One of the many fascinating things about nutrition is its ability to strengthen, heal, and augment our health. Utilizing nutrition to help our bodies achieve all the above is certainly not a new concept. However, in our current state of nutrition, we often focus too much on the foods to restrict neglecting to focus on foods that really augment our body’s success in life and athletic pursuits.
In this Performance Enhancing Nutrition Series, we will take a deep dive into the components of different foods that show promise in enhancing our sports performance, recovery and/or whole body health. Next up is gelatin/collagen + vitamin C.
Collagen/Gelatin + Vitamin C
Collagen is the main structural protein that makes up connective tissues in the body.
Vitamin C functions as a co-factor in collagen synthesis. More commonly, people may be familiar with the deficiency of Vitamin C or scurvy – the disease that gave pirates their classical look of no teeth and missing limbs – but really the deficiency of vitamin C disrupted the synthesis of collagen and led to poor wound healing, bone loss, and much more.
Gelatin is made from the skin, tendons and ligaments of cows and pigs. Therefore, gelatin is essentially a derived protein from the breakdown of animal collagen. A study by JE Eastone from 1955 examined the amino acid profiles of different commercially available gelatin and animal collagen and found them to be ‘closely similar’ concluding ‘gelatin is representative of the main protein constituent of collageneous tissues in amino acid composition.’
You’re likely familiar with gelatin as a food product that makes gummy candy or gives Jello its signature jiggle. Hydrolyzed collagen protein supplements are further broken down to dissolve in water and not create a gel. Both gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen have been used in research studies to support the potential benefits and claims below.
Potential Benefits and/or Claims *see end for references
Increased collagen synthesis
Improve tendon function
Speed healing post injury
Decreased joint pain
Increased cartilage thickness
Dosage and Food Form
The easiest and more readily available source of gelatin is Knox gelatin, found at any grocery store. It is also the most cost effective ($0.23 – $0.60 per 7 gm servings, individual packets vs bulk on Amazon at the date of publishing). Remember, gelatin is made to form a gel – so when you mix this with a high vitamin C juice it will be slightly lumpy. Another option is a collagen hydrolysate, such as Vital Proteins. ($0.73 – $1.70 per 10 gm serving, individual vs bulk on their website at the date of publishing) Because of the further processing of this protein, it will mix with a high vitamin C juice.
Dose: 5-15 gm gelatin + 50 mg Vitamin C (Or, 10 gm collagen hydrolysate + 50 mg Vitamin C)
This would be approximately 1 heaping Tbsp (10 gm) or 1 pkt (7 gm) of Knox gelatin + 6-8 oz juice with vitamin C.
Frequency: Best results are seen when taken before exercise targeting the injury site. Therefore, it doesn’t have to be daily but rather targeted to your training. (See Timing for more details.) Perhaps 3-5 times weekly.
Timing: This is best taken 30-60 minutes before a high intensity training of the specific injury site. (This could be something such as calisthenics targeting the injured tendon/ligament or an endurance training session.)
Concerns or Unknowns
Much of the research on tendon/ligament response to collagen/gelatin + vitamin C comes from engineered ligaments (from human ACL cells) exposed to similar conditions your body would provide your tendons/ligaments with supplementation of collagen/gelatin + vitamin C. It’s incredibly hard for researchers to directly study an intact human tendon or ligament. This means we have to extrapolate the data and with this always comes some assumptions and uncertainties.
Does collagen/gelatin + vitamin C enhance performance for everyone? The verdict is still out on that one. But, if you have a history of a tendon or ligament injury or current injury to these tissues, the research certainly supports giving this a try. The healthier your soft tissues, the harder and more frequently you can train which will ultimately enhance performance.
Eastone JE. The amino acid composition of mammalian collagen and gelatin. Biochem J. 1955 Dec;61(4):589-600.
Maughan RJ et al. IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. Br J Sports Med 2018;52:439-455.
Shaw G. Lee-Barthel A. Ross M. Wang B. Baar K. Vitamin C- enriched gelatine supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. Am J Clin Nutr 2017 Jan;105(1):136-143.
Levine M. Violet PC. Breaking down, starting up: can a vitamin C-enriched gelatin supplement before exercise increase collagen synthesis? Am J Clin Nutr 2017;105:5-7.
Baar K. Minimizing injury and maximizing return to play: lessons from engineered ligaments. Sports Med 2017;47 (Suppl 1):S5-S11.