• Gelatin: Not for Post-Workout Recovery

    Gelatin: Not for Post-Workout Recovery | stupideasypaleo.com

    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.

    Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 4.55.00 PM

    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.

    Get my free PDF of source of dense protein sources for athletes.

    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!

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    55 thoughts on “Gelatin: Not for Post-Workout Recovery

    1. Wonderful post, sweetie! I think it was a great topic to address. I don’t believe I’ve read an article on this issue yet! So great job 🙂 I know the benefits of gelatin and have even thought “hmmm that would be good post workout!” without even thinking of the types of amino acids in contained! I’ve never had gelatin before, but now I know (when I do) not to have it pwo 🙂

      loved this!

      1. Yay…I’m glad it helped, Meg! It’s not that gelatin is bad…in fact, it’s really quite awesome but in that post-workout when we want to maximize MPS it’s not the best choice 🙂

        1. So can it be added to a whey protein shake postworkout? Can I take it pre workout? When’s the best time to take this because it is loaded with all aminos!

          1. Hi Jake,

            That’s the thing…it’s not loaded with all aminos. Yes, it has a variety, but it’s heavily biased toward amino acids not involved in protein synthesis. You could certainly add it along with a whey protein supp. Again, pre-workout you’re trying to prime the pump with substrate for muscle protein synthesis so taking it on its own isn’t great. I would either combine it with whey, as you mentioned, or add it in throughout the day in the form of bone broth or gummies. It can even be added to coffee if you use the collagen hydrolysate form! Hope that helps.

    2. You said that valine is a nonessential amino acid then in the very next Paragraph you call it a BCAA, can you please clarify?

      1. My apologies. There was a typo. It should read: “It’s got lots of two amino acids—protein building blocks—called proline and glycine.” I realize I stated gelatin was high in valine. That was incorrect.

    3. Whey is deficient in arginine though. It’s a conditionally essential amino acid so you can make it from some other amino acids but not from scratch.

      1. Hi there,

        The article was focusing specifically on gelatin’s BCAA content which is why arginine wasn’t mentioned.

        1. Yeah, I just wanted to point it out since some people seem to get most of their protein from whey =)
          And I was almost about to jammer on about arginine supplements so you got off easy with just the two sentences :p

          1. I’ve always viewed whey as a supplement and not a whole food because it is incomplete and it is processed. Eating whole sources of animal protein will always provide the best nutrition bang for the buck, and protein supps. are only usually advantageous when used to fill a gap or because of convenience factors.

    4. Hi Steph – I’m allergic to dairy, so I can’t do whey protein. Is hemp protein good for post-workout? Thanks!

      1. My next preference after whey in that case would be egg white protein. I just have a hard time getting behind plant protein powders for the most part.

        1. And if allergic to diary and intolerant to eggs…YUP rather unlucky!

          I still like to choose a plant based, although most taste horrid I have found one I like. I still like the convenience if for one reason or another I can’t have a meal after training. But there are gelatin based proteins now I think with added BCAA’s.,.i think.

    5. If I supplement with a BCAA product during my workout, would that cover shortage? I’m also eating a protein rich diet, just thinking the collagen protein would be beneficial instead of my whey protein (I only use about 1/2 a scoop daily anyway)

      1. Generally dosages of BCAAs average around 10 grams / serving. That’s nowhere near enough for post-workout. Again, collagen would be good to *add* but not replace. Hope that makes sense.

    6. I can’t have dairy or egg whites, so those powders are out for me. Any other powders that would be good for a quick après workout when necessary? Or would it then be preferable that I actually eat some meat and a carb?

      1. You could try something that’s plant-based but honestly at that point, I just recommend folks eat real food.

        1. Steph – what are your thoughts on pea protein? I’ve been using Vega Protein & Greens mixed with Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides for my post-workout shake.

          1. Personally, I think pea protein is gritty and tastes awful (I’ve tried Vega). On a nutritional level, it’s *okay* but I guess I’m curious why you’ve opted for plant-based. If you can’t tolerate whey or egg white powders, that’s understandable. I also would wonder if you’re training enough to rely on powders to close the gap or whether you’d be better off with real food. (Real food is ALWAYS better for recovery. Powders are just more convenient.) One final question…what are you using for carbs in the post-workout shake? Super important.

    7. I have been training pretty hard in the gym lately, for performance, weight loss and muscle building. Leg day always leaves me very sore for 3-4 days. Post workouts have been suggested to me and I’m trying to find the best one. I have been trying to research online about it and found your post after someone who usespecially some sort of collagen as a post workout. I do take whey protein and a GNC rep advised that a certain one would eliminate that soreness because it contained those amino acids you spoke about, however, I have found that this is not true at all…..my next stop was to buy a specific post workout supplement, do you have any advice?

      1. Hi Lillian,

        The issue may be in the type of training you’re doing. Also, post-workout is only one piece of the recovery equation. Sleep, overall nutrition, mobility work, etc all play a role.

        You honestly cannot eliminate all soreness just by taking a BCAA-rich protein post-workout. The purpose of post-workout protein is to give the body extra substrate for repair and growth but if you’ve done damage already, it’s hard to avoid soreness 100%.

