This article was written by Dr. Kevin Sprouse. Dr. Sprouse is a team physician for the Cannondale Drapac Pro Cycling Team. He has a degree in exercise science and has board certifications in both Sports Medicine and Emergency Medicine. He practices at Podium Sports Medicine in Knoxville, TN.
With the rise of the Paleo movement, there has been an increase in the number of “ancestral” nutritional products available. I won’t rehash the ideas behind this philosophy, as I’m sure you are well aware of them. Basically, throughout the health and wellness community, there has been a move toward those diets and habits that sustained our ancestors, shunning the processed foods and lifestyle that we’ve created for ourselves. One such nutritional resurgent has been Bone Broth. In the sports nutrition world, this soup supplement has been gaining favor with everyone from CrossFitters to NBA superstars.
What is Bone Broth?
I’m no chef, but it seems that stock, “regular” broth, and bone broth are somewhat on a culinary continuum. Bone Broth is made by simmering bones, with some meat, for a long period of time. This cooking process usually occurs for 12-24 hours. Such a duration allows for a greater amount of collagen and gelatin (a collagen break-down product) to be released into the broth.
What is in Bone Broth?
Collagen is the most common type of protein found in the connective tissues of animals. It makes up bones, ligaments, and cartilage.
Gelatin is a breakdown product of collagen. The long simmering time for Bone Broth allows for this process to occur. Gelatin forms when those collagen fibers are broken into their various peptides, arguably making them more easily digested and bioavailable.
Glycine and Glutamine are an amino acids that are used in multiple processes in the human body. Most meat products can serve as good sources of these, but gelatin is the most glycine-rich food source.
Minerals and Electrolytes - As with most stocks and broths, Bone Broth can be a very good source of sodium and other electrolytes. Additionally, the bones contribute minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus.
What are the benefits of drinking Bone Broth?
Soft Tissue Repair - There is some research to suggest that ingestion of collagen can speed the healing of soft-tissue injuries in athletes. The data is not great, but it is a growing focus of research in sports medicine. One study has suggested that the combination of collagen and vitamin C can expedite the healing of tendon injuries. Glycine has been shown to play a similar role in healing. There have been other studies that have shown no benefit when ingesting collagen, gelatin, or glycine, so the scientific jury is out.
Digestive Health - People who engage in a significant amount of training often deal with digestive stress, whether due to the actual training (ie long distance running) or the amounts and types of foods consumed to support that training. Gelatin, glycine, and glutamine have been shown to aid in the promotion of digestive health.
Supports Immune Function - It turns out you mom was right! Chicken soup has been shown to decrease the symptoms of a cold and alter the immune response on a cellular level. Multiple scientific studies have shown that broth (or stock) can impart these benefits, so it is reasonable to think that Bone Broth might do the same.
Bone Broth can serve a very useful purpose in the diet of an athlete. After a workout, you’ll want to replace electrolytes, hydrate, and provide your body with a source of protein. The collagen and glycine may help soft tissues recover, and its consumption will be supporting your digestive and overall immune health. Bone Broth is a healthy, whole food source of all of these nutrients. While there will hopefully be more research demonstrating the benefits of this food, we can certainly say that it’s a product that may help many athletes as they strive for better health and performance.