Vegan Collagen?

Vegan collagen protein

Q & A with Promix Founder & CEO, Albert Matheny

“I’m vegan. I do not use any animal products, but would still love to get the benefits of collagen peptides. Is there a plant-based source for vegan collagen peptides, or am I out of luck?”

This is an important question, because there is a LOT of misinformation out there about collagen and its sourcing. I am personally frustrated every time I walk into my local health food store and see tubs of seemingly “plant-based” collagen, because the unfortunate fact is that it doesn’t exist.

What is collagen?

What makes collagen peptides, or any other protein for that matter, is a specific set of amino acids that serve as the protein’s building blocks. Together, its amino acids combine to form a unique structure that give the protein a specific molecular weight, shape, and set of functional properties.

You’re too smart to be misled.

Simply put, the amino acids that build collagen cannot be found in the same manner, fully formed in plant-based foods and supplements as they can in animal-derived products. This takes me back to the misleading marketing on some of the products on the shelves of our health food stores.

Be cautious of collagen peptide powders flavored with plant-based materials. A container that reads “matcha collagen” is animal collagen flavored with matcha. “Lavender collagen” or “turmeric milk collagen” are animal products flavored with lavender and turmeric. There are no collagen peptides in matcha, lavender, or turmeric plants.

This is a sneaky way to make consumers think they are getting a plant-based substance, but when you read the labels, you’ll always see it: collagen peptides are at the base of these products, and they come from animals, mostly cows and fish.

So with that knowledge, don’t be fooled. I don’t want you to be tricked into ingesting something that goes against your choices and lifestyle.

(If you’re reading this and feeling a little fuzzy about what collagen peptides are, read this before continuing.)

Don’t panic, you have options!

That’s not to say vegans can’t get the support of collagen peptides. They just have to go about the process in a different way.

Rather than taking in the entire protein structure we talked about earlier, plant-based athletes need to consume the correct amino acids to ensure their bodies gets those building blocks they need to create their own collagen.

The breakdown: which amino acids you need

The key amino acids present in collagen peptides are glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline.

Note that all Promix labels provide a comprehensive amino acid profile chart when applicable, so finding these in our natural protein supplements and nutritional supplements should be a breeze.

Finding foods that are high in glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline will give your body the tools it needs to create collagen and provide many of the same benefits one experiences with traditional collagen in terms of gut health, joint support, and stronger skin, hair and nails.

Bonus – most of these foods are also rich in fiber and valuable micronutrients, so even if you aren’t vegan, feel free to get more of these.

Glycine-rich foods:

  • Seaweed
  • Watercress
  • Spinach

Proline-rich foods:

  • Cabbage
  • Asparagus
  • Bamboo shoots

Hydroxyproline-rich foods:

This is where it gets a little tricky. Hydroxyproline-rich foods don’t exist in the vegan diet, or in any diet, really. Hydroxyproline is a non-essential amino acid, meaning your body creates it on its own and therefore does not rely on food to obtain it.

However, as you might’ve put together from their names, hydroxyproline is made from proline.

Hydroxyproline is formed when a carbon atom of proline is oxidized by way of prolyl hydroxylase, where vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) acts as a cofactor (1).

So in order to make sure your body is synthesizing the hyroxyproline it needs for collagen formation, not only should you get enough proline, but you have to ensure you’re getting a sufficient amount of vitamin C every day!

When you are deficient in vitamin C, your body cannot complete the hydroxylation of proline to form hydroxyproline. As a larger result, your body is not able to synthesize collagen. This results in the degradation of connective tissues.

Ever heard of scurvy? It’s not pretty (2).

Several Promix products are enhanced with vitamin C to help solve this very problem. All of our preworkouts and BCAA powders contain well over 50% of the daily value of vitamin C and are completely plant-based, vegan supplements. As far as whole foods go, getting enough vitamin C is easy as long as you eat your vegetables.

(Learn the other benefits of using a preworkout to boost your athletic performance.)

(Discover to key to eliminating post-workout muscle fatigue with BCAAs.)

Vitamin C-rich foods:

  • bell peppers
  • broccoli
  • citrus fruits

Collagen Structure

So now that you’re getting the correct amino acids, your body can put them all together to make collagen!

The base unit of collagen is called tropocollagen.

Tropocollagen is made of 3-coiled polypeptides with three amino acid residues per turn. These turn around each other and form a classic triple helix structure. The amino acid sequence of this chain is typically repeating units of Gly-X-Y. Glycine (Gly) – proline (X) – 3- or 4-hydroxyproline (Y). At times Y may be 5-hydroxylysine.

Hydroxyproline and proline bring rigidity to the collagen molecule. So even on a macro level, you can see that the parts of your body that are comprised of collagen (nose, ears, etc.) are soft, but hold structure. Thanks, hydroxyproline and proline!

The bottom line

It definitely takes a bit more effort, but there is no reason vegans and plant-based athletes cannot reap similar benefits of collagen peptides. When you put a little extra effort into consciously supplying your body with the proper building blocks, you can also see all of the amazing results of a traditional natural collagen supplement.

Need some energy with that vitamin C?: SHOP PREWORKOUT

Recover smart + kickstart your collagen synthesis: SHOP BCAAs

Have a question about Promix products or any other nutrition questions for me? Shoot me an email – I answer every question right here on this page, and always want to hear about what types of products YOU want to see next.

Now get some greens!

ProMix Nutrition Founder and CEO Albert Matheny signature
Albert Matheny, R.D., C.S.C.S. – Founder & CEO

References

(1) ScienceDirect Website. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/hydroxyproline. Published Dec 6, 2017. Accessed May 2019.

(2) Crosta, Peter. Everything you need to know about scurvy. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/155758.php. Published Dec 6, 2017. Accessed May 2019.