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What is Collagen Good for, Really?

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Until recently, a collagen supplement was something that you’d put on your body, not in it.

For decades, people have used collagen topically in anti-aging creams. But recently there’s been a spike in collagen everything: pills and powders, whey-collagen supplement combos, bone broth, and other collagen-infused products.

Why the surge?

Collagen comes with some lofty health claims. Some suggest that taking just a single serving (about 2 tablespoons) of collagen powder per day can do everything from improve your workout performance, to strengthen your muscles, to lubricate your joints, to even improve your gut health

But at $50 for a one-month serving — double the price of most protein powders — there’s a hefty price tag to go along with all that big talk…only some of which is backed by science.

Should you buy in?

The results are mixed.

If you’re looking FOR COLLAGEN TO boost your workout, don’t believe the hype.

But if you’re hoping for healthier skin, the right product (not all collagen is created equal, so be sure to look at the label) might help you save money you might spend on other worthless products.

Here’s a guide that explains what collagen can do for you, with buying tips to help you make sure you don’t buy a collagen product that uses smoke and mirrors to sell you inferior ingredients.

What Is Collagen, Exactly?

Collagen is a fibrous protein that helps make up the connective tissues in your body. That means collagen is in your skin, hair, joints, bones, muscles, veins, and organs, explains Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and a spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

More than 30 percent of your body’s structural protein is collagen, adds NYC-based registered dietitian Laura Cipullo, R.D., C.D.E.

All collagen is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Your body uses these amino acids to repair its tissues (think: muscles, bones, and joints), explains registered dietician Mary Ellen Phipps, M.P.H., R.D.N., owner of Houston-based Milk & Honey Nutrition. Basically, collagen is the glue that holds those tissues together and help them withstand stretch, Phipps says.

So it makes sense that products are trying to find ways to improve collagen, especially when you consider that collagen decreases when you get older.

Where Does Collagen Come From?

You'll find collagen in this stock pot filled with beef bones and aromatic vegetables.
Bone broth and homemade soups are rich sources of collagen.

Like almost everything, you do not need a supplement to get collagen.

Collagen can be found in animal proteins like eggs, chicken, bone broth, and dairy, says Maggie Michalczyk, R.D.N. Your body will also naturally make collagen from certain amino acids and vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, vitamin C, and copper, she says. In fact, vitamin C is necessary for collagen formulation, so being deficient can harm your body’s natural production.

“The body’s collagen synthesis naturally decreases as we age, which means that, over time, our bodies aren’t producing collagen as quickly as they once were,” explains Valdez.

After about 25 to 30 years of age, your collagen levels start dropping by about 1 percent per year, which means that our bodies aren’t repairing themselves as fast as they once did, Michalczyk says.

Some blame that decrease in collagen production for their achy joints, slower muscle recovery, and sensitive stomachs.

“As the production of collagen decreases, some people anecdotally report symptoms like slower wound healing, greater instances of joint pain or an increase in frequency of broken bones,” says nutritional therapy practitioner Alexandra Rains, C.N.T, co-founder of Bonafide Provisions.

Ok, So Should I Take a Collagen Supplement?

When you learn that collagen decreases over time, it’s logical to conclude that, “Ok, well I’ll just take a collagen supplement. Problem solved.”

Unfortunately it’s not so simple.

“The studies done on oral ingestion of collagen are very limited and there’s a lot of false information out there,” says Valdez.

For starters, there’s no research that shows that the collagen we consume automatically gets turned into the collagen in our tissues.

Quick science refresher: Collagen, like all proteins, is made up of amino acids. The collagen you consume in a collagen powder is going to be broken down into those amino acids with the help of enzymes in the stomach, says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N.

That’s where we lose control of the process. Because just as you can’t eat cake and tell your body where to store fat, you have no say how amino acids will be used.

A rich piece of chocolate cake.
Unfortunately you can’t send this straight to your biceps. The same is true of collagen — once you eat it, you lose control of where it goes.

Instead, the amino acids derived from breaking down ingested collagen (or any other protein you eat) are distributed throughout the body based on which area needs them the most.

Because major organs like the heart and brain use collagen to function, it’s likely that you won’t immediately notice differences in your muscles, joints, or bones, says Phipps. But chances are you won’t really feel it in your heart and brain, either.

Think about it this way: B vitamins have been shown to be good for your heart, but we don’t feel  better when we take a B-vitamin supplement, or eat lean meats or green leafy vegetables (which are rich in those vitamins).

