Is collagen the key to maintaining your body for rock climbing? While collagen has long been used for improved hair, nail, and skin health, the idea that supplementing with collagen is beneficial for tendon health has recently exploded into the world of rock climbing. But what is collagen? Can collagen really help rock climbers? What are the side effects of taking collagen?
If you have been reading about nutrition for rock climbing lately, then you’ve probably seen some differing opinions about taking supplemental collagen. Rock climbing is extremely tough on the small tendons and ligaments in the fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Since tendons are made of collagen many believe that taking more collagen will be good for your tendons. This idea has been up for debate, but over the last couple of years, the general consensus is that taking a collagen supplement can help tendon health when combined with proper exercise.
The Science Behind Collagen
If you are skeptical about taking collagen, I don’t blame you. Take a look at these two articles published by Outside Magazine.
In an Outside Magazine article in 2017 collagen was lambasted as a waste of money. “There’s no evidence that I’ve seen that what you’re ingesting can actually be used by your body…It goes through your body and comes out as waste,” [Dr.] Zitnay says.
The main claim is that the body synthesizes (makes) collagen. It’s not using collagen which you consume.
However, in 2019 Outside Magazine published an article about the benefits of using collagen for injury prevention and recovery. This new research links collagen synthesis to the consumption of collagen (gelatin).
Blood tests of participants showed that jumping rope for just six minutes, three times a day, doubled rates of collagen synthesis. When subjects consumed 15 grams of gelatin an hour before each mini workout, with some vitamin C to help catalyze the reaction, collagen synthesis doubled again.
Other major health publishers on supporting this position as well. Healthline reported that taking collagen supplements has been shown to reduce inflammation and stimulate collagen synthesis in the body. This may help promote pain relief among people with joint disorders like osteoarthritis.
In 2020, A Training Beta interview [listen here] with The Climbing Doctor, Dr. Jared Vagy, described taking a collagen supplement as the “Low-hanging fruit” when it comes to what climbers can do to shorten recovery time.
When to Take Collagen
So research indicates that taking collagen supplements can improve the body’s synthesis of collagen for tendon repair, but if you really want to maximize the benefits of collagen it is recommended that you time when you take your collagen supplement and follow it up with some exercise. Of course, you should always consult with a professional nutritionist or doctor before changing your diet.
The current guidelines say to take somewhere between 8-12 grams of collagen 30-60 minutes before exercise. Yes, that’s right, before!
This may be very confusing for athletes since most protein supplements are taken after exercise. That is because, compared to muscles, tendons have a very different mechanism for repairing themselves. Muscle recovery happens over hours and days after exercise and uses nutrients and protein from your post-workout meal to rebuild muscles. However, research cited by Healthline and Outside Magazine indicates that collagen synthesis is stimulated by exercise. In fact, according to reports from Healthline, it only takes 5-6 minutes of exercise to stimulate the collagen synthesis process.
It is also important to note that when exercising for tendon health the workout should not exceed ten minutes, with at least 6 hours between workouts. Doing more than 10 minutes, while good for building muscle, doesn’t improve tendon health. This is because the rate of collagen synthesis drops off rapidly after the 6-10 minutes.
So the bottom line is that both exercise and taking a collagen supplement boost the collagen synthesis process in the body. By timing your consumption of collagen 30-60 minutes before your exercise you can use two methods at once to increase collagen synthesis in your body.
How to Take Collagen
Like many other proteins, collagen supplements are taken as a power. While many people complain about the chalky taste of protein powder supplements you will find that collagen dissolves nicely in drinks, shakes, soups and sauces.
My go-to drink for taking collagen? Orange juice. Since the research cited by Healthline also suggests that combining collagen with vitamin C can improve the body’s ability to use the collagen, why not pair it with orange juice?
For even faster dissolving try adding collagen powder to hot drinks like coffee or tea. The taste is hardly noticeable and the collagen adds a gentle silky texture.
Like other supplements, if the taste is a big barrier for you, try adding a smaller amount of collagen to a drink to start with and slowly work your way up to the recommended daily 8-12 gram serving.
How to Select a Collagen Supplement?
There are some important considerations to make when deciding what kind of collagen supplement to take. For example, those with allergies or food sensitivities need to be sure that their supplement doesn’t contain ingredients or derive from sources that they will react to (i.e. shellfish).
Furthermore, collagen from animal sources comes from parts of the animal’s bones (see Healthline’s article on bovine collagen) where heavy metals tend to accumulate. So, to avoid the consumption of potentially harmful metals it is very important to know the source and quality of your collagen!
To make sure your supplement is safe you can either make the collagen supplement yourself from high-quality sources (a lengthy process) or use a trusted supplier.
Related Post: How to Make Your Own Homemade Collagen Supplement
Naked Nutrition — a Trusted Supplier of Collagen
Since it is very important to trust the source of your collagen Moja Gear recommends Naked Nutrition. Naked Nutrition sources their bovine collagen powder from pasture-raised European cows that eat a natural grass diet.
Another reason we recommend Naked Nutrition collagen is because of its taste and texture. Collagen has a relatively gentle effect on the taste of your food or drink, but only if the collagen has been fully dissolved. The superfine powder from Naked Nutrition provides the fastest and most complete dissolving we have tested. This is especially nice for those like me, who mix collagen into cold beverages like orange juice.
Hot beverages like coffee and tea are the beverage of choice for many who supplement with collagen. Since their daily routine already includes a daily cup of coffee or tea, taking a daily collagen boost is easy. The fine high-quality powder from Naked Nutrition’s collagen may even become your preferred method of drinking your daily coffee.
Looking for more clean-sourced supplements?
In addition to collagen, Naked Nutrition offers animal-based proteins, plant-based proteins, and a selection of other high-quality supplements.
In particular, we at Moja Gear found the Green Superfood Powder to be a clever way to add additional servings of vegetables in your routine. A quick scoop into a soup or main dish adds 2 servings of vegetables! Made from only 10 simple ingredients the rich flavor is also a great way to liven up any dish while you sneak in some much-needed nutrients.
Want more climbing content? Get our awesome climbing newsletter, delivered weekly.
- Free Rock Climbing eBooks on Technique, Knots, Training, and More
- 23 Best Gifts for Rock Climbers
- This Week’s Best Rock Climbing Gear Sales
- How to Build a Trad Rack
- Gear Guide: The Best Rock Climbing Shoes
- Van Life: Essential Gear for Dirtbagging on the Road
Rock Climbing and Collagen Supplement Research Sources
- Outside Magazine: Collagen Supplements Aren’t Doing You Any Good
- Outside Magazine: Gelatin Injury Prevention and Recovery
- Healthline: Collagen Benefits
- Webmd: Collagen Supplements: What the Research Shows
- Moja Gear: How to Make Your Own Homemade Collagen Supplement
- Healthline: Bovine Collagen
- Dr. Jared Vagy on finger health with Training Beta