Do you supplement with collagen?
Collagen is great, and important, but you SHOULDN’T be counting it toward your protein intake.
I’ve been seeing “collagen protein” bars around, and there’s nothing inaccurate about calling them that, but it seems easily to be misled into thinking they provide all the protein we need at a meal. They don’t.
Many people have asked me why I talk about collagen and non-collagen protein separately, and this episode explains why. Listen in and let me know what you think!
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These links are mentioned in the episode:
The glycine database: https://chrismasterjohnphd.com/glycinedatabase
The glycine podcast: https://chrismasterjohnphd.com/gycine
The methylation page, where it all fits into context: https://chrismasterjohnphd.com/methylation
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Read the Transcript
Are you using collagen to get your protein? Look, collagen is great, but this is why you shouldn’t be counting your collagen towards your protein.
Hi. I’m Dr. Chris Masterjohn of chrismasterjohnphd.com, and this is Chris Masterjohn Lite, where the name of the game is “Details? Shmeetails. Just tell me what works!”
And today we’re going to talk about why you should be counting your collagen and your protein separately.
Now, look, collagen is a protein, so there’s nothing literally wrong with calling collagen protein. The problem is how we think about the amount of protein we need and whether collagen contributes to it or not.
So the thing is that when everyone out there is talking about how much protein do you need, and they may debate it, some people may give a lower amount, some a higher amount, but everything that we’re talking about in that discussion is about the essential amino acids that we are not able to make ourselves that we need in the complete array to support not just building our muscle proteins but also building the enzymes and the receptors and all these different aspects of our biochemistry that we need to be healthy that all depend on protein.
And collagen is unique in its protein composition. It’s different than most other proteins. And some of the reasons that it is different are the best reasons to consume it. For example, it’s very rich in glycine. We need more glycine than we get, and it’s way higher in glycine than the other proteins. So it specifically is a great source of glycine, which is needed to make the collagen that supports our hair, nails, bones, and many other tissues in our body, making us both beautiful and strong. We need it for detoxification, we need it for healthy sleep, we need it to regulate blood sugar, we need it for all kinds of things to be healthy, and that’s a reason to get collagen.
Collagen also is broken down into little pieces of collagen that we could call collagen peptides that are more easily made into collagen, again supporting strong bones and teeth, and healthy skin, hair, and nails, beautiful and strong. Great.But collagen is extremely poor in all the essential amino acids that we get from all the other protein in our diet.
In other words, they’re fulfilling two completely different things. So, when someone says you should get X amount of protein per pound of body weight, or per kilogram lean mass, or even percent of what you eat or whatever, they’re talking about non-collagen protein.
Now, from what I’ve seen, I would recommend that in general people shoot for a target of “protein,” meaning non-collagen protein, of a half a gram to a gram of protein per pound of body weight. If you measure your weight in kilograms, you roughly double that amount per kilogram of body weight.
Many people with specific body composition or athletic goals may need to consume significantly more protein than this. When you do, I think you need to think more carefully about the balance of your diet, both because you’re eating fewer of other foods and also because high protein intakes can raise the need for certain nutrients, like vitamin A and vitamin B6, and although we know that principle, we don’t know exactly how much you need to increase your amounts of those nutrients when you eat more protein, so you just need to be more careful in general when you’re consuming a lot higher amounts of protein.
Now, this protein requirement that you’re consuming is non-collagen protein, and you count the collagen separately. So how much collagen should you consume? In general, I think it’s best to think of it as a function of how much protein you’re eating, unless you have specific reasons to consume collagen that you are responding well to.
For example, if you’re getting better blood sugar control, or better sleep, or better skin quality from consuming collagen, then just judge how much collagen you need based on your response with those specific goals. But if you don’t have something obvious in your body telling you how much collagen is right, then it’s best to just think of it as a balance with your non-collagen protein.
There’s a simple way to think about this and a more complicated one. The simple way to think about it is to get one to two grams of collagen for every 10 grams of non-collagen protein that you eat. If you want to be a little bit more nuanced with it, you could think of it in this way: for your plant protein, you can ignore any plant protein that is up to a half gram of protein per pound of body weight.
For example, if I’m 150 pounds and I consume 75 grams of protein, if all 75 grams of protein come from plant protein, I don’t need to add collagen to that. If I’m continuing to eat plant protein and I go beyond that, I start counting 1 gram of collagen for every 10 grams of plant protein that goes beyond that. So I’m 150 pounds, I eat 150 grams of plant protein, then I’m just counting 75 of those grams towards what increases my need for collagen, and I just say, okay, 75 grams, I’m going eat about 7.5 grams of collagen.
Now, if it’s animal protein, you start counting immediately. So, up to a half gram per pound of body weight, so for me, I’m 150 pounds, I’m consuming 75 grams of animal protein, I’m going to consume 1 gram of collagen for every 10 grams of that, so I’m going to get 7.5 grams of collagen. But again, once we go up beyond that first half gram per pound of body weight, we add 2 grams of collagen or every 10 grams of animal protein, so that next 75 grams are going to count towards adding 15 grams of collagen. And so if I’m eating 150 grams of animal protein, I’m getting 7.5 plus 15, which is 22.5 grams of collagen.
Okay, now, first of all, if you want something super simple to remember, that may have seemed really complicated, just go with 1 to 2 grams of collagen for every 10 grams of non-collagen protein.
Or if you want the nuanced way, just go to my website where I’ve written this all out. So, the first place to go is to chrismasterjohnphd.com/glycinedatabase, where I talk extensively about balancing glycine with the other protein that you eat, and I also help you with a searchable database to do that by looking through the glycine contents and ratios with other amino acids in all the foods that you eat.
The second place if you want to learn the technical details around glycine is to go to chrismasterjohnphd.com/glycine, where I did a whole podcast on glycine and the whole rationale behind all of this.
And then the third place to go if you want to get this information in the proper context is to chrismasterjohnphd.com/methylation, where this is really put into the context of what is a healthy diet and what are the practical how to’s around all the things that glycine should be balanced with.
And if you don’t remember those links, just go to the description of this episode, where you can just click the link to go directly to those pages. But remember the principle from today is your protein and your collagen are two separate buckets that you’re counting separately, so make sure that you are consuming a whole meal with complex protein that includes everything that you need. The collagen can be an important part of that, but it isn’t the whole thing.