Collagen (or gelatin) + a good source of vitamin C can make your tendons and ligaments stronger. This may help you return to play faster. Take this combination 60 minutes before activity. It takes 30 – 60 minutes for the amino acids in collagen (namely proline, glycine, lysine, hydroxyproline, and hydroxylysine, which are building blocks of collagen, the primary protein in ligaments, tendons and bone) to peak in your bloodstream. This way they will peak right when the pumping action of joints (from physical activity or physical therapy) delivers blood and therefore nutrients including these amino acids and vitamin C to your tissue. You need vitamin C to build collagen. A glass of juice or an orange delivers plenty of vitamin C. You don’t need a supplement. Large doses of vitamin C are not beneficial for muscle and can delay the process of building new proteins in muscle after resistance training.
Building Healthy Tendons
Training with fast, explosive movements builds stiffer tendons. Stiff tendons make athletes explosive (I think of it like a pogo stick; anyone else play on these when they were kids?). Tendons connect a soft tissue, muscle, to a hard tissue, bone. Therefore, tendons must be more pliable near the muscle and stiffer as they get closer to the bone. Stiffer tendons have more molecular crosslinks connecting collagen to fibrils. This ability to stretch near the muscle helps protect the muscle from injury by absorbing shock. Tendons that are too stiff are more likely to be injured (think of an old rubber band that is stiff, pull it too much and it may break).
If you have a tendon injury, your physical therapist or strength coach might have you do slow movements (eccentric movements – lengthening the muscle, like the downward phase of a biceps curl; isometric holds). These movements increase collagen content but decrease collagen crosslinking in the part of the tendon closest to the muscle making it more pliable and therefore less prone to injury. Take collagen / gelatin + a source of vitamin C beforehand to further benefit collagen production in tendons.
Building Healthy Ligaments
Ligaments connect bone to bone. They need to be stiff to resist injury. Collagen synthesis in ligaments (and bone) is maximized by intermittent bouts of up to 10 minutes of activity separated by 6 or more hours of rest. Your physical therapist or rehab specialist may have you performing < 10-minute bouts of activity targeting the injured tendon or ligament separated by 6 hours before another bout. Be sure to take collagen or gelatin + a source of vitamin C 30 minutes to 1 hour beforehand to improve collagen synthesis even more.
There are huge differences in a person’s response to collagen hydrolysate and gelatin. Expect more coming out soon from Keith Barr about this.
Heating destroys vitamin C so, jello won’t do the trick (unless you already have a sufficient amount of vitamin C in your body).
Vegan? Try soy but, you need a lot more to get higher doses of these amino acids (around 58 grams of soy protein has the same proline and glycine as 15 grams of gelatin).
Interesting tidbits: Lack of physical activity makes tendons stiff. An athlete with a boot on his leg may feel very explosive once that boot comes off. In women, when estrogen is high during the menstrual cycle there is decreased crosslinking of collagen in ligaments leading to decreased stiffness of ligaments and greater chance of ligament rupture (ACLs etc.).
Am J Clin Nutr 2017;105(1):136-143.
Sports Med 2017;47(Suppl 1):5-11.