The ABC of Vegan Supplements

the abc of vegan supplements

If I could add a kilo to my squat for every person who’s been concerned about my health, as a vegan, I’d be a very happy squatter today.

The knee-jerk conclusion seems to be that if you’re not eating animal flesh you’ll inevitably end up deficient in so many essential nutrients. Yet, when asked, no one seems to know what these nutrients actually are.

Of course, as a vegan, your dietary profile will probably be different from that of an omnivore.

Specifically, our diets tend to contain less saturated fat and cholesterol and more dietary fibre [1], which is great. On average it’s a very healthy diet [2] with some surprising benefits [3]. We should however make sure that we get enough of some specific micronutrients[^2].

But more than just meeting the recommended levels, as vegan athletes we want to go above and beyond.

Let’s see how we can do so easily by supplementing our diet. These are the supplements I’d recommend to most vegan athletes.

A for Amino Acids

First out are the essential amino acids – the building blocks of protein. We use amino acids to create a number of substances in our bodies; muscle protein being one of high importance to many lifters out there.

It’s important to remember that there’s no problem, whatsoever, getting enough protein on a vegan diet and even hit well above the recommended levels.

To reach a higher protein count though (~2 g per kilo lean body weight) it’s simply very convenient to turn to supplementation, no matter if you’re a vegan or omnivore.

For this, there’s pure EAA and BCAA but some of their amino acids are usually sourced from human hair or duck feathers, so we’ll turn to full protein supplements for a vegan option.

My personal favourite is the Complete Vegan Blend on its own after training or a mix of pea protein and rice protein to add to my morning smoothies.

B for Beta-Alanine

Beta-alanine will make you more endurant, enabling you to lift another rep or sprint an extra couple of metres.

While this is not huge in itself, the effects of that extra energy in training has been proven to increase muscle growth [4], improve muscle endurance [5], and reduce muscle fatigue [6].

I personally felt a significant improvement from beta-alanine when doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu and that, together with the clear scientific evidence, makes beta-alanine something I’d definitely recommend trying out.

I’d recommend just getting a plain bag of beta alanine and taking 4 grams per day, mixed with water.

C is for Creatine

I have written extensively about Creatine for vegan athletes before but here are the main reasons you should supplement it:

  • Anaerobic endurance. Creatine works as an energy buffer for your muscles in the form of phosphocreatine [7]. With an increased level of it you’ll see an improvement when doing repeated high-intensity movement [8], like lifting weights with a relatively high number of repetitions (10-15), and when sprinting repeatedly, like in many team sports. However, the greater your anaerobic ability the lesser boost you’ll receive from creatine [9].
  • Increased strength. One review took 22 studies and found that creatine supplementation on average increased the subjects’ strength by 8% [10]. Not only that but they also got twice the strength gains from their continued resistance training! However, the review does note that the response is highly variable, so it could differ a lot from person to person.
  • Manages glucose. Supplementing creatine helps improve your glucose tolerance [11], which could prevent diabetes. Creatine also offsets the decline in muscle GLUT4 that normally happens when you can’t move your muscles for a while [12], making it an interesting supplement for people carrying an injury and perhaps less active or mobile than normal.
  • Cognitive abilities. Should you ever be deprived of sleep you’ll be much better off if you’re supplementing creatine [13].

None of the variants has sufficiently been proven to be any better than one another, so just get a bag of creatine monohydrate and take 5 grams per day, mixed in water.

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