        Also, if you’re not addressing inflammation in other ways, it’s pointless to buy some expensive GNC supplement.

        Do you mind describing what your strength training looks like?

    8. Hi,
      Can you recommend anything about nutrient timing. When to eat pre and post workout? Timing for carbs, protein, and fat?

      Thank you so much:)

    9. So I have a specific question. What product can we add to our gelatin supplement to equalize the amino acids. I’m thinking about brewer’s yeast, which has decent portions of valine, leucine, and Isoleucines.

      I don’t use it as a post workout supplement, but I’m curious, because many grassfed whey proteins are expensive

      1. I suppose you could use that but I would get the best possible. If one would go to all that trouble, I guess I would kind of ask why not just eat meat or eggs?

    10. Hi, I understand it´s not meant to be taken as a post workout supp. by itstelf because of it´s lack of muscle building aminos, but if you mix it with another source of protein and fast carbs, would it help in anyway just as a protein source?
      I´m considering taking collagen hydrolysate as a supplement for muscle building, but I´d still eat all kinds of other natural sources during the day. Is it still a good source for meeting the protein macro?

      Thank you!

      1. If you mix it, you should be fine, but remember it’s not really a complete protein, so I wouldn’t rely on it to fill large gaps in your protein intake. As a supplement, it’s fine though.

    11. Hi Steph,

      Thank you for this article (and your stellar blog)!! I make a smoothie nearly every morning. Any thoughts on using this as my protein source instead of my usual plant-based protein powder? I’m trying to remedy leaky gut, not build muscle so much at this point, so I was curious as to whether this would be a decent option for a first protein source of the day.

      Thanks again!

      1. For the first protein source of the day, gelatin is incomplete. I don’t recommend making it your first protein source of the day. For example, it’s not rich in tryptophan, the protein your body uses to make serotonin, which is made into melatonin (the sleep hormone). Eat a complete protein source for breakfast. I’m not sure what’s in your plant-based protein powder but at the very least, I would ADD the gelatin to it, not sub it out.

        On that note, I really encourage people not to drink a smoothie as breakfast. It digests pretty fast (it’s already been liquified by you) and can set people up for feeling hungrier throughout the day.

    12. Hi- just finding this article. Do you have the same opinion of collagen as post workout protein source. The whey I have been using seems to leave me extremely gassy and bloated so I’m looking to an alternative.

      1. Gelatin and collagen are basically the same thing. Collagen is just denatured which is why it can’t gel anything, but it’s also very very low in BCAA. If you can’t find a protein powder that suits you, stick to real food.

    13. Hey Steph.

      Was looking at your posts n feedback n decided to comment.. I recently been taking collagen and adding it to my smoothies throughout the day. Does the same thing go for collagen n the be dots of it before and after the gym? I’m taking collagen peptides and figured it would be good source of aminos to add in repairing and ligament support amongst other things. I understand BCAA’S are the better aminos as far as aminos go but do you recommend before and after gym and will it help?

      1. Hey Geoffrey…I recommend using them (if you chose to) as an extra supplement but not in place of a BCAA-rich protein source. Hope that helps.

    14. Is there a benefit to eating powders over real food? Are powders simply easier? I can eat a steak before workout, and I can eat a steak after workout – lunchbox and ice – am I actually coming at this cheaper and better than all the powders?

      1. It’s simply a convenience issue. Gelatin and protein powders aren’t better than real, whole foods. Keep doing what you’re doing!

    15. What if I used gelatin for some protein and stomach benefits and supplemented a separate bcaa powder?

      1. That’s fine. I really want people to understand that gelatin confers virtually no benefit for recovery, that’s all.

    16. Hi,
      Is it effective to take hydrolized collagen and bcaa? Not at the same time but at different times of the day.
      This is my day…
      I am doing IF, working out at 6am CF some mornings and running some mornings. I take bcaa (generally a few sips before and then again at 8 am and 10am 20oz bottle total). Eat my first meal around 11am. Hydrolized collagen around 3pm. Snack around 4 or 5 then dinner 6.30-7.
      Have read both positive and negative reg bcaa and IF, breaking fast or not. Any thoughts.
      Also, I eat mostly paleo 80-90%.

      Thank you,

      1. I guess the first thing to ask is are you seeing results from what you’re doing?

        I would recommend you consume your BCAA during or during/immediately after your workout. Spacing them out to 10 am doesn’t make sense to me. Are you eating any carb post-workout? It doesn’t appear so, and that’s important. Fasting after you’ve trained hard like that can have mixed results. If you’re a woman (sorry, can’t tell from your initial) this type of plan is less likely to work long term.

        Eat whole animal protein (meat, eggs, fish) for your meals, not collagen. Collagen is extremely low in BCAA, the kind needed to build muscle. Why are you using collagen to close the gap? As for whether your BCAA are breaking the fast, ask yourself what you care about more…performance or actual health? If you’re a competitive athlete, getting enough protein to support your recovery is critical.

        If you’re IFing, you need to eat your ENTIRE day’s worth of food between 11 and 7. Can you honestly do that? If not, I don’t recommend IF on a regular basis either.

