscle Protein Synthesis with Aerobic Exercise. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 52(6), 1394–1403.