This Is the Absolute Best Way to Take Collagen, According to Experts
If you've heard about people adding collagen into their diet via powders, drinks, or the superfood known as bone broth, you might have shrugged it off as just another one of the latest diet trends. Sure, everyone's taking collagen now… but in six months, they'll have forgotten all about it, right? Well, maybe not. We know that this protein—which our bodies produce naturally—plays a key role in our health, but what we don't know is the extent to which taking supplements can affect our bodies.
"Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and helps hold skin together, but more research is needed on the effects of consuming collagen on skin, hair, and nail health," says Lainey Younkin, MS, RD, LDN, weight loss dietitian at Lainey Younkin Nutrition. "It probably won't hurt, but also isn't the miracle food it's hyped up to be."
While the evidence on just how good collagen supplements are for you—or whether they can do what fanatics preach—isn't exactly overwhelming, it's still an emerging field of research; when it comes to skin elasticity and joint health, at least, some studies suggest collagen could help you see improvements.
Nevertheless, if you're looking to add a supplement to your diet that could, in theory, support your beauty and health regimes, collagen is a fairly safe bet. But how should you get this daily dose of collagen? Here are four popular ways—ranked from good to great—along with the pros and cons of each. Read on, and for more on healthy eating, don't miss 6 Popular Supplements That Don't Actually Work, According to Experts.
As a supplement
If popping a pill or capsule is your preferred way to boost your daily nutrient profile, you're in luck—collagen is often sold as an oral supplement.
Pros: convenient, portable, flavorless
"Pills are just capsules of collagen powder, so the primary benefit of taking collagen in this form is convenience," says Danielle McAvoy, MSPH, RD, registered dietitian and senior manager of nutrition and culinary product for Territory Foods.
Capsules typically don't have any flavor and you can take one with a swig of water whenever you're running late for work without worrying about mixing or prepping anything.
Cons: small serving size, not as easily absorbed
It's important to check the serving sizes for supplements; it's not always the case that one pill equals one full day's serving. In fact, says McAvoy, most collagen capsules only hold a small amount of powder—and you may need to take up to six per day to get the full recommended serving.
New Jersey-based dietitian and diabetes expert Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE author of Belly Fat For Dummies, also warns that while pills are uber-convenient, they also may not be as easily absorbed as collagen that comes in a liquid or powder form.
As a liquid
Collagen drinks—whether pre-made or ready to be mixed into the liquid of your choice—are a less popular option overall, but are a favorite among on-the-go people who need the extra opportunity to hydrate.
Pros: convenient, easily absorbed, flavorless
Similar to powdered collagen, liquid collagen is ready to be put right to work.
"Liquid collagen is made up of collagen peptides, meaning that it has been broken down into smaller elements that make it more easily absorbed and utilized in the body," says Palinski-Wade.
It also works well for people who don't want to fuss with scooping or mixing powder, says McAvoy, and is about as portable as it gets (toss the bottle in your gym bag to maximize your post-workout hydration).
Cons: limited use
Since you can't mix the powder into anything but liquid and many versions come pre-made as flavored drinks, you don't have as many options in terms of how you take liquid collagen. If you don't like the flavor of a pre-made drink or drink mix, you just have to keep searching until you find one you do like (rather than disguising the flavor in your favorite smoothie).
As a whole food
Put that Instant Pot to good use by brewing up batches of good-for-you bone broth, which not only act as amazing bases for soups and stews but also contain a natural source of collagen.
Pros: unprocessed, more nutrients
If you buy a collagen supplement, you'll notice it usually says "marine" or "bovine" on it in reference to its original animal source (collagen comes from animal skin and bones, FYI). Since we don't normally go around eating the skin and bones of animals, McAvoy says bone broth is a healthy way to access the collagen found there.
"The benefit of getting collagen from food sources is that they are far less processed and you are getting additional amino acids and nutrients that can support collagen production," she explains. (You can also boost your body's natural production of collagen by eating foods rich in micronutrients that are essential to collagen synthesis: These 10 Foods Are Better Than Collagen Supplements.)
Cons: not as concentrated as other forms, may not work for all goals
While bone broth may be one of the healthiest and most natural sources of collagen, it's also pretty inefficient.
"The downside is that you would have to consume bone broth every day, whereas using a powder allows much more flexibility in how you consume collagen," says McAvoy.
Palinski-Wade agrees, saying that bone broth simply isn't the most effective choice if your goal is to improve the health of your skin or joints.
"If your goals are beauty- or joint-related," she adds, "collagen peptide powders and liquids are the more concentrated choices."
As a powder
If you're not adding collagen peptides powder into your daily coffee, are you even following the latest food trends? When collagen is hydrolyzed into a powder, it packs a bigger punch than a pill…but it does require a bit more prep and planning to implement every day.
Pros: well-tolerated, can be mixed into other foods
According to McAvoy, hydrolyzed collagen contains broken-down collagen molecules, which means it's more easily digested overall and better tolerated than some other protein powders (like whey or pea).
"It can be mixed into many different types of foods and drinks," McAvoy adds. "It dissolves in both hot and cold foods, so it works in smoothies, coffee or tea, soups, sauces, oatmeal, and baked goods."
Cons: may have a noticeable flavor
Depending on the brand you're using and what you're adding it into, you may notice your foods or drinks tasting…off…when you mix in collagen powder. It can also change up the texture
There are dozens of collagen brands out there, but two of the three experts we spoke to recommended Vital Proteins as a favorite. Younkin mixes the powder into her coffee every morning; with 10 grams of protein per scoop (and 20 grams per 2-scoop serving), she says it's an easy way to boost protein intake at breakfast. It's also low in sugar and free of artificial sweeteners like Stevia or monk fruit, which means it can blend right into your coffee with no aftertaste.
McAvoy also suggests Vital Proteins, along with the brands Ancient Nutrition and Bulletproof, all of which have a few different product options, like collagen water, coffee creamers, and nutritional supplements.
For Palinski-Wade, her go-to brand of collagen peptides powder is Orgain, a bovine collagen that's pasture-raised, grass-fed, and free of gluten, soy, eggs, fish, and nuts; she says the powder is also odorless and tasteless, meaning it's easy to mix into beverages, smoothies, and soups. (Plus, they have chocolate and vanilla flavors with no added sugar, if you need a little extra boost!)
The best way to consume supplemental collagen depends on what you want to get out of it, although most of our experts say that collagen peptide powders are the perfect marriage of convenience, effectiveness, and digestibility.
"For those who want to add collagen to their routine to enhance skin elasticity and appearance or support joint health, I generally recommend a collagen peptide powder [because it's] easily absorbed and convenient to use," says Palinski-Wade.
If you want to reap the collagen benefits without adding yet another vitamin or powder to your diet, you can opt for bone broth…but know that you would have to consume a lot of it to see any changes.
"I'm a big fan of whole foods over supplements, so I would recommend bone broth if it's an option," says Schaub, "however, the small amount of promising research there is on collagen shows that you need to consume it daily for an extended period of time to see any potential benefits."
If you need quick, easy, and reliable results, adding a daily dose of collagen powder to your soup, tea, coffee, yogurt, or smoothie is your best bet. For that, check out 22 High Protein Smoothie Recipes from Diet and Fitness Experts.