How Endurance Athletes Can Use Collagen Effectively

While energy gels, electrolytes, and protein are arguably still the three most popular supplements in the endurance community, the demand for collagen has surged over the past couple of years and, it’s now a $2 billion a year market. But while it can be useful, you might not be using collagen correctly. Let’s clear up any confusion over when it’s best to use collagen, what it’s not so good for, and how much to take.

What is collagen?

Collagen is the most abundant structural protein, comprising around a third of the total protein in the body. It’s a fiber-like structure that makes up connective tissue and is a major component of bone, skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.

What's with all the hype around collagen?

Because collagen production and uptake both declines as we age – starting as early as your late 20s – it may be beneficial to start supplementing. Production drops more quickly with sun exposure (in the skin), smoking, excess alcohol, and lack of sleep and exercise. Research suggests we may benefit from supplementing collagen as you get older to support your training and recovery. Collagen also has the potential to enhance joint health and function, support injury recovery, and improve the appearance of hair, skin, and nails.

What are the types of collagen and which one should I take?

There are three types of collagen: 

Type I – 90% of collagen in the body, including in bones, tendons, ligaments, and skin. It’s found in bovine collagen – which is the most common supplemental kind.  

Type II – Mostly prevalent in cartilage, but a little is also in tendons and ligaments

Type III – Always found with Type I in skin and organs

There aren’t head-to-head studies comparing different kinds, but in a review, Keith Baar from the University of California Davis, noted that hydrolyzed collagen <when collagen peptides are partially broken down into amino acids> is the most bioavailable form.

What are the benefits of taking a collagen supplement?

Cartilage Regrowth

Tufts Medical Center researchers found that when they gave 30 people over 49 with knee osteoarthritis 10 grams of collagen or a placebo for 24 weeks, the ones who took collagen increased cartilage thickness and growth. 

Joint Pain

A group of German nutritionists gave 139 active adults five grams of collagen daily for 12 weeks, and it reduced their knee pain.  Another study conducted at Penn State involved 97 athletes taking 10 grams of collagen every day. After six months, they experienced less joint pain during activity. 

Strengthened Ligaments and Tendons

Australian exercise scientists discovered that combining calf strengthening exercises with collagen supplementation for six months helped Achilles tendinopathy patients increase muscle strength and reduced discomfort. A paper released via the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine tested the ankle function of 50 male and female athletes with chronic ankle instability. After six months of collagen supplementation, they reported that their ankles felt more stable and had reduced their reinjury rates.

Bone Density in Postmenopausal Women

One hundred and two postmenopausal women participated in a study published in Nutrients. Following a year of taking five grams of collagen every day, they had greater bone mineral density, increased bone formation, and decreased degradation. 

Skin Elasticity

A group of Japanese and Korean researchers concluded that taking just one gram of collagen consistently improved skin hydration and elasticity and reduced wrinkling.  

What are the best food sources of collagen?

Bone broth: 1 cup has two to five grams of collagen, and the liquid form makes it easy to digest

Sardines or fish with the skin on: Marine collagen is found in the bones, scales, & skin

Gelatin: One packet of the Knox brand has 8 grams of gelatin. It has the same amino acid composition as collagen.

Chicken & turkey skin: It might not sound that appetizing, but poultry skin is a good source of collagen

What to take & when to take it

A collagen supplement can help you get a consistent dose of collagen without needing to prepare a food source. The optimal dose for most people is 10 to 15 grams, so pay attention to the serving size when comparing supplements.

And not all supplements are created equal, and there have been reports of low-grade options being contaminated with heavy metals and not containing what they claim on the label. So look for an option like Momentous Collagen Peptides, which contains 15 grams of collagen and 50 mg of vitamin C and is NSF Certified for Sport®, so it’s guaranteed to be free of contaminants and banned substances. It dissolves well in warm water, and you can add an electrolyte mix before exercise. 

Research shows that collagen works most effectively when you take it 30 minutes to an hour before training or, if you’re injured, prior to physical therapy.  A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that jumping rope doubled participants’ collagen synthesis levels and when they took collagen with vitamin C an hour beforehand, it doubled again. Baar noted that when trying to increase the durability of ligaments and tendons, combining pre-workout collagen, 10 minutes or less of intense activity, and six hours or more of rest is an effective protocol.

Check back soon for part two, in which we’ll examine if vegan collagen is legit, whether you can mix coffee and collagen, and more!

1. Keith Baar, “Minimizing Injury and Maximizing Return to Play: Lessons from Engineered Ligaments,” Sports Medicine, 2017, available online at 2. T E McAlindon et al, “Change in Knee Osteoarthritis Cartilage Detected by Delayed Gadolinium Enhanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging Following Treatment with Collagen Hydrolysate: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial,” Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, April 2011, available online at 3.Denise Zdzieblik et al, “Corrigendum: Improvement of Activity-Related Knee Joint Discomfort Following Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides,” Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, November 2017, available online at 4. Kristine L Clark et al, “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, May 2008, available online at 5.Stephan F E Praet et al, “Oral Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides Combined with Calf-Strengthening Exercises Enhances Function and Reduces Pain in Achilles Tendinopathy Patients,” Nutrients, January 2019, available online at 6.Patrick Dressler et al, “Improvement of Functional Ankle Properties Following Supplementation with Specific Collagen Peptides in Athletes with Chronic Ankle Instability,” Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, May 2018, available online at 7.Daniel König et al, “Specific Collagen Peptides Improve Bone Mineral Density and Bone Markers in Postmenopausal Women-A Randomized Controlled Study,” Nutrients, January 2018, available online at 8.Do-Un Kim et al, “Oral Intake of Low-Molecular-Weight Collagen Peptide Improves Hydration, Elasticity, and Wrinkling in Human Skin: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study,” Nutrients, June 2018, available online at 9.Gregory Shaw et al, “Vitamin C–Enriched Gelatin Supplementation Before Intermittent Activity Augments Collagen Synthesis,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 2016, available online at

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.