Is Collagen Good For Skin Health?

If there’s an area that’s most promising, it’s collagen’s ability to help skin health. Most evidence surrounding oral collagen supplementation shows that it can improve skin complexion and reduce so-called imperfections.

For example, a recent review published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found that supplementing with oral collagen increased skin hydration after eight weeks, which suggests that taking collagen can help you beat dry, cracked winter skin.

Another study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that supplementing with collagen was effective at reducing the appearance of cellulite in women.

Is Collagen Good for Joint Aches and Pains?

If Collagen’s role with skin health is the most proven, then consider the potential for improving joint health as the most promising.

While there are very few studies performed — which means we need more time (and research) to know with certainty if collagen will help most people, type II collagen (aka collagen peptides) has shown more upside than other more common supplements, such as glucosamine and chondroitin.

According to Examine.com, a leader in supplement research, “The collagen in joint cartilage is 80–90% type-II collagen. Current research suggests that undenatured type-II collagen (UC-II) may reduce swelling, joint pain, and stiffness in cases of moderate-to-severe osteoarthritis and both juvenile and adult-onset rheumatoid arthritis.”

A study in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition found that people with joint pain or mobility who took collagen for 4 months significantly improved joint function. Other research published in Current Medical Research and Opinion suggests that collagen supplements may lessen joint pain among college athletes. And more research published in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology Research found that collagen may decrease joint stiffness and pain in women.

Your move: because research is still young, if you’re dealing with pain and swelling, Valdez recommends that you go see a doctor or physical therapist before trying to “fix” the problem through a supplement or other nutritional change.  

How Does Collagen Affect Bone Health?

While collagen may be good for your joints, claims that collagen is beneficial for bone density are unsupported.

For example, in a study published in the journal Maturitas, researchers found that collagen supplements did not improve bone health in postmenopausal women with osteopenia (a precursor to osteoporosis).

Another study published in the Journal of Agricultural And Food Chemistry did find that collagen increased bone density and had a beneficial impact on osteoporosis…in rats. Until there is evidence that collagen can improve bone density in humans, it’s best to set your expectations low.  

Will Collagen Improve Your Workout Performance?

Four athletes perform box jumps.
Don’t expect collagen to give your workouts a big boost.

Like most supplements (creatine and caffeine being exceptions to the rule), there’s no magic pill hiding in collagen.

Many of the claims of boosted workout performance are based on one study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, which suggested that taking collagen supplements may help preserve lean muscle in older women. There were many limitations within the study: it only involved nine healthy women over the age of 70, all of whom were given collagen supplements for 15 days.

The bigger issue: It’s likely those subjects would experience benefits from consuming any kind of protein, Gans says. Why? Because older women typically under-consume protein, and consuming protein has been found to help preserve lean muscle mass.

So if your goal is to build muscle and chase PR’s, you could just as easily supplement with a cheaper alternative such as whey protein, which also tends to have 15 to 20 grams of protein per scoop, compared to the typical 10-gram serving in collagen products. The choice is up to you and your budget.

What About Collagen and Gut Health?

We’ll keep it simple: like most products related to gut health, there is more speculation than science. There aren’t any studies that show collagen has a positive effect on gut health.

The Buyers Guide: Good Collagen vs. Ineffective Collagen

If you decide you want to try a collagen supplement, it’s important to know that all collagen is not created equal.

Collagen can come from multiple sources, such as gelatin, or in different variations such as hydrolyzed collagen or undenatured collage. Your GI tract will break down these proteins, meaning what you put into your mouth won’t necessary have any value after it goes through the digestive process.

Research in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacological Research found that digestive enzymes break down hydrolyzed collagen. And something like gelatin is rendered almost useless.

Your option: either buy a product with the specific type of hydrolyzed collagen — “type II collagen” (sometimes labeled UC-II) — that has been shown to have benefits in research, or stick with a product that is purely collagen peptides. Both of these variations are more likely to make it through the digestive process and still provide value for your body.

If it doesn’t have type II specified or use collagen peptides, you should have less confidence that the product will deliver on its promises, no matter what the label claims.

To ensure that any supplements you take — collagen or otherwise — contain what they actually say they do (and nothing else), your best bet is to choose a tub that has been third-party tested by a company such as NSF International. You should see this mark right on the label, says Phipps.

