Assuming you’ve kept up with some of our prior posts, we assume you have a relatively good understanding of collagen. For those that gravitate towards collagen in supplement form, there is the whole debate of supplement vs food. As you shop around in stores, you may have seen a lot of products labeled as hydrolyzed collagen. What is hydrolyzed collagen? Is it different or more superior than what you can get in a typical bowl of broth?
For a primer on collagen, see our collagen 101 post. You can also check out this article on the health benefits of collagen. This post is going to dive right into the part on hydrolyzation. So, let's now talk about what exactly hydrolyzed collagen is. On the surface, the word sounds kind of gimmicky. Similar products, such as whey protein, may also be labeled as hydrolyzed. The same goes for some brands of dog and cat food and even some infant formulas.
Hydrolysis is a processing mechanism in which protein is broken down into more usable components. Protein is made up of a long chain of strands consisting of amino acids. During hydrolyzation, the protein strands are unchained. This is done by dissolving the peptide bonds that act as glue and hold the amino acids in place.
When you see a collagen supplement labeled as hydrolyzed collagen powder, the product does not contain whole collagen fibers. Rather, those fibers and fibrils are broken down into procollagen and even further down into the smallest component, the amino acids.
Why is it necessary to break down collagen into its amino acids? It all has to do with digestion. When you eat protein, carbs, and fat, the body relies on its stomach acids, bile, and digestive enzymes to break down the macronutrients into smaller and more usable components. While this is not something you need to consciously think about, it’s actually quite taxing for the body. This is especially true with protein. Some people do not have the ability to adequately digest whole protein due to impaired stomach or organ function.
This is why hydrolyzation is important. The collagen or protein comes pre-digested, meaning it’s already broken down into its smallest components. This makes your stomach’s job a heck of a lot easier. Hydrolyzed collagen supplements provide a solution for anyone with malabsorption disorders or food sensitivities that make nutrient breakdown a struggle.
If protein is not completely digested, it sits in the gut for prolonged periods. This leads to the usual symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, such as gas and bloating. Furthermore, the amino acid doesn’t fully get broken down. Your body can’t use them and they ultimately go to waste.
With respects to collagen, the health benefits don’t come from the collagen itself but the amino acids its composed of. This includes the amino acids arginine, proline, glycine, and hydroxyproline. None of the touted benefits of collagen apply if your body can’t break down the collagenous fibers into those four amino acids.
While everything we just described sounds promising on paper, we understand that some people may still be skeptical. Consider, then, this 2014 study in which hydrolyzed protein supplementation increased protein content in rats after rigorous physical activity.
If you’re still skeptical, here’s a human study for you. In the trial, human subjects consumed either hydrolyzed whey or regular whey protein during workout. The group that supplemented with the hydrolyzed whey saw bigger measurements in performance improvements. Furthermore, researchers also concluded that the hydrolyzed whey improved digestion of carbohydrates and enhanced glycogen uptake in the skeletal muscles.
The aforementioned studies show that hydrolyzed collagen has superior bioavailability. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should never consume bone broth or other collagen-rich foods. Fish, for example, is an excellent source of collagen that comes in smaller and more absorbable molecules.
Collagen supplements, though, are definitely the way to go if you tend to feel bloated or “weighed down” after eating a high-protein meal. This is a sign that your body may not be fully digesting the macronutrient.
Of course, not all collagen supplements are the same. Lower-grade brands contain entire collagen fibers intact. Your body will have to perform all the work to break down the molecules.
For best bioavailability, we recommend checking out Total Collagen, which is pending release as of the date of this post. This is a pure collagen product (no fillers) consisting of the three most abundant collagen types (types 1, 2, and 3) in the human body. Just as importantly, the collagen is hydrolyzed for ensuring the highest bioavailability. After all, even the most beneficial proven compounds are useless if your body can’t absorb them.
Now that you know what hydrolyzed collagen is, you can appreciate products like Total Collagen, which makes digestion a complete non-issue. This way, you reap the full benefits of all-important amino acids like arginine, proline, and glycine.
Hydrolyzed collagen powder isn’t absolutely necessary for healthy individuals. However, it can only benefit your body, so it’s worth having an open mind to give it a try.
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