The Top 5 Supplements for the Vegan Athlete

Ellisif Katrine Bendiksen

London, United Kingdom

Yoga, Human Movement

Is it possible that we can have it all? Attain mastery, reach the ultimate limits of our potential, save the planet, and fix the problem of animal welfare at the same time?

 

It’s a controversial topic and one I think we’ll never fully agree on as a species.

 

 

What Science Says about Humans and Animal Protein

There are solidly backed up science that establishes the reason for the development of our brain to the complexity it has today has to do with the fact we got access to higher quality proteins through the development of weapons and fire, allowing us to digest animal protein. It can’t really be argued, simply because animal meat is more similar to our own flesh than your daily serving of broccoli.

 

Obviously, there are other components as well, and the intake of meat should not be given the full credit for the world how we see it today, but it’s worth noting. However, science is smart and has gifted us with knowledge and tools to help us get the necessary nutrients, even if we choose to exclude animals products from our diet.

 

Thriving as a Vegan Athlete

If you take the right precautions and are mindful with your diet, you can still thrive as a vegan, but this will depend on lifestyle, your background, your ancestors (from where in the world your roots are from), and so on. There are so many factors involved.

 

It will be a trial and error, as we are not educated as a society to eat a plant-based diet. We need to take responsibility and acquire the knowledge to make this transition successfully increasing the odds for it to work well for our bodies without having our health deteriorating.

 

The Top 5 Supplements for the Vegan Athlete - Fitness, nutrition, Vegan, Omega-3, Supplementation, vitamin D, creatine, zinc, protein, taurine, vitamins, iron, Plant Based Nutrition, protein supplements, plant-based diets, Vegetarianism

 

With all this being said, below you will find the five most important supplements vegans, without doubt, should be taking, vegan athlete or not. Then as a bonus, you will find an additional four supplements that will help you thrive as a vegan athlete. I've included the recommended doses along with trusted sources of quality supplements that have a high absorption rate.

 

There are no affiliates or sponsorships involved—this is purely from having researched and compared the products on the market, talking to vegans, non-vegans (omnivores), nutritionists, and coaches. This has simply turned into a summary of my expriences and research.

 

Let’s dig in!

 

EPA + DHA

EPA + DHA more commonly put under the umbrella of Omega 3 and is what I would rank the supplement of all supplements for both vegan and omnivores alike. EPA and DHA play an important role in optimal brain function and mood stabilization. People with low levels of EPA + DHA have shown to have higher rates of depression, and a deficiency in adolescent years can affect the development of the brain’s cognitive function.

 

 

It’s also massively involved with fighting inflammation and along that same line accelerates recovery from intense training. As an icing on the cake, research suggests EPA + DHA is beneficial aid for fat loss.

 

EPA + DHA are often confused with ALA, the third Omega 3, but it’s important to note the difference. The body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA but the conversion rate is so low, that even non-vegans would have a struggle to get the sufficient doses required daily.

 

Recommended Usage Information:

 

  • Ideally, a supplement with a 3:2 ratio of EPA + DHA is recommended for general health.
  • Specifically for body composition Charles Poliquin recommends a 3:1 ratio, however, this will be quite a challenge to dig up on the vegan market.
  • To get the most bang for the back of taking the supplement, it should be taken post-workout along with vitamin D.
  • 1500-3000mg is the daily recommendation, and as your vegan option of Omega 3 is not seen as effective as its non-vegan mates, you would want to lean towards the higher end of the scale.
  • EPA + DHA are derived from marine sources such as fish and algae.

  • ALA is found in plant sources like flax, chia, walnuts, and canola.

 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is advised for both vegans and non-vegans. It’s crucial for building strong, healthy bones and helps to prevent osteoporosis due to its role in the absorption of calcium and phosphate. A strong supply of vitamin D strengthens your immune system, prevents muscle weakness, and reduces your risk of injury.

 

Low levels of vitamin D are a performance limiting factor, yet when levels are optimal, vitamin D enhances performance. You will often see a performance peak in the summer months with a low point in March where we often find the lowest levels of vitamin D.

 

Recommended Usage Information:

 

  • The best way to get your vitamin D is through the sun—that’s how your body best absorbs it. However, if you live in a city with your umbrella as one of your best friends, taking vitamin D as a supplement is advised.
  • You would want to choose Vitamin D3, being the most absorbable source. You can get D2 from yeast, but it’s far less effective, and a much higher dose is required.
  • Moderate supplementation is considered a daily dose of 1000-2000 IU.
  • As a vegan you can benefit from leaning towards the higher end of the scale especially during periods of heavy training.
  • Another way to determine the dose would be to multiply with your body weight in the ratio of 20-80 IU /kg daily.
  • Another smart thing to do is to take your supplement along with a meal or source of fat, like your Omega 3s.

 

Vitamin B12

B12 is non-existent in plant sources, so for the vegan diet to work for you, you have to take a note on this, and make sure this vitamin is not forgotten.

 

Vitamin B12 is essential for optimal brain and nerve function. Also, a note for those of you who spend a lot of time in the gym, remember that vitamin B12 plays a significant role in energy metabolism via the production of the oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

 

A deficiency in B12 can affect strength and power performance due to its role in maintaining the sheath that covers the nerve fibers. If these nerve fibers are altered, the transmission of nervous signals are interrupted and causes a reduced muscular function.

 

Recommended Usage Information:

 

  • B12 is now found in a lot of processed and fortified foods such as cereals, bread, soy, tempeh, and tofu. As a vegan, to make sure you get the amount you need, taking it as a supplement is advised.
  • Solgar is a trusted supplement company by fitness professionals and nutritionists for their quality products and ingredients. BetterYou is another brand, where you get B12 in a spray form, which is what I personally use.