However, people with sensitive stomachs may experience some discomfort like heartburn or nausea, says Valdez. So if you find it’s hard on your GI system, try a brand with fewer ingredients, take smaller servings, or consider stopping the supplements altogether.

How to Get More Collagen Naturally

A pile of blueberries and strawberries sit atop a wooden table.
Fruits rich in vitamin C can help you maintain collagen levels.

While collagen supplementation may be beneficial for some, you don’t need to buy a product to add collagen to your diet. Your steps can be as simple as:

  • Regularly eating vitamin C-rich foods such as citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, strawberries, and blueberries. Vitamin C is critical to collagen production, Gans says. That’s because vitamin C deficiencies are linked to a decline in natural collagen production, so prioritizing the vitamin may help keep your collagen levels up.
  • Eating foods high in vitamin A, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach can also help. Much like vitamin C, vitamin A helps your body maintain its collagen levels.
  • Eating protein-rich foods at meals and snacks, Gans says. Great options include animal proteins, eggs, and dairy.
  • Making your own bone broth or stock. Valdez says that bone broths and homemade soups are jam-packed with collagen. You don’t need to go out and buy a bone broth mix from a store. You can make your own by simply putting bones (could be from chicken, beef, pork or a mix) into a large pot with water and veggies like carrots and celery. Add a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, and let boil for several hours. The real trick: the longer you let it boil, the more collagen you’ll receive from the broth (that’s what makes bone broth different from regular stock). If you want to max out the collagen you pull out, cook the bones on low for at least 24 hours. You can make bone broth quicker (say, a minimum of 6 hours of slow cooking), but less cook time means less collagen. And be sure to keep the heat on low to prevent the breakdown of the collagen, which makes it less “usable” by your body.

READ MORE: 

What is the Best Protein Powder? 

How Much Protein Do You Really Need? 

Do Carbs Actually Make You Fat? 

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Why Activated Charcoal Has More Health Risk Than Reward

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Remember when getting a lump of coal from Santa meant you were bad? These days, coal — or activated charcoal, to be exact — is offered in health stores, smoothies, and supplements as a “cure-all” cleanser for a variety of health ailments.

While most cleanses or detoxes have no science behind them (primarily because most prey on fear and don’t deliver any real health benefit) activated charcoal is a different nature. There is reason to believe that charcoal could help cleanse your body because of different uses in emergency rooms. 

But, believe it or not, research shows that slipping random amounts of activated charcoal into products might be worse than your run-of-the-mill miracle cleanse. 

Does Activated Charcoal Work?

The rise of activated charcoal as a health cure starts in the medical community. It’s used in emergency rooms — quite effectively, might I add — to help people fight drug overdoses (oftentimes from OTC meds like acetaminophen).

Charcoal helps prevent the spread of toxins from overdosing to try and limit the danger and risk to your body. That’s great for dangerous and scary situations, but supplement manufacturers took it one step further and suggested that charcoal could prevent the spread of all toxins in your body. 

Unfortunately, emergency situations do not directly apply to general use. And there are a few reasons why taking active charcoal won’t help detox your body or rid you of toxins.

When activated charcoal is given in the ER, the standard dose is about 25 to 50 grams. If you look at the most “popular” activated charcoal products on the market, the dose is 250 milligrams. That means you’re receiving — at most — about 100x less the amount you need to “detox.” And, typically, the dose needs to be given as soon as possible. 

The Risks of Activated Charcoal

An article on CNN showed that even if the activated charcoal is doing its job, it can be a very bad thing. 

You see, activated charcoal works by binding to ingredients (like when it binds to acetaminophen) and preventing it from spreading in your body. But, it’s not selective. The charcoal doesn’t know to bind only to the bad. It just knows to bind. That means the charcoal could be stripping your body of the good nutrients it needs.

So products that are loaded with vitamins and minerals and activated charcoal are essentially worthless. That’s because the activated charcoal will bind to those vitamins and minerals and prevent them from being absorbed in your body. 

 

Does Activated Charcoal Whiten Teeth or Reduce Odor?

In addition to being positioned as a detoxifier, activated charcoal has a variety of health and wellness claims. It’s always your choice if you want to experiment and see if something works for you, but here’s an eye-opening look at what research shows about activated charcoal.

According to Consumer Reports, activated charcoal does not whitten teeth or work to remove body odor.

