Home PageApex NutritionNutritionTraining Nutrition Thursday: Strengthen & Repair Ligaments & Tendons with Undenatured Whey & Gelatin

For the last 14 weeks or so, I’ve been diving head-first into research regarding tendon and ligament (and tissue) healing. Although I was already well-studied in the subject there’s nothing like “living it” to make you a better student & teacher.

Just like being an athlete makes me a better sports nutritionist, having been pregnant, breastfeeding, and back to form afterwards makes me better at helping women in the same boat, and how cooking for six in the midst of busy schedule makes me better at family meals, budgets prep & scheduling.

I never really wanted to be good at orthopedic surgery-recovery nutrition. But here I am.

In a post a couple weeks ago, I discussed my progress by week 6 post-op (week 12 post-injury) and an overview of the nutrients I had been using since my injury to support my healing. In the last 2 weeks, I have continued to progress, gain more flexion and extension, walk and move completely brace-free, and use my fixed gear bike on a trainer for rehab. I’ve also continued to consume undenatured whey. gelatin, vitamin C and other nutrients.

Today, I’ll discuss the whey & gelatin + vitamin C specifically, and some of the research available that shows their benefits both in injury recovery and in strengthening already healthy tendons and ligaments.

Unfortunately, unless you buy commercial varieties of these foods with flavors, sweeteners, or other ingredients added, they don’t necessarily taste great. Here’s how I’ve used them in a smoothie to get great nutrition & a great (covered-up) taste:

Recipe of the week: Delicious Pro-Ligament & Tendon Cherry Lime Ginger Smoothie


  • 1 cup cherries
  • 1 orange, peeled & seeded
  • Juice from one lime (2 Tbsp)*
  • 1″ slice ginger (can keep peel on) OR 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 1″ slice turmeric root or 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp undenatured whey (here’s the brand I’m using)
  • 2 Tbsp gelatin from grass-fed cows (here’s the brand I’m using)
  • 1/2-1 cup water (or as needed for desired thickness)
  • 500 mg vitamin C add via supplement
Traditional Blender Instructions:
  1. Place all ingredients in blender. Add water/ice as needed to achieve desired consistency.
  2. To change up the taste, replace lime juice with 2 Tbsp raw cocoa or 1/2-1 tsp cinnamon. Or both.


Ingredients are important. When it comes to maintaining strong ligaments and tendons, strengthening ailing ones, or full on recovery of torn ones, it pays too be choosey with the foods you eat, the ingredients they contain, and the nutrient profile of which they are made.

While recovering from a torn ACL and MCL, and damaged meniscus, and now recovering from ACL surgery with a quad-tendon graft, these are some of the ingredients I’ve chosen. And, for good reason, there’s good research to back up the use of whey & gelatin + vitamin C in healing (along w/ ginger and turmeric, magnesium, condroitin, msm, and glucosamine) which will be covered in another post). Here’s a sample of the research:

My repaired knee (the left one) has continued to stregnthen, flex, and extend well. I’ve definitely experienced significant atrophy to my quads and hamstrings (which is to be expected) – the inner quad above my MCL has had the hardest time coming back. It atrophy VERY quickly after my MCL tear…we’re working hard to get it firing again now.

Gelatin: Believe it or not, gelatin is made by boiling of cartilage, skin, and bones of animals. In most cases, it is made using the leftover of the stuff meat industries, such as cattle bones and pork skins….but of course, these days you can buy gelatin that’s cerified kosher, gelatin that’s from free range or organically fed animals, and more. It is a colorless, translucent, odorless, and not great-tasting substance used in many food products or as an individual ingredient. If you’re not grossed out yet, gelatin can be a great addition to your diet, adding many ligament and tendon repair & health-promoting amino acids. In fact, in an article called Vitamin C-enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis, we read:

“Results: Supplementation with increasing amounts of gelatin increased circulating glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and hydroxylysine, peaking 1 h after the supplement was given. Engineered ligaments treated for 6 d with serum from samples collected before or 1 h after subjects consumed a placebo or 5 or 15 g gelatin showed increased collagen content and improved mechanics. Subjects who took 15 g gelatin 1 h before exercise showed double the amino-terminal propeptide of collagen I in their blood, indicating increased collagen synthesis.

