"My Knees Can't Handle That Anymore."
One in five people have some kind of knee complaint according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, and that's probably higher in the weight lifting population.
Knee pain can have many causes: IT band issues, osteoarthritis, misalignment, recovering from an ACL injury, etc. Whatever the cause, it can seriously impede your gains.
Knee pain also causes improper movement patterns because your body naturally begins to avoid the movements that make it hurt, which causes movement dysfunction which then leads a whole host of other problems.
Collagen to the Rescue
The main building block of all tissues, including your knee, is collagen. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It's found in skin, hair, muscles and yes, all over your knees.
Think of collagen like a scaffold holding everything together. Your body makes some on its own (endogenous collagen), but you can also get it from outside sources (exogenous collagen) like bone broth or collagen supplements.
You see, back in the day, we used to get more exogenous collagen by eating the bones and connective tissues of wild game and/or drinking bone broths. Gnawing on bones and slurping broth fell out of fashion for awhile, but both are making a comeback.
Don't want to go full Neanderthal, suck on turkey thighs, or brew up your own broth? Well, collagen supplements are widely available and offer many of the same benefits. Supplementing with collagen, namely collagen peptides, helps decrease athletic-related knee pain, usually in about 3 months.
One study took 139 athletes with functional knee pain and divided them into two groups. One group took 5 grams of collagen peptides per day and the other took a placebo. They wanted to test the difference in pain intensity during activity pre-and post supplementation. They also noted pain during rest, joint range of motion, and use of additional therapies (i.e. painkillers).
The results? The collagen group reported a statistically significant reduction in pain during activity after 3 months, nearly a 40% reduction. The collagen group was also able to decrease the use of other therapies by nearly 60%.
While ROM didn't change, it's safe to assume that by reducing knee pain, you'd be able to work on and increase your ROM, unless you have some structural abnormality that simply can't be changed.
How To Use Collagen
Collagen peptides can be found at health food stores or bought online. Make sure you get the grass-fed, organic kind. Five grams were used in the study. There are 20 grams in one serving of a leading brand, so you'd be golden getting in at least one serving a day. Many find two servings to be optimum (myself included).
Side effects include stronger, thicker hair and nails, and better digestion. Nice.
Warning: Collagen does not melt easily in cold liquids (despite what the container says). For best texture, either blend into your protein shake or stir into hot drinks. Collagen is also loaded with the amino acid called glycine which can make some people sleepy. If this happens, just take it before bed and get the added benefit of better sleep.
One note: As TC Luoma has written, collagen is an incomplete protein. It just doesn't contain all the amino acids necessary for gains, bro. So you're probably better off not counting it toward your daily protein goals.
- Denise Zdzieblik, "Improvement of activity-related knee joint discomfort following supplementation of specific collagen peptides", Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 42 (2017): 588–595.