        1. Hi, thanks for your response. So I am a woman in my mid 40’s (ouch that hurt to write that hahaha). I am doing CF about 5 days per week and also cardio (running or elliptical – don’t laugh 🙂
          I am not a competitive athlete, just a married mother with a full time job that likes to stay healthy and fit. I am by no means buff or muscular but I have been able to see some transformation in the past 6mo to year in terms of muscular arms, legs, back. I do collagen for hair skin etc, not to fill the gap between meals. I do IF to decrease the calorie intake during the day so my goal is not to eat my entire days worth of calories in those hours. I am not eating carbs after the workout but I feel I eat carbs with my meals. I am not doing LCHF so I am not afraid of carbs.
          So I guess I just wanted to see if you had any opinions if it would bee too much to do BCAA and collagen but it does not seem so since collagen does not contain much BCAA.

          1. As someone training CF 5x a week + cardio with a busy lifestyle, I cannot recommend IF to decrease caloric intake. You need proper caloric intake to recover.

            1. Hi Steph,
              This is such an interesting blog post and thread – thank you! You asked Marie if she was eating carbs post workout. Is this vital? What carbs would you recommend? I normally eat 2-3 eggs in butter or oil. (I’m a 36 yo female, working out 3-4 times a week)

    17. Hi! I am a paleo/keto 45 yr old woman trying to lean out and build some LBM. I like to take collagen for my skin and gut, should I even count it as part of my protein requirement?
      Will pre-training protein benefit me like post-training protein does? I have trouble with powders/fillers/sweeteners and real food firstling in the AM isn’t appealing but I will get it down if it makes a difference or I could get it all after a train.
      Thank you!!!

      1. If you’re trying to lean out, I recommend skipping liquid food like protein shakes. If you’re training first thing in the morning, you can try fasted or semi-fasted training, maybe eat a hard boiled egg and handful of nuts to take the edge off hunger and get a little protein before. Then after, have you post-workout meal. I personally don’t count collagen toward my daily protein intake because it’s an incomplete protein.

    18. Hi Steph – just found your blog and it’s super interesting. I am very into real food, natural living, no processed sugars etc. SImilar to paleo but i do eat oats and rice. Anyway…I have been exercising 30 minutes a day x 5 or 6 days for about 6 months – a mix of cardio, weighted cardio and strength. I’m about to start upping my training routine and have been told to get pre-workout energy supplement, which from what I gather is beta-alanine, quercetine, green tea and sugar + flavourings. My understanding though, is that collagen is high in alanine and therefore just using collagen + say an apple (for quercetine and sugar) would be a far more natural pre workout. Or indeed some scrambled egg and apple an hour before. Would you agree?
      Similarly, the post workout supplement seems to be a blend of whey, pea protein, casein + bcaas (L-leucine, valine, isoleucine, l-glutamine) + sugar. In terms of a real food alternative, which animal foods do you recommend as particularly high in bcaas? Also, for casein I’d prefer some raw milk plus some ‘quick release’ sugar – again like an apple. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?

      Thank you!

      1. Hey Natalie…for the type of training you’re doing, I really don’t think you need a “pre-workout” mix, many of which contain caffeine and sugar. If you’re going super hard core and your training is extremely heavy/intense, then maybe but that doesn’t sound like the case. If you did need something pre-workout, try protein and a bit of carbs. Collagen is terribly low in BCAA so I would not use it alone as a “protein powder” for boosting intraworkout protein availability. Ditto for after.

        Post-workout, try for a glucose rich fruit like banana or pineapple, starches like white rice or potato. And a BCAA rich animal protein like meat, fish, or eggs.

        Don’t overcomplicate it!

        Here’s a summary of protein powders: https://www.stupideasypaleo.com/2017/11/11/how-to-choose-the-best-protein-powder/.

        Keep in mind casein is a milk protein that a ton of people get inflamed from so whey might be a better choice.

        1. Thanks Steph. My training is about to go up to an hour 6x per week. Mostly weights and resistance training with cardio. My goal is fat loss and building muscle. I already just drink green tea beforehand, so it sounds like scrambled egg on sourdough or a bit of fruit is good enough an hour before.

          Thanks for the post workout recommendation. Sounds like a plain grass fed whey with some raw milk and banana works immediately post workout for the days I work harder. I don’t have any issues with milk/casein. Do you think I should add extra bcaa supplement to that or not? I think I will then follow that with a meat / egg based meal with carbs. Or just the meal alone – depending on the day / hunger level.

          I usually add a solid amount of fat to my meals for satiety, but it sounds like I should be going lower fat post workout for quicker digestion – is that right?

          Thanks for all your help!

          1. Are you doing a bodybuilding style training? If so, then 6 sessions a week might be fine but if you’re doing strength training focusing on core functional movements like squats and deadlifts, you might find 6 is too many or doesn’t give you the kind of recovery time and results you want. Just a thought. I lift 3x a week with great results, and most others I know do 2-4.

            Your breakfast suggestion sounds good as does the post-workout you mentioned. I really don’t think you need a separate BCAA powder unless you’re extremely deficient in protein throughout your day.

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