“There are no published studies on charcoal used for whitening, for example; one unpublished experiment presented at a dentistry conference noted that “fine black charcoal powder” could actually become embedded in cracks or small holes in the teeth—doing the opposite of whitening. There are also no studies we found examining whether activated charcoal, particularly taken orally, might work to reduce general odors (either as a breath freshener or deodorant). There have been studies showing that activated charcoal dressings can tamp down foul stenches from skin wounds and ulcers. But if you have an infected wound or ulcer, you should seek treatment or advice from a doctor before trying any form of activated charcoal.”

More importantly, the health risks are fairly significant.

  • Activated charcoal can bind with some medications, including some antidepressants and anti-inflammatory medications, causing them to be less effective. This could have serious health consequences for some people, but it’s not explained on bottles or packaging where activated charcoal is being sold.
  • Activated charcoal will only bind with whatever particles are in your stomach or intestines at the time that you take it. It works by coming into physical contact with your intestinal contents. If you’re trying to use it to detox from the alcohol and kebab you had the night before, it won’t do anything at all because they have been absorbed into your bloodstream already.
  • Activated charcoal slows down your bowel and is known to cause nausea and constipation (and black stools).

Bottom line: while most activated charcoal products offer a dose that is probably too low to see results, if you decide to take it, you have more downside than upside, and it’s likely not worth your money (or the hype).

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Are You Overtraining? (Here’s How to Tell)

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How do you know if you are pushing too hard during your workouts?

Overtraining is a real phenomenon. It is possible to train so much that you break your body down rather than build it up. But most people never come close to “real” overtraining, which is highlighted (lowlighted?) by physical breakdowns that are hard to ignore. This isn’t muscle soreness or having some bad days in the gym.

Here are 7 common symptoms of overtraining, they include:

  • Increase in resting heart rate and blood pressure
  • Insomnia-like symptoms and trouble sleeping
  • Stomach disturbances
  • Consistent low energy and bad mood
  • Changes in personality and mood
  • Decreased self-esteem and motivation
  • Feelings of sadness and apathy

Overtraining

In other words, you experience symptoms that closely mimic depression and chronic fatigue, according to research from the University of Memphis. In severe cases of overtraining, your immune system shuts down and you can suffer multiple issues, including upper respiratory infections and slow healing, says research published in the Journal of Athletic Training. You can read all about overtraining here.

Are you worried about overtraining? Don’t! Our coaches can help.

 

While that article gives a great breakdown of how to set up your training, it doesn’t cover how you determine the fine line between intensity and insanity. So if you’re worried about pushing too hard (like Paul), Mike Robertson has the answer. Mike (one of the top strength coaches in the U.S.) examines the different ways to evaluate the intensity of your workouts.

They can be broken down into a few options:

Option 1: A self-analysis technique known as RPR/RPE, or “rate of perceived recovery” and “rate of perceived exertion.” The RPR scale is how you feel coming into a training session — how well you slept, how tired/sore you feel, etc.

The RPE rates how heavy/how hard things feel once you start working out. And as you’ll see in Mike’s post, he evaluates it by regularly asking clients questions about how each move feels throughout the workout. Here’s an example:

    1. RPE of 10 – Max effort/limit lift. This is either one heckuva grinder, or they flat out miss a lift.
    2. RPE of 9 – Heavy lift, but one rep left in the tank.
    3. RPE of 8 – Heavy(ish) lift, but two reps left in the tank.
    4. RPE of 7 – Moderate weight, multiple reps left in the tank

Option 2: But let’s say you don’t trust yourself to make subjective measurements. You want data. Well, there are some tests you can use that will put some numbers to your physical preparedness.

For example, the vertical jump is a fairly accurate predictor of how fatigued you are (see study here). If your gym has one of those jump height sticks (y’know, these things), you can use that as a self-assessment tool. Jump before your workout/after your warm-up. If you are at, or above, your usual total, then you’re likely ready to go.

If you’re several inches below, then you’re more tired than you think and may want to scale the session back — or even make it an active recovery day.

Option 3: If you don’t like jumping, but still want data, no problem. A less obvious way to test your readiness is a simple hand dynamometer, which is a tool that measures hand strength. Studies show that hand strength is a reliable indicator of strength on a given day (example here).

And if you’re squeezing and squeezing but several points lower than usual, you’re more fatigued than you know.

How to make use of all of this?

When you get to the gym and start doing your “working sets” (not your warmup), stop and assess how you feel. The weight on the bar might be similar to prior workouts, but how you feel is likely different. And that is your body trying to give you helpful information to make the most of your session.

