Let's talk collagen supplements
There is no shortage of questions that come along with starting a collagen routine. What can you expect from collagen peptides? How should you take it? What form is best? When can you expect to see results? Well, add this to the list: How much collagen should you take?
It seems like it should be pretty clear-cut, no? Well, like most things in health, beauty, and wellness .... there's actually some nuance. Here, we break down what you need to know.
Why take a collagen supplement?
There are many reasons people add a collagen supplement to their routine; from beauty to overall health. This is because the protein is naturally found in many areas of the body, including the skin, muscles, joints, bones, and gut.
In fact, there are at least 28 kinds of collagen that we know of that exist in vertebrates, however, collagen types I through III are the most common. We actually produce collagen via the fibroblasts, but our production levels decreases over time with aging, and so many look for ways you can support the production naturally.
So what are the benefits?
1. Skin health support
Research shows that these collagen peptides are able to support skin elasticity and dermal collagen density. The way this works is that hydrolyzed collagen peptides have been shown to help promote your body's natural production of collagen and other molecules that make up the skin, like elastin and fibrillin, within the fibroblasts.
While this is a new area of study for collagen supplements, research has found that levels of certain types of collagen are lower in individuals with digestive challenges.
It turns out that one of the main amino acids in collagen, L-glutamate, supports digestive health because it's a major fuel source for the cells in the intestine. Our gut lining cells also use proline and glycine for energy, and these are two additional amino acids found in collagen.
3. Joints & bone
Collagen type II is a common structural component of our joints. One randomised clinical trial found that people who took a type II collagen supplement for 180 days saw support in their physical function and helped improve joint mobility and comfort.
As for bone health, it's a more time-intensive benefit to track due to how long the bone turnover timeline is. However, the above study found that postmenopausal women showed enhanced bone density at 12 months after consuming collagen peptides daily for a year.
Collagen is not a complete protein because it's missing tryptophan, one of the nine essential amino acids, but it still delivers close to 20 unique amino acids and can support muscle mass, according to researchers. In one small human study, men who took collagen daily while participating in an exercise program gained more muscle mass than those who only did the exercise programme.
How much collagen should you take?
Unlike with some other vitamins, minerals, and supplements, the science is relatively young and still emerging for collagen peptides. It may seem like collagen has been around on the market for a while now, but relatively speaking it's a newer supplement option!
So while you may find definitive recommendations on intake levels (like a Recommended Daily Allowance, or RDA) and status biomarkers for things like vitamin D (depending on your age, sex, nutrition needs, and lifestyle, of course), it's just not the same for collagen at this time.
Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, says "Collagen research publications actually date back to the 1940s, which sounds like a long time. Search PubMed, and you'll find 400-plus peer-reviewed journal articles relevant to 'collagen peptides' dating back to 1965. But clinical trials leveraging oral collagen peptide supplementation for a variety of health outcomes have only been completed in the past two decades, with the majority (around 30 human clinicals) completed in the past 10 years. We are learning in real time, which is honestly exciting and cutting-edge.
So while we might not have an RDA for collagen (like we do with vitamins, minerals, carbohydrate, fiber, protein, and fat), a growing number of clinical studies point to specific, effective dosages based on outcomes; and can help us understand how much collagen we should be taking every day.
As for the amount of collagen peptides you are getting from your specific supplement, look for the grams of collagen per serving. It should be on the label and if not I would suggest you move to a different brand! Remember: Not all collagen supplements are made the same! Options may have anywhere from 40 milligrams to 20 grams of collagen per serving. That's quite a range.
Collagen and protein dosage overall
Remember that collagen is a specific type of protein. Now, there is no official daily recommendation from health organisations (yet) for specific forms of protein like collagen; however, for healthy adults, you need at least 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for muscle mass maintenance.
From there, protein needs increase based on activity levels:
• For highly active adults, you should consume 1-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day
• If you have a specific health condition, your daily protein needs may be even higher (due to increased protein turnover and healing needs in the body), in which case, please defer to your doctor
However, remember that collagen is not a complete protein. As an incomplete protein (meaning that it does not contain all nine essential amino acids; it has eight of them), you should pair it with other protein sources to get your adequate intake of the essential amino acids.
Ashley Ferira explains it this way: "The notion of intentionally pairing complementary proteins to maximize amino acid consumption (e.g., rice and beans) is a daily nutrition endeavor for vegetarians and vegans. The same concept applies here for everybody with collagen, which can absolutely contribute to your overall nutrition approach to meet daily protein needs." In fact, a 2019 study found that as much as 36% of daily protein could come from collagen peptides while simultaneously achieving essential amino acid requirements!
Collagen dosage based on benefit
Additionally, we also know there are specific doses of collagen based on your desired result. Here let's look into the collagen peptide dosage based on the benefit, as science has found positive results in these dose ranges per health-support area.
Skin: Studies show that a range of 2.5-10 grams per day can be beneficial for skin support.
Muscle: Studies show that 15-20 grams per day can help muscle mass, muscle strength, and soreness after exercise.
Joint: 2.5-5 grams per day has been shown to help joint support; however, if you are taking UC-II specifically, you only need 40 milligrams per day.*
Bone: The available research suggests that 5 grams per day provides bone support.
When should you take it?
For some supplements, the when is important. As for collagen, you may hear conflicting information about when the best time to take the supplement is; be it morning, midday, or evening.
For me, the best course of action is to take collagen supplements whenever it works best for your schedule. As with all supplements, consistency is key; so if you're more likely to remember it in the morning with your coffee, take it then. But if you like to blend it in with your lunch smoothie? That's great too! Do what works best for you.
How long does it take to see results?
When you incorporate a new supplement into your routine, it's only natural to expect results. But like all good things, it can take a bit of time, and individual experiences will vary. And given how collagen peptides work, their benefits start showing up in the body at different durations.
Below are the rough estimates based on the most up-to-date information:
Skin support benefits: 4 to 12 weeks (1 to 3 months)
Muscle mass and strength (combined with resistance training): 3 months
Less soreness after physical training: within a few days
Joint health support: 4 to 6 months
Tendon support (combined with strengthening exercise): 3 to 6 months
Bone-density support: 12 months
Hair: unclear (more research needed)
Nails: 6 months
Types of collagen supplements
Powders are the best, as they are able to deliver the most potent amount of collagen. Powders are also a convenient way to add a meaningful dose of collagen to your nutrition routine, whether blending into a sweet smoothie with fruits or mixed into your morning coffee or latte. If you prefer other delivery methods such as drinks, tonics, capsules, gummies; that's fine; just know that you're likely not getting as much collagen in these products.