Genieve Burley could barely make it down a set of stairs because of chronic knee pain. Years of heavy weightlifting had left our ambassador, a chiropractor, in bad shape, but instead of surgery, she turned to natural remedies like yoga, a healthy diet, and a collagen supplement. “A surgeon said I wouldn’t be able to exercise anymore,” says Burley. “I’ve been taking collagen supplements for a year and a half and I’m running half marathons again.”
Collagen may be the latest fad in the health and wellness world, but the science checks out. A protein that acts as the main building block for cells and tissues, athletes have started adding collagen supplements to their routine to help repair joints, muscles, and cartilage. One study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutritionshows that daily collagen supplementation increases joint support, while another 24-week clinical trial by Penn State University demonstrated improvement in joint pain.
“Over-exercise can lead to the deterioration of collagen in the joints and tissues, which can cause pain and inflammation,” says Toronto-based nutritionist and author Joy McCarthy. An amino acid-rich supplement derived from bovine, chicken, or fish sources can help restore collagen reserves. “When it comes to choosing a quality supplement, you’re going to have quicker and easier absorption from a powder because your stomach doesn’t have to work to break down a capsule first,” she says.
“Cartilage is one of the tissues in your body that will age the quickest and it has a hard time recovering because it doesn’t receive any direct blood flow, making it hard for nutrients to get to it,” says Burley, who takes Cartiflex, a Type II collagen derived from chicken cartilage. Of the many different kinds of collagen, Burley recommends Type I or Type II for training recovery. “If you’re suffering from IT band syndrome or pain in the soft tissues, then you want to take a Type I collagen, like TruMarine,” adds Burley, speaking to another, fish-derived collagen. (Bonus: unlike other sources, TruMarine has no nasty odour or flavour so you can skip the mid-gulp nose plug.)
So, how does it work? “Our bodies are so smart,” says Vancouver-based holistic nutritionist Jennifer Brott. Collagen is absorbed into the bloodstream and delivered to our joints and skin as building blocks to support collagen synthesis. “The supplement can also act as a digestive aid by healing the stomach and intestinal lining,” says Brott, who says it can take one to four months to experience its effects.
Collagen deficiency can also result from not eating enough complete protein sources. “It’s easier for people who eat animal foods because they have a complete source of protein,” says McCarthy. “You just have to be more creative if you’re vegan or vegetarian.”
According to Burley there is no way to get collagen from a plant-based source, so some vegans, such as herself, make an exception for the supplement.
Before mixing collagen into every glass of water, keep in mind that it’s only effective as part of a balanced diet. “If you have a ton of sugar and alcohol in your diet, collagen won’t help,” says McCarthy. That said, with science pointing to it’s efficacy in post-training recovery, and athletes touting its positive effects, we say bottoms up.
DR. GENIEVE BURLEY’S SELF-CARE TIPS FOR RUNNERS
Whether you’re training for your first 5K or a marathon, these tips can help you go the distance.
EAT AN ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DIET
During activity where repetitive movement is sustained for a long period, like running, your body responds with inflammation. Eating a diet that offsets that inflammation can help. “Avoid dairy, red meat, alcohol, and coffee,” suggests Burley.
CATCH SOME ZS
People discount the importance of sleep. “All the recovery work in your system happens when you’re sleeping, so if you’re training you need an undisrupted eight hours,” says Burley. “When you enter slow wave sleep, growth hormone is released, which builds tissues and helps our bodies recover from stress.” Get more tips for a better sleep.
TRY CROSS TRAINING
Because running activates one plane of movement repetitively, Burley suggests incorporating cross-training that supports lateral and rotary movement to reduce stress on muscles and joints. “Strength training and yoga are great options,” says Burley. Add this workout to your regimen.
“Hydration is really important in the first 24 hours after a marathon,” says Burley, who stresses drinking something with electrolytes. “It can be as simple as lime water with salt and sugar in it, but unless you have those ions to bring the water into your body, it’s not going to get where it needs to go.”
GET ACTIVE REST
Finishing a marathon and then not moving for two days isn’t the best idea. “Being completely inactive creates stiffness and soreness in your body,” Burley says. She suggests doing a very light, recovery-based workout like walking or swimming the day after a marathon to flush out bad chemicals and inflammation produced during the run.