Instead of sticking to your exact plan, if the weight feels “heavier” than usual and you’re exhausted, you can still get in a great workout without grinding away unnecessarily. As you workout, this is the holy grail of feeling in control.

Push harder when your body says you can, and easy up when you know how to recognize that you’re a little overworked. It’s an approach that’s more likely to keep you consistently in the gym, feeling good, and making improvements.

The post Are You Overtraining? (Here’s How to Tell) appeared first on Born Fitness.

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I Want to Look More Muscular. What’s the Best Way to Make Gains?

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There’s one thing that all the biggest, most muscular people on the planet have in common.

It’s not great genetics.

(Good genes help, but plenty of people have gotten huge without having been blessed with it at birth.)

It’s not that they all just live at the gym and do nothing else, or follow some magical workout. (When it comes to building muscle, many different approaches — low rep/high weight, high rep/low weight, straight sets, supersets, and on and on — can work. There is no one that’s “best.”)

And it’s not that they’re on performance-enhancing drugs. (You can pack on plenty of muscle naturally — look no further than any drug-free bodybuilding competition for proof.)

The thing they all have in common is this:

Patience.

Not the answer you expected? Here’s why being patient is so important.

The Problem with Bulking and Cutting

First, when most people set out to build muscle, they go through a phase where they eat a lot and train a lot. You’ve probably heard it called “bulking.”

Then, after a few weeks or months, they switch. Maybe they get self-conscious about the size the gained. Or maybe they think they’re starting to look fat. So they trim back on calories and change their training to try and burn the fat off. This phase is called “cutting.”

Most people bounce back and forth between these two phases — bulking and cutting, bulking and cutting — without making any real progress. Why? Because each new phase undoes the success of the last.

On our website, we’ve talked about Set Point Theory. It’s the idea that the body identifies with a certain weight and then becomes resistant to change. In our previous article, we discussed how it applied to weight loss. It’s one of the reasons why losing weight — and keeping it off — can be so hard.

But the concept also applies to muscle gain. Your body is used to being a certain weight. When you change that through strength training, it will take measures to go back to how it was — unless you teach it that this more muscular weight is it’s new normal.

Have a Born Fitness coach guide your gainz!

 

You teach your body that through what’s called a maintenance phase. In a lecture on his site Renaissance Periodization, Dr. Mike Israetel discusses how people hold themselves back if they do not include this phase in their training. (The content itself is paywalled, but totally worth buying if you like to nerd out on the science of muscle-building.)

I don’t want to give too much away or do violence to the quality and depth of his explanation. So I’ll summarize it like this: During a maintenance phase, you ease up on training a little bit. And you aim to eat what’s called an isocaloric diet, meaning you try to eat as many calories as you’d need, but not more.

Sample Muscle-Building Macronutrient Formula

This formula from Adam’s Great Abs Experiment will help:

For Total Calories Per Day:

Take the body weight you wish to maintain and multiply it by 10 if you are training 1 hour or less per week. For each additional hour you train per week, add 1 to the multiplier. So if you’d muscled up to 200 pounds, and trained 4 hours per week, you’d multiply 13 by 200 and get 2,600 calories per day as your mark. You can split that total across however many meals per day you prefer to eat (two, three, four, five, whatever).

Protein:

Eat at least 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. So if you were 200 pounds, you’d aim for 200 grams of protein (800 calories total) per day.

Fat:

Eat half a gram of fat per pound of bodyweight. So at 200 pounds, you’d target 100 grams of fat (900 calories) per day.

Carbohydrates:

Determine how many carbohydrates to eat by subtracting the protein and fat calories from your daily total, and then dividing the remainder by 4. To continue the example we’ve been using here, it would be 2,600 calories total minus 800 calories (protein) and 900 calories (fat), leaving you with 900 calories for carbs. Divide that by 4 and you get 225 calories of carbs per day.

While the length of your maintenance phase can vary, you’d want to approach it as if it were something you could do for several months or even years. Why? Because — again — you want this to be your new normal.

You want to think of building muscle not in terms of days and weeks, but months and years. The biggest, most muscular people in the world are the ones who show up for training, again and again, for years on end.

READ MORE: 

Adding Muscle At Any Age: Defying Genetics And Designing The Muscle Building Workout

The New Rules Of Specialization: How To Add Muscle Mass

How To Master The Art Of “Old School” Muscle Building

5 Muscle Building Mistakes (And How To Make Gains)

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