Collagen for Strong Tendons and Ligaments

collagen for stronger tendons and ligamentsCollagen (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.

4 thoughts on “Collagen for Strong Tendons and Ligaments”

  1. Pingback: The Health Benefits of Collagen for Skin, Bones, and Muscles - Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD

  2. Hi Marie,
    Big fan of your work, but I think, on the balance of research, the benefits of collagen are overstated.
    Drawing conclusions from the Keith Baar study, for example, seems highly, highly speculative!!! Think about the collagen supplementation study where they assessed collagen synthesis rates in the AIS athletes. How did they measure it? With a urinary marker – so basically a measure of whole body collagen synthesis – how do we know that collagen synthesis wasn’t increased in the liver from getting jiggled about during the skipping – seriously its a totally valid point. Tendon/Ligament connective tissues are extremely long lived with half lives on the order of just under a decade and they constitute a tiny fraction of your body’s collagen stores – the biggest being the skin, visceral organs and bone. As Keith points out, it is the number of crosslinks and orientation of the collagen molecules that determines the stiffness. Its not necessarily an issue of needing more collagen per se and there is no evidence that I can think of to show that increasing availability of proline/lysine etc actually increases connective tissue synthesis in vivo. There is Keith’s work on the cultured tendon’s but for now those data just provide a good proof of principle. The case study data on the NFL guy that underwent ACL repair doesn’t tell us anything meaningful really!
    Interested to hear your thoughts…

    1. Hello Marcus,
      Thanks for your comments. I agree with you that it is early (and Keith Baar has said this as well). Indeed, whole body collagen synthesis does not tell us about collagen building in tendons and ligaments. It reminds me of using whole body MPS instead of muscle protein fractional synthetic rate to examine a protein’s impact on muscle. What is the turnover rate for tendons and ligaments? We can see changes in bone in a 6 month period. With tendons and ligaments (though measuring may not be were BMD and BMC measuring is for bone), we should be able to see changes in a period much shorter than 10 years. Also keep in mind his engineered ligament model and how collagen supplementation increased the density of collagen.

      We do need more research and I believe I heard Keith bar say on a podcast that in his next study he will give whey or another protein and hour before therapy.


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