 

Iron

Iron is another supplement critical to anyone that does heavy training, vegan or not. Women should be especially mindful of deficiencies. Iron plays an important role in your metabolism as it helps the transport of oxygen to tissues. The cells in your body burn calories to create energy through a process that requires iron, so when your iron is low, this process gets compromised and general fatigue can occur.

 

Another note for vegans is that vegan, and even vegetarian, food contains non-heme iron which is poorly absorbed by the body compared to heme-iron found in animal products. You can, however, improve non-heme absorption by eating foods high in vitamin C like beets and tomatoes along with your non-heme iron foods. You also want to avoid food with tannins like green tea when you grab your iron, as it hinders the absorption of iron in your body.

 

Recommended Usage Information:

 

  • Be mindful that supplementation is known to be constipating and can cause oxidative stress.
  • Floradix-iron with herbs is one vegan option known to be without these side effects.
  • Daily dose: 8mg for men and 18mg for women (menstruating)

 

Protein

You can’t really avoid a conversation with a vegan and non-vegan without bumping into the topic of protein. I guess you’ve probably heard this already, but the role of protein is indeed something to keep in mind, especially leucine.

 

Protein is your building block. It repairs damaged tissue and improves brain function. It’s shown to affect your motivation due to its ability to support neurotransmitter levels. As a vegan, your daily intake of protein (especially when you hit the gym quite a lot) should ideally be higher than is the case for omnivores, since the body can’t use vegetable-derived protein as efficiently as animal protein.

 

Recommended Usage Information:

 

  • 1-2g protein per kg mass per day is recommended.
  • When you look for protein powders, make sure you get powder that has a complete amino acid profile. If it does, it’s likely to be mentioned and highlighted on the package.
  • A good go to would be to choose a protein powder that uses several different sources of plant protein such as pea, rice, and hemp protein.
  • Quality products I would recommend are Form Nutrition, SunWarrior, and Vega.

 

Zinc

An essential micro-mineral seen as an immune-boosting supplement as well as being involved in protein synthesis and hormone production. Adequate zinc is necessary for the body to repair tissue and eliminate oxidative stress from training. During heavy training, even non-vegans can struggle with low levels of zinc and supplementation becomes important.

 

Recommended Usage Information:

 

  • Many vegetarian foods contain zinc, but with low bioavailability, which means the body is not very good at using it. If you do a lot of training, you would want to add in zinc as a supplement.
  • A trusted source is Garden of Eden.
  • 5-10mg is considered a low dose.
  • 25-45mg can be taken if there’s a risk of deficiency.

 

Creatine

Creatine serves as an energy reserve for the body for periods of short intensive training such as heavy weight training, sprinting, and explosive work such as gymnastics. Supplementing with creatine has shown to increase performance by 15% as well as boosting brain function in both vegans and non-vegans. This is because stress decreases creatine sources in the brain. Creatine is derived from meat and fish. The body can produce small amounts on its own, but not enough for peak performance.

 

Vegan muscles will be deficient in creatine, and it’s actually shown that vegans supplementing with creatine have greater improvement in performance as compared to omnivores when taking creatine as a supplement.

 

Recommended Usage Information:

 

  • Supplementing with 3-5 grams a day for vegans can equalize the training field with omnivores and radically improve muscle and brain function.
  • For a fully vegan athlete, Now Foods has a non-gelatin capsule.

 

Taurine

Taurine is an amino acid only found in animal protein. It has a key role in regulating the stress response and cortisol levels in the body. It helps to raise the neurotransmitter GABA, which is the neurotransmitter that helps you calm down and sleep at night. It’s also involved with regulating your blood glucose levels while supporting a stable blood pressure.

 

Studies show that sufficient taurine levels help athletes manage physical and mental stress better as well as decreasing levels of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It does this by removing free radicals, and helps to repair damaged tissue, while improving water content in the muscle.

 

Recommended Usage Information:

 

  • Taurine is mostly found in eggs and milk. Supplementation is advised for vegans.
  • 6 grams a day can help improve mental and athletic performance.
  • Now Foods/Solgar had quality vegan options.

 

Carnitine

Carnitine is derived from an amino acid and found in nearly all cells of the body. It plays a critical role in energy production and transporting fatty acids into the cells to be burned for energy. The body can synthesize carnitine from amino acids but it might not be able to keep up with energy needs if you’re a hard-charging vegan athlete. Supplementing may improve fat burning, metabolic function, insulin sensitivity, and play a role in reducing inflammation.

 

Athletic performance can benefit carnitine supplementation even for meat eaters. A study found that meat eating triathletes taking 2g carnitine every day for 24 weeks had an increased work output of 35% compared to that of the placebo. Lactate and RPE levels were significantly lower than in the placebo group, indicating that carnitine supplementation reduced fatigue and allowed the athletes a better training tolerance.

 

Recommended Usage Information:

 

  • Now Foods has a vegan option.
  • Note that studies show that performance benefits may only occur after long-term supplementation (ie. triathletes taking carnitine for 6 months at 2-6 grams a day).

 

Make Sure Your Supplements Are Set

Your top priorities as a vegan, and even more so if you spend a lot of time in the gym, are

Omega 3, vitamin D, B12, iron, and protein. This list is non-negotiable if you want to optimize both health and performance.

 

Make sure you get these supplements from quality products. Overall, you want to keep in mind that as a vegan going slightly higher than the daily recommended dose can be beneficial for you. You can get all you need from a vegan diet, whether it will be as optimal as what you would get as an omnivore is a controversial topic. But if you make sure you spend that extra time and money to add what’s likely to be missing, you have a better chance of setting yourself up for success.

 

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