Conclusion: These data suggest that adding gelatin to an intermittent exercise program improves collagen synthesis and could play a beneficial role in injury prevention and tissue repair.”

In an article published just last month in New Zealand, Minimizing Injury and Maximizing Return to Play: Lessons from Engineered Ligaments, we find more evidence for use of gelatin & vitamin C:

“…using the tissue-engineered ligament model, our team has shown that amino acids that are enriched in collagen (proline, hydroxyproline, and hydroxylysine) added together with vitamin C can improve collagen synthesis. The vitamin C effect is not surprising given that vitamin C deficiency results in scurvy, a disease characterized by a loss of collagen [45]. Vitamin C functions within connective tissues as an essential co-factor for prolyl 4-hydroxylase, an enzyme required for hydroxylation of proline and the synthesis and secretion of procollagen [45]. The amino acids that have a positive effect on collagen synthesis in our model include glycine, proline, lysine, hydroxylysine, and hydroxyproline. These amino acids are the main components of collagen, suggesting that even in our in-vitro model, where amino acids are five times the physiological level, excess proline, lysine, and their hydroxylated analogs can still be beneficial. Interestingly, these same amino acids are enriched in gelatin, which is usually made from the skin, tendon and ligaments of cows or pigs. We have now begun feeding gelatin to people and have seen extremely positive responses on collagen production and return to play in athletes after injury. In fact, in a randomized, double-blind crossover clinical trial, we found that ingestion of 15 g of gelatin 1 h before 6 min of jump rope is able to double collagen synthesis [46]. Further, serum taken before or 1 h after feeding a placebo or 5 or 15 g of vitamin C-enriched gelatin results in a dose-dependent increase in collagen in engineered ligaments [46]. These data support the use of gelatin as a nutritional intervention to increase collagen synthesis in sinew and bone.”

Undenatured Whey:  This is a special protein powder as it contains a whey that has not been heated to a high heat or pasteurized.  What’s special about this? The cysteine in the whey (an amino acid) remains intact in it’s original form, and it can promote increased glutathione production in your cells. Glutathione is one of the body’s self-made, powerful antioxidants, and it helps cells fight off free radicals and repair damage. What’s more, like all whey, it’s very high in leucine, which is beneficial to ligaments, tendons, and other tissues. The amino acids, and the protein in one’s diet overall are important for tissue repair, growth, and maintenance. In an article from called Whey protein hydrolysate augments tendon and muscle hypertrophy independent of resistance exercise contraction mode, it’s documented that:

“high-leucine whey protein hydrolysate augments muscle and tendon hypertrophy following 12 weeks of resistance training – irrespective of contraction mode.”  Sounds good to me as my muscles & tendons atrophy and need more hypertrophy!

What’s more, anti-inflammatories & antioxidants (such as glutathione, which can decrease inflammatory cytokines) can play a role as:

“Importantly, muscular weakness persisted thereafter (⩾21-d) but at an attenuated level and parallel to a decrease in circulating cytokine concentrations. We conclude that a decrease in serum cytokines associates with a reduction in muscular weakness after an ACL injury.”

And about that taste: My favorite ways to cover any less-than-optimal taste from gelatin or undenatured whey are:

  • lime juice
  • ginger
  • cocoa
  • cinnamon

All of these, alone or in combination, work great and do not add refined sugars or sweeteners.

Fantastically healing ingredients, wouldn’t you say? I’d say so. I’m a study of only one, but my own progress plus that indicated in research is enough for me to believe nourishing my body is a good idea. And I’ll definitely continue long after I’m healed. Because my tendons and ligaments (as well as yours) are only gonna need more and more love ever year hereafter.

Fuel Your Adventure. Nourish Your Body.

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