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What's Collagen and Does it Count Toward Your Protein Intake?

Can collagen really turn back the clock on our skin, give us full Farrah Fawcett hair, and ease our aching joints? While our bodies use collagen in our hair, nails, skin, and joints, does a simple scoop of this stuff in our morning coffee actually benefit our bodies and boost our protein? 

There are people on both sides of the debate and contradicting views on collagen. 

Today, we’re clearing the confusion around collagen so that you make an informed decision about this trending supplement.

Let’s start by defining our terms…

What Exactly is Collagen?

Collagen is a protein found throughout your entire body. In fact, it’s the most abundant protein that your body contains. You use 28 different types of collagen, but the most prevalent 4 are found in your:

  • Connective tissue (like your tendons and ligaments)
  • Joins and intervertebral disks (what cushions your spine)
  • Skin and blood vessels
  • Kidneys, inner ears, and inner lenses

Our bodies make collagen by combining specific proteins and vitamin C from the food we’re eating. If you eat a chicken and veggie stir fry, for example, your body can take the two amino acids—glycine and proline—from the chicken and combine it with the vitamin C from the bell peppers to make collagen.

How to Boost Collagen Naturally

Eating a well-balanced diet high in protein and rich with a variety of fruits and vegetables isn’t just about weight loss. These foods allow your body to make what it needs to survive and thrive, and they contribute to your collagen levels.

Try out the following three diet hacks to help your body produce more collagen naturally:

  1. Eat foods rich in vitamin C: Your body uses vitamin C as one of the primary ingredients when creating collagen. Give yourself a vitamin C boost by enjoying foods like oranges, red peppers, brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, and strawberries. 
  2. Boost your daily protein: In addition to fruits and veggies rich in micronutrients, make sure to eat plenty of protein each day. Boosting your amino acids is one of the best ways to keep your collagen levels high. Fish, chicken, beans, free-range eggs, and grass-fed beef products are a few great sources of quality protein you can enjoy daily.
  3. Simmer some soup: Bone broth, like other foods containing gelatin, is rich in collagen and can be used as the base of any soup. Plus, bone broth supports your immune system and aids in digestion and gut health. 

If Our Bodies Make Collagen, Why Take a Collagen Supplement?

As we age, our bodies produce less collagen, which can contribute to wrinkling skin, joint pain, and brittle nails and hair.  Smoking, exposure to ultraviolet light, excessive sugar, and a poor diet can also damage collagen as we grow older.

While our bodies can create some collagen on its own, eating a perfect diet isn’t possible every day. If your season of life is limiting your time in the kitchen, or if you’re experiencing the loss of collagen as you age, supplementing may be helpful. 

So, can we track collagen toward our overall protein intake per day?

Based on a 2019 study, researchers found that collagen protein can be counted in the diet as part of your regular protein intake while still maintaining the balance of indispensable amino acids. “It is beneficial to include functional collagen peptides as part of the daily protein intake… The recommended amount of collagen peptide intake may vary…The effective amounts of functional collagen peptides observed in the literature suggest intakes in the range of 2.5 to 15 g daily.” Most collagen supplements contain around 15g of protein, making it acceptable to count one serving of collagen peptides toward your protein intake a day.

The Proven Pros of Collagen Powder

Several studies have taken a close look at collagen supplements and their effects on our bodies. We can conclude a few things from these studies. Collagen may…

The Cons of Collagen Supplementation

Collagen can’t fulfill all our protein needs. When relied on as our primary protein source, our bodies don’t receive a complete set of all nine essential amino acids we need to stay healthy. Collagen lacks the amino acid tryptophan—which plays a crucial role in our bodies metabolic functions, sleep, and cognitive functions

Collagen should be understood as a product that can support a healthy lifestyle. Dumping a scoop of collagen into a milkshake doesn’t make it healthy. However, if used correctly and consistently, collagen may bring many benefits to your overall health.

The Conclusion on Collagen

To sum up, if you’re enjoying a diet rich in quality protein and micronutrients (specifically vitamin C) then you likely do not need a collagen supplement. Collagen cannot replace healthy food. However, a quality collagen supplement can help support the health of your hair, skin, nails, and joints over time. Collagen is just one of many confusing topics you’ll bump into on your health journey. For a helping hand to lead you toward lasting health and fitness, sign up for my weekly newsletter or join the next LEAN session today.

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