Does collagen protein supplementation improve sports performance?


It has been suggested that dietary collagen provides an anabolic stimulus and that its key precursors, proline and glycine, are required to increase collagen synthesis. Similarly, there is evidence that whey protein supplementation, in particular the amino acid leucine, stimulates muscle protein synthesis (MPS).

Characterisation of collagen

There are various synonyms: collagen, collagen peptides, hydrolysed collagen, or gelatine. These products can be in the form of powders, shots, drinks, or even popcorn in some countries. The difference lies in the amino acid content and composition of the products. Collagen is obtained from bones, scales, skin, hides of porcine, bovine, or marine animals, making it unsuitable for a vegan or vegetarian diet.

Collagen for the athlete population

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the extracellular matrix of the muscle, and it is also found in tendons, ligaments, bones and cartilage. Collagen tissues are important for sports performance, but often the muscle and its protein synthesis remain the focus of research and nutritional strategies. Nevertheless, the possible influence of collagen supplementation on collagen synthesis, recovery from injury or adaptation to certain loading protocols has led to an increase in collagen research in recent years.

Blood flow and nutrient supply is different in tendons and ligaments compared to muscles, but Smeets and colleagues (2019) have shown that protein turnover rates in collagen-based tissues are similar to protein synthesis rates in muscle tissues. For sports dieticians, the question is whether nutrition can be used as an opportunity to enhance this turnover, leading to a better injury recovery and adaptation.

It is known that high leucine content in proteins is crucial for MPS (Pasiakos et al., 2011), but literature shows that leucine is not the key stimulus for collagen protein synthesis (Holwerda & Van Loon, 2022). However, proline and glycine are more frequently represented in a collagen fibre (EASTOE, 1955), and are therefore linked more closely to collagen synthesis than leucine.

Current state of knowledge
  • Collagen derived protein is a more suitable source to promote tissue collagen synthesis than dairy protein (leucine-rich; Holwerda & Van Loon, 2022).
  • Taking a 15g dose of of collagen supplement 1 hour prior to jump rope exercise increased collagen synthesis (Shaw et al., 2017).
  • Performance decline from eccentric loading seems to be attenuated with collagen supplementation (Prowting et al., 2021).
  • Improvements in countermovement jumps over the study time in hydrolysed collagen group (Lis et al., 2021).
Collagen supplementation

It is important to bear in mind that vitamin C is a crucial pro-factor for collagen formation. Without the presence of vitamin C in the circulation, there is no proper production of collagen. This is why most collagen supplements already contain vitamin C to ensure an optimal environment and the consumption of vitamin C-rich foods is recommended with gelatine or collagen supplementation.

To date, the evidence is not sufficiently consistent to clearly proclaim that collagen ingestion is an anabolic stimulus to increase connective tissue protein synthesis rates (Holwerda & Van Loon, 2022). But there are indications that it can deliver key amino acids for incorporation in connective tissue proteins and enhance remodelling.

Critical thinking
  • Nutritional interventions should be prioritised when working with athletes. In most cases, energy balance, macronutrient intake and timing should be in place before implementing supplementation strategies.
  • There is a need for greater understanding and awareness of how ligaments, bones and cartilage respond to nutrition.



In practice, sports dieticians need to make evidence-based decisions. Based on what is currently known, the recommended intake of collagen is a dose of 15 grams one hour prior to stimulating exercise.

It can have beneficial effects on joint function, but collagen has no benefits for muscle protein synthesis compared to whey protein supplementation and there is still little evidence to support anabolic properties (Holwerda & Van Loon, 2022).

It is suggested that traditional diets do not provide sufficient glycine and proline to increase collagen synthesis rates. Therefore, protein sources rich in proline and glycine, such as collagen, can help provide the specific amino acid precursors for collagen protein synthesis (Holwerda & Van Loon, 2022).

Collagen, even with long term intake, is considered safe. Nevertheless, athletes are advised to be aware of doping risks and to follow the “food first” devise and use supplements only where needed and in consultation with their sports dietician.



Eastoe, J. E. (1955). The amino acid composition of mammalian collagen and gelatin. The Biochemical Journal, 61(4), 589–600.

Holwerda, A. M., & Van Loon, L. J. C. (2022). The impact of collagen protein ingestion on musculoskeletal connective tissue remodeling: a narrative review. Nutrition Reviews, 80(6), 1497–1514.

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.

Lis, D. M., Jordan, M., Lipuma, T., Smith, T., Schaal, K., & Baar, K. (2021). Collagen and Vitamin C Supplementation Increases Lower Limb Rate of Force Development. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 32(2), 65–73.

Pasiakos, S. M., McClung, H. L., McClung, J. P., Margolis, L. M., Andersen, N. E., Cloutier, G. J., … Young, A. J. (2011). Leucine-enriched essential amino acid supplementation during moderate steady state exercise enhances postexercise muscle protein synthesis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 94(3), 809–818.

Prowting, J. L., Bemben, D., Black, C. D., Day, E. A., & Campbell, J. A. (2021). Effects of Collagen Peptides on Recovery Following Eccentric Exercise in Resistance-Trained Males-A Pilot Study. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 31(1), 32–39.

Ricard-Blum, S. (2011). The collagen family. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology, 3(1), 1–19.

Shaw, G., Lee-Barthel, A., Ross, M. L., Wang, B., & Baar, K. (2017). Vitamin C-enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis 1,2. Am J Clin Nutr, 105, 136–179.

Smeets, J. S. J., Horstman, A. M. H., Vles, G. F., Emans, P. J., Goessens, J. P. B., Gijsen, A. P., … van Loon, L. J. C. (2019). Protein synthesis rates of muscle, tendon, ligament, cartilage, and bone tissue in vivo in humans. PLOS ONE, 14(11), e0224745.