This month I’m celebrating my one year vegan-niversary, and I’m pleased to say that after making a big effort over the past few months with my nutrition, training and rest, I’m feeling better than I ever have done before.
Recently I’ve honed in on which supplements are really working for me and which were unnecessary by both seeing how I feel and using MyFitnessPal to track things like micronutrients and how much protein I was getting. Remember everyone is different, so this might be a process you need to go through too, and the ideas in this post may simply be a springboard for your experimentation.
Read on to find out what works for me and let me know if there’s anything that makes you feel great that isn’t on the list!
Protein Shakes for Vegan Strength Athletes
There’s a lot of vegans out there who say they get loads of protein and get their nutrition right without a problem, but honestly I’ve found it really difficult. Everything out there for vegans is very carb- and fat-heavy, and you really have to make an effort to get enough protein. Protein isn’t just for aesthetics – it’s for building and repairing tissues, making enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals – so it’s really important you get enough, whether you eat animal products or not.
If you do strength training then you’ll especially need enough protein to repair hard-working muscles and also ensure your body goes into rest mode after a hard training session.
I went through a phase of having two protein shakes a day just to hit my protein target, but got sick of that pretty quickly! Now I tend to have one straight after training. I mainly use IdealFit vegan strawberry as the texture is one of the best I’ve tried, but I’ve also used MissFits (a little thicker, so use more water), WheyBox No Whey, and That Protein peanut powder.
One thing to note is that vegan protein powder tends to have less protein per scoop compared to an animal-based protein, so you might want to load your scoop a bit higher.
Creatine For Vegans
Creatine sounds like a scary bodybuilding supplement, but it’s actually one of the most-researched sports nutrition supplements available and something your body uses frequently – it’s the fuel for the creatine phosphate energy system, which powers short, explosive movements like 1-rep max attempts and 100m sprints. Creatine also provides most of the energy for our brains.
Your body can synthesise it, but creatine can be consumed via red meat, pork, poultry, and fish, with smaller amounts in dairy, eggs, and shellfish. Looking at that list, it’s pretty obvious that vegans are getting almost zero through our diets!
I’ve only recently started taking creatine (I use Myprotein’s creatine which is certified vegan) and I do feel more powerful when I’m lifting. It’s well worth giving it a go if you feel like you don’t quite have as much energy to hit explosive movements since you went vegan.
I did a loading dose but this isn’t necessary, and although many people cycle creatine consumption, studies show that this isn’t needed either. I did feel VERY thirsty during loading so I was drinking a lot of water plus I felt bloated for around an hour after taking it, and I’ve read anecdotes of other issues like cramping and brain fog, so as with anything listen to your body and adjust or stop doses as necessary.
Brosnan, et al. The metabolic burden of creatine synthesis. 2011
Brosnan and Brosnan. The role of dietary creatine. 2016.
Gualano et al. Effect of short-term high-dose creatine supplementation on measured GFR in a young man with a single kidney. 2010.
Gualano et al. In sickness and in health: the widespread application of creatine supplementation. 2012.
Rackayova, et al. Creatine in the central nervous system: From magnetic resonance spectroscopy to creatine deficiencies. 2017.
Jagim, et al. A buffered form of creatine does not promote greater changes in muscle creatine content, body composition, or training adaptations than creatine monohydrate. 2012.
van der Merwe, et al. Three weeks of creatine monohydrate supplementation affects dihydrotestosterone to testosterone ratio in college-aged rugby players. 2009.
Steenge, et al. Stimulatory effect of insulin on creatine accumulation in human skeletal muscle. 1998.
Green et al. Carbohydrate ingestion augments skeletal muscle creatine accumulation during creatine supplementation in humans. 1996.
Syrotuik and Bell. Acute creatine monohydrate supplementation: a descriptive physiological profile of responders vs. nonresponders. 2004.
Gill et al. Creatine serum is not as effective as creatine powder for improving cycle sprint performance in competitive male team-sport athletes. 2004.
Spillane. The effects of creatine ethyl ester supplementation combined with heavy resistance training on body composition, muscle performance, and serum and muscle creatine levels. 2009.
A patent on creatine nitrate.
Strength athlete or not, it’s likely that multivitamins are a staple part of your vegan nutrition arsenal. I’d recommend tracking on MyFitnessPal for a few weeks to get a true read of the vitamins and minerals you’re lacking in, but the majority of us are lacking in vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and zinc. Vitamin B12 in particular is only available via animal sources and symptoms of a deficiency can be that of anemia, plus muscle weakness and depression, as well as others.
I found a few months into being vegan I was extremely fatigued, even though I felt like I was eating enough, and found taking a multivitamin with iron really helped me to feel better – I like to take a catch-all multivitamin (again, I use one from Myprotein) that has 100% of my RDA of the above vitamins. You might want to create your own using your MFP readings, but to save money, time, and tablet-swallowing-stress, you might want to do the same.
Those are the three I’m focusing on for now! How about you? Do you get everything you need from your diet, or do you add vegan supplements?