Gelatin and its benefits
by Thomas Clarebout
Use gelatin to improve performance, prevent injuries and accelerate return to sport. Let's go back to this study by Shaw et al. from 2017 “Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis” and its review by Asker E. Jeukendrup.
More than 70% of visits to the physiotherapist or doctor for athletes of all levels are the result of musculoskeletal injuries. These injuries to muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and cartilage are often the result of a weakness within the extracellular matrix (ECM). Therefore, strengthening the ECM has the potential to reduce sports injuries.
Beyond the role in injury prevention, the ECM plays an additional role in performance; that of increasing the “rate of force development” which is one of the best measures of speed and power.
The ECM has long been thought of as an inert gel which merely holds tissues together but over the past decade this view has been challenged by a number of experiments which demonstrate that the ECM is actually a dynamic tissue that is essential for proper musculoskeletal functioning.
For an athlete, the ECM has two main functions:
1) transmit forces quickly to maximize speed and performance;
2) absorb the energy induced by shocks and impacts in order to avoid injuries
The ECM of muscle and tendon is the focus of the first role, while the second role also includes the ECM in ligaments, cartilage and bone
ECM function is determined by the amount and cross-linking of collagen as well as water stored in the tissue.
The amount of water in the ECM does not seem to change noticeably with training, therefore, for the ECM to become stiffer and stronger, either an increase in the amount of collagen or the number of cross-links binding collagen proteins together.
To maximize speed and power performance, trainers use high-speed movements with a significant plyometric component.
This type of training does two things to the ECM:
1) increase collagen content and cross-linking in muscle ECM;
2) increase cross-linking of the ECM in the muscle end of the tendon.
The result is that force can be transmitted faster from muscle to bone, resulting in increased speed and power.
To avoid muscle injuries, trainers and physiotherapists use slow movements; either heavy weight training, slow eccentric movements or heavy isometric holds.
This type of training does two somewhat different things to the ECM:
1) it will always increase collagen content and cross-linking in muscle ECM; but unlike fast movements, this type of training.
2) will decrease cross-linking of the ECM to the muscle end of the tendon.
Since the muscle end of the tendon functions as a shock absorber, the decrease in stiffness in this region of the tendon will protect the associated muscle from injury.
Beyond load management, we now know that we can also promote ECM production via nutritional action.
In the study by Shaw et al. they combined intermittent exercise with gelatin: a dietary source of collagen-enriched amino acids.
In this randomized double-blind crossover study, there were subjects consuming either a placebo or 5g or 15 grams of gelatin in ~500ml of vitamin C-rich blackcurrant juice (~50mg).
They then determined the rate of appearance of amino acids as well as the production of collagen during the first 4 hours after the intervention.
To increase collagen synthesis, they then had the subjects jump rope for 6 minutes one hour after taking the supplements.
Consistent with the importance of short loading periods on collagen synthesis, 6 minutes of jumping rope doubled collagen synthesis in the placebo and 5g gelatin groups.
Additionally, when subjects consumed the highest dose of gelatin (15g), an additional 2-fold increase in collagen synthesis was observed above that of just skipping rope for 6 minutes alone.
(Figure 2: Collagen concentration in ligaments 1 h after ingestion of 5 or 15 g vitamin C-enriched gelatin or a placebo control)
For coaches and athletes, this means an athlete can add a 5-minute prevention session one hour after consuming gelatin and at least 6 hours before or after their other workout to improve the health of their bones, cartilages , tendons and ligaments and prevent injury or accelerate return to play.
This is a growing area of research that promises to improve performance and minimize injury as our understanding of ECM grows.
We care, U perform.