Gelatin is not a good protein choice for post-workout recovery.
Now, let me note, gelatin is great for some things (click here to read), but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately: bloggers recommending gelatin as the sole source of post-workout protein. This is not only misguided, it’s just straight up wrong. Yes, gelatin has amino acids, but when you look closely, there are some reasons it can’t substitute as a proper protein source for post-workout recovery.
What’s the Issue?
Gelatin is a type of protein obtained from animal connective tissue and is rich in collagen. You know how when you cook a chicken and refrigerate it in the pan and there are jiggly meat juices at the bottom? That’s because of gelatin.
It’s got lots of two amino acids—protein building blocks—called proline and glycine. Keep those two names in mind for a moment. These amino acids are considered non-essential which means our bodies can manufacture their own supply. Adding gelatin to your diet—be it through bone broth or gelatin supplements—can certainly have benefit to the digestive system and to your joints (click here to read more), but it’s relatively useless at building muscle tissue because it’s so low in branched chain amino acids.
And that is a problem.
Building Muscle is the Name of the Game
When you train, you incur microscopic damage to muscle tissue, and the goal of protein intake in your post-workout nutrition (and frankly, the rest of your diet) is to provide substrate to begin the rebuilding it. If you want to be fancy, this process is called muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
Here’s the rub: The high proline and glycine content found in gelatin are not helpful for MPS.
Rather, a special subcategory of amino acids called branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are the ones most important to MPS. Leucine, valine and isoleucine are the three BCAAs—so termed because of their non-linear structure, and they’re found in most abundance in animal protein sources. One other key: The BCAAs are essential which means they can’t be directly manufactured by the body, unlike proline and glycine.
Putting It All Together
To maximize muscle repair and growth—important processes for all athletes regardless of sport—adequate intake of nutrient-dense dietary protein from animal sources provides the best bank of the amino acids needed for these mechanisms.
Yes, you can get protein from plants but it’s far less dense and you’d have to eat far more food volume to get enough. Not to mention, plant sources of protein lack B vitamins and other critical nutrients that are readily available in animal sources.
Gelatin, while it is rich in amino acids, does not contain the ones needed to build and repair muscle, and athletes need to make wise choices in the post-workout window; eating gelatin instead of meat, eggs, seafood or even a supplement such as whey protein is not one of them.
To read more about the importance of protein for athletic performance and how much to eat, check out my ebook, The Paleo Athlete and for recipes, check out my print book, The Performance Paleo Cookbook!