I was following a sports nutrition conference in the UK recently and saw a few bits and pieces on some emerging research into soft tissue repair, reduced injury time and gelatin use. I was intrigued.
We all know gelatin as the key ingredient in wobbling desserts like Jelly. Were hospitals on to something using jelly and custard as a staple too? Inadvertently it seems like perhaps they were.
Soft tissue injury is a term used to cover strains and sprain to muscles, tendons and ligaments. They are the most common type of injury in athletes and I am fairly confident that if you are reading this you have had some type or degree of soft tissue injury in the past. Maybe you are rehabing one currently too..
There are numerous causes for soft tissue damage including fatigue, overuse, weakness or direct contact trauma. One significant reason for the high prevalence of these injuries is stiffness of tendons or ligaments. Tendons are the soft tissue connections joining muscle to bone where ligaments are those that connect bone to other bone. Both power and endurance performance benefit from stiffness as more force can be generated but where there is an imbalance between the strength of the muscle and that of the connective tissue the risk of injury is increased. Think of it like an elastic band pulling on a safety pin, repeatedly pulling the band or stretching it too far will cause it to tear.
Stiffness in the tendon or ligament allows greater force production which is desirable for speed and power athletes but stiffness also improve exercise economy in endurance athletes. This stiffness is due to the collagen make up of the tissue. The collagen is weaved together to form connective tissue and the greater the number of weaves the stiffer the tissue. These weaves, known as crosslinks, are increased in response to training at speed or multi-directional movement. It is also these links that rupture when the connective tissue is injured. Rehabilitation and treatment of these injuries aims to encourage repair of the crosslinks.
Now where this gets interesting is how nutrition might play a role in this repair. We know vitamin C is an important player in collagen synthesis, scurvy proves this! The yet to be published protocol follows from a tissue engineering model that combined certain amino acids with vitamin C to improve collagen synthesis. The particular amino acids are rich in gelatin. It thus made sense to trial gelatin and vitamin C on injured athletes which proved promising. More research is needed to confirm these data and evaluate dosing strategies but there should be no harm in giving it a try. The best thing about it is that it is a food based protocol too and here is a simple recipe.
500 ml fruit juice (any but orange & cherry juice are good natural sources of vitamin C – so too are kiwi, pineapple and guava but these juices will prevent the jelly setting)
1000 mg vitamin C powder
Dissolve gelatin and vitamin C in 125 ml juice.
Bring the remaining 375 ml of juice to the boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the gelatin-C mix.
Pour into a square dish and refrigerate until set.
Cut into 10 single serving pieces.
Consume 30-60 minutes before training or rehabilitation
Alternatively you can 2-5 g gelatin ( half a sachet pictured above) and 100 mg of vitamin C to your pre-workout shake. 200 ml of cherry, kiwi, orange or guava juice should give you about 100 mg of vitamin C too. You will not need your shake to set obviously so using kiwi, guava or pineapple juice is fine here.
An important note on timing of intake is that the jelly or shake should be taken before training or rehabilitative exercises. Your tendons and ligaments have a poor blood supply and receive their nutrients through the flow of fluids. This happens when the tissue is moving, it draws fluid in. As a result any desirable nutrients need to be present in the fluid environment before movement or exercise begins. Taking your collagen and vitamin C 30-60 minutes before your session should allow enough time for the amino acids and vitamin to be present and available.
I found much of my information in this article which you can read more about here.