Nutrition for Tendons, Ligaments, & ECM

Ten years ago I would have told you that there was scant evidence that nutrient intake had any influence on sinew quality and joint/connective tissue health—but today I can tell you that it most likely does! A growing body of in vitro, in vivo, pre-clinical and clinical studies have demonstrated the benefits of a specific pre-exercise nutritional protocol intended to amplify collagen synthesis and accelerate healing of tendons and ligaments.

Consuming vitamin C-enriched hydrolyzed collagen before tendon/ligament training is the lynchpin of the protocol shown to double collagen synthesis after exercise. Traditionally, athletes abstain from consuming nutrients before exercise—after all, sustained muscular blood flow in the hours after training is ideal for directing nutrients from a post-exercise meal to muscles in need of recovery and renewal. So why do tendons and ligaments benefit more from this specific pre-workout nutritional intervention?

Unlike muscle, sinew has poor blood flow. Consequently, tendon and ligament nutrition is more reliant on synovial fluid diffusion, as a result of mechanical loading, than vascular perfusion (Figure 8). You may recall from earlier that collagen is comprised of a repeating sequence of amino acids, where glycine makes up one of every three amino acids and proline or hydroxyproline comprise nearly another one-third of the amino acid chain. Consuming hydrolyzed collagen has been shown to spike serum glycine and proline concentrations within one hour—ideal for bathing tendons and ligaments with glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline during rehabilitative, protective, or rigorous climbing workouts.

Figure 8 – Tendons rely heavily on synovial fluid flow, during mechanical loading, to absorb nutrients.

Maximizing the synergy of these training and nutritional interventions requires proper timing of nutrients and workouts. To provide tenocytes with the necessary amino acids to strengthen structural and force transfer proteins, you must consume the vitamin C-enriched hydrolyzed collagen 30 to 60 minutes before training (Figure 9). Note that muscle contractile proteins are best fed a high-quality whey protein (or protein-rich meal) during the period of post-exercise hyperemia, typically lasting one to two hours after cessation of training.

Figure 9 – Cellular signaling and optimal feeding time for tendons/ECM and muscle.

Also critical is the length of recovery between workouts. As described earlier, tendon cell signaling is optimal from brief, targeted workouts, whereas long, hard comprehensive training sessions make the cells refractory (they begin to “turn off” and become somewhat resistant to adaptation). Studies have shown a cell signaling “reset period” of approximately 6 hours. Consequently, two or three brief rehabilitative sessions separated by at least 6 hours is optimal for tissue repair and recovery. For a healthy climber, a brief early morning “protective” session and a longer, harder climbing or specific-training session in the afternoon is a powerful combination for increasing connective tissue health. Consuming a vitamin C-enriched high-quality hydrolyzed collagen beverage before each of these twice-daily workouts will put you on the fastest track to stronger tendons and ligaments, more efficient muscle matrix, and higher performance on the rock!

Learn about the vitamin C- and Leucine-enriched Supercharged Collagen >>

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