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Estrogen, Collagen, & the Female Athlete   

NEW EXCITING RESEARCH 

Estrogen, Collagen, and the Female Athlete: New Research Shows Why Timing of Collagen Supplements Matter for Menstruating Athletes

If you’re an athlete, you know that if you overlook your recovery, you’re missing out on reaching your peak performance.

For athletes who compete during their period, they have to keep in mind how hormonal changes directly affect injury risk, performance, and recovery.  Knowing what to do at different points in your cycle is critical, and sadly, the research on this topic has been lacking until now.  

A fascinating case report from Liverpool John Moors University examines the effect of estrogen levels on connective tissue damage and recovery. The authors highlight the role of collagen supplementation, particularly at certain times in one’s cycle.

We hope this exciting new research is replicated in larger studies, but for now, let’s dive into the key insights for female athletes to optimize recovery and reduce the risk of injury.

Understanding the Study

This first-of-its-kind study explored how collagen synthesis and breakdown are affected by circulating estrogen levels in a naturally menstruating female athlete.
Then, scientists tested whether a hydrolyzed collagen supplement could mitigate any negative effects of high estrogen on connective tissues.
The main result shows the importance of timing for an effective recovery supplement strategy to prevent injury!

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Background: The Menstrual Cycle and Estrogen Fluctuations

Estrogen levels in women fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle.
They are typically low during menses (the beginning of the follicular phase), gradually increasing to peak just before ovulation (late follicular phase).

Then, estrogen levels decrease to mark the beginning of the luteal phase, fluctuate through the following week, and finally decrease back to baseline to start the next cycle.

Why is this important?

Women athletes who have a period are almost twice as likely to get injured during the late follicular phase when estrogen levels are higher than during other phases of their cycle.

Recent research shows that higher estrogen levels affect how collagenous proteins function, making connective tissue like tendons and ligaments more lax and unstable.

This results in fewer muscle pulls among women but drastically increases the risk of more severe injuries where tendons and ligaments are loaded beyond their breaking point.
To our knowledge, no nutritional strategies have been studied for their ability to reduce the specific injuries women are prone to.

Study Details

The study involved a 36-year-old female athlete who performed a 10-rep maximum back squat during two different phases of her menstrual cycle—when her estrogen levels were low (onset of menses) and then again when estrogen was high (late follicular phase).

This was done over two consecutive menstrual cycles; during one cycle, she had 30 grams of collagen peptides before the exercise, and in the other, she did not supplement.

The researchers measured:

- 17β-estradiol (a form of estrogen)

- Markers of collagen turnover: including Procollagen type I N-terminal propeptide (PINP) - a biomarker of collagen synthesis; and β-isomerized C-terminal telopeptide of type I collagen (β-CTX) - a biomarker of collagen breakdown.

- 18 collagen-related amino acids


Key Takeaways

In this seminal study, the researchers kept the conclusions simple and pointed:

Estrogen and Collagen Breakdown and Synthesis: Collagen synthesis increased after resistance exercise but was dramatically lower when estrogen levels were high compared to when estrogen levels were low.

Estrogen’s Link to Injury Risk: The ability to build strong collagen tissue after exercise helps make a strong body resilient to injury. This study shows that high estrogen levels decrease collagen synthesis, which may be one reason for the increase in injury risk.

Benefits of Collagen Supplementation: Taking 30 grams of hydrolyzed collagen counteracted the negative effects of high estrogen by increasing key collagen amino acids and boosting collagen synthesis up to baseline levels.Interestingly, markers of collagen breakdown decreased immediately after resistance training, regardless of supplementation.
It may not necessarily be the collagen breakdown that increases injury risk; this result shows that the process of rebuilding collagen — which you can directly support with a collagen supplement — could be the more important factor.

Practical Implications and Tips

This study suggests that hydrolyzed collagen supplements can be particularly beneficial for menstruating athletes when estrogen levels are high.

Monitor Menstrual Cycle: Understanding your cycle can help optimize training and recovery strategies.

Time your Collagen Supplements: Consider taking 30 grams of hydrolyzed collagen before workouts, particularly 1 week after the onset of menses to the day before ovulation. Outside the late follicular phase of your period, a lower dose (i.e. 15 grams of collagen) should be suitable to improve recovery and decrease injury risk.

Optimizing training and supplementation can enhance collagen synthesis, improve recovery time, and reduce injury risk for women athletes.

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Future Directions

While this case study provides valuable insights by looking at one athlete, larger studies are needed to confirm these findings and refine recommendations.

 Variations in menstrual cycles, hormone fluctuations, injury risk, collagen synthesis, and sports-specific factors are important when determining the best strategy for female athletes. Strength coaches and registered dietitians need to work together to monitor athletes' training loads and proper nutrition intake.

Lastly, this result could also be relevant for pre and postmenopausal women, whether they’re taking hormone replacement therapy or not. Since high estrogen is associated with lower collagen synthesis, influencing connective tissue synthesis with a collagen supplement may also help improve injury risk among older adults. Given the fact that collagen supplementation has been shown to improve bone mineral density, we believe future research in this area will provide exciting insights for people of all ages who want to live their best lives.

Conclusion

Recovery is key to optimal performance. Collagen protein plays an important role in connective tissue & joint health.

For menstruating female athletes, collagen supplements can play a crucial role — especially when they’re timed according to their cycle. By understanding the interplay between estrogen levels, collagen synthesis, and recovery markers, female athletes can enhance their training, improve recovery, and reduce the risk of injuries.

Embracing these insights will be a game-changer in women's sports.

Whether you’re a coach, professional, an athlete, or just someone trying to live her best, keep up with the latest research or get left in the dust!

Written by Barbara Depta and registered dietitian Detrick Snyder, MPH, RDN. Updated on 2024-06-12.

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Disclaimer

This content is for general informational purposes only, and does not constitute the practice of any professional healthcare service, INCLUDING the giving of medical advice. No provider-patient relationship is formed. The use of this information, and the materials linked to this content is at the user's own risk. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should abide by the advice of their healthcare provider, and should not disregard or delay in obtaining medical advice for any medical condition they may have.

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