Collagen just may be the latest buzzword in the nutrition world. But just what is collagen and why is it beneficial?
In short, it is what allows your body to take a consistent pounding of HIIT workouts with burpees, box jumps and sprints, and heal itself.
What is Collagen?
Collagen is the most abundant protein within the body of mammals (like you). It is responsible for what many of us would consider our youthful glow, tight skin, and shiny hair. Below the surface, it helps maintain flexibility of bone structure, tendons, ligaments, and muscle.
How does it do this? It has to do with protein, and protein has to do with amino acids.
The strength of collagen comes from its triple-helical structure which is comprised of three amino acids: glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Some amino acids are nonessential (meaning our body can synthesize them on its own as long as our diet is adequate), while others are essential (we must get them from food).
Badass fact: Gram for gram, type I collagen is stronger than steel.
What Does Collagen Have to do with Skin?
While the beauty of collagen is the role that it plays on the inside of our body, it also plays a role in the appearance on the surface. You have likely heard of collagen as part of skin care products designed to keep skin looking firm and young. Although there are many products on the market promising these results, there are multiple factors that can work against their success. These include:
- Exposure to the sun
- Stress on the body that results in free radical damage (yes, that even means exercise)
- Poor hydration
Limiting exposure to these factors is key.
Depletion of Collagen During Aging
The hard truth about collagen is that aging reduces collagen’s ability to be abundant. This is because the body becomes less efficient at synthesizing it.
The good news is that in the same way that strength training can counteract the loss of lean muscle mass, eating right can counteract the decreased availability of collagen.
How Get More Collagen in your Diet
1 ) Eat real foods. The body can make its own collagen through the use of amino acids. You can help support the body’s use of amino acids by getting in an adequate diet rich in protein. Animal proteins will provide the most abundant source of these amino acids, but plant sources such as beans and lentils can be just as good. Bone broth, which is made using animal bones and carcass, is a great source of collagen since this element is drawn out of the animal during the processing.
2) Eat plants. The phytonutrients found in plants, especially antioxidants, give the body a fighting chance against the free radicals brought about by exposure to the environment, general stress, and stress brought on by physical activity. Including foods like berries and spinach are a great way to incorporate antioxidants.
3) Use quality collagen products. Collagen products are available on the market. They can be a great supplement to incorporate into your diet. The key is remembering that supplements are meant to be just that, a supplement. They should complement your well-balanced eating regimen and provide support as needed, but not be your primary source. You will want to look for hydrolyzed protein supplements, since the body is better equipped to breakdown and absorb them. Optimally, if using a supplement, make it as a smoothie for best absorption, adding foods that contain the above mentioned nutrients to boost results.