More people than ever are adopting plant-based diets. Indeed, it’s never been easier to go vegan either. Demand follows supply, and the rise in veganism has been followed by a rise in the number of fortified and nutrition-rich food products.
However, many athletes are still put off from adopting more ethical eating habits because they don’t want to compromise their nutritional intake. To dispel some myths, today we’ll be talking about vegan bodybuilding supplements.
The first and central myth is that you can’t get enough protein in your diet without animal-based products. This just isn’t true. A well-planned vegan meal plan can provide more than enough protein for any athlete.
Second, there’s the idea that consuming as much protein as possible is the be-all and end-all of muscle gain and performance. Again, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
With that in mind, let’s look at how to get the best possible nutrition as a vegan without compromising your ethics.
Why You Need Bodybuilding Supplements as a Vegan
The science is clear. Research by the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics proves that a vegan diet can offer all of the macronutrients your body needs to function, as well as most of the required micronutrients.
However, the same research makes no bones about the fact that vegans need to look to supplements for certain other micronutrients. In the past most of these, like B12 and creatine have generally come from animal sources.
Today though, these things can be made synthetically from non-animal sources or organically from entirely vegetable sources. As such, more vegan bodybuilding supplements are available than ever before.
But which supplements do you really need?
To some extent, the answer depends on your specific fitness goals and your bodybuilding diet. Or to put it another way, how much you’ll benefit from different vegan supplements depends on your actual fitness regime, as we’ll see. But certain supplements are useful across the board, regardless of the specifics of your training plan.
Here are the six vegan bodybuilding supplements that your body will benefit most from.
6 Vegan Supplements Your Body Will Find Useful
Many of the most useful vegan supplements achieve the same benefits as conventional foodstuffs, but with a far more efficient method of delivery. In fact, in many cases, conventional wisdom about nutrient-packing as a vegan is somewhat misguided.
As such, be sure to pay particular attention to how these supplements can replace or complement other aspects of your diet plan as these bodybuilders talk about.
1. Omega 3: Essential Fatty Acids
Since most traditional omega 3 supplements are derived from fish oils, vegans often attempt to make up for this by adding seeds like chia, hemp and flax to their diets.
The trouble is that not all omega 3 fatty acids are the same. Supplementing your diet with seeds and nuts will improve your levels of alpha-linolenic acid (APA). But to get the full fitness benefits of consuming more omega 3, your body has to convert it into other fatty acids.
Of these, the most important are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Unfortunately, the rate at which this conversion happens when you consume APA from legumes is fairly low - especially compared to fish oils.
Luckily though, vegan-friendly supplements can be made which offer the same health benefits as fish oil. They work by cutting out the middleman and deriving DHA and EPA from the same source as fish: algae and seaweed.
Specific benefits of DHA and EPA include:
- decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases
- faster fat metabolism
- excellent anti-inflammatory qualities
As such, they’re crucial for improved performance and recovery, as well as reducing your body fat percentage.
Natural sources of omega 3, such as flaxseeds, make great additions to your diet. Conversion rates for turning APA into DHA and EPA in your body, though, are very low.
On average conversion to EPA is 8% and conversion to DHA is just 0.5%. That means you’d have to eat half a kilo of flaxseeds to get only half a gram of DHA. That’s hardly viable.
Fortunately, Vivo Life Omega 3 provides a far more reliable source of both DHA and EPA. Just one serving of the vegan supplement contains a full 600mg of DHA and 300mg of EPA. By adding just one serving to your daily diet, you can be sure to get all the different omega 3 fatty acids you need.
While non-essential, creatine nonetheless offers many fitness and health benefits. It’s stored in the skeletal muscles, where it supplies creatine-phosphate during exercise. This helps to create the energy needed for muscle contraction.
This means that higher levels of creatine improve muscle power, especially during short bursts of intense activity, as well as reducing the time needed to recover between efforts. As such, creatine supplements can help bodybuilders perform at a higher level more often.
Creatine also helps to reduce muscle acidity during anaerobic activities by producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP). As acid buildup during a workout causes you to lose muscle power, reducing this will allow you to perform at your optimum level for longer.
Creatine is typically sourced from red meat and isn’t actually found in plants at all. These days though, it can be made synthetically to make vegan bodybuilding supplements.
The science suggests that creatine monohydrate is your best bet for improving performance. For best results, take 3-5g as part of your pre-workout plan.
3. Branched Chain Amino Acids
Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) comprise three of the nine essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. When we exercise, our bodies break down our BCAA reserves to use as energy. This process is called catabolism.
Consuming BCAAs pre-workout prevents catabolism of your body’s existing stores, preventing soreness and fatigue. Leucine also promotes insulin creation, which helps your body to synthesise protein and improve muscle gains.
Post-workout, BCAAs increase tryptophan levels, which decreases the perception of your efforts - essentially tricking your body into working harder.
This is the vegan bodybuilding supplement that’s most popular among non-vegans. Why? Well, animal-based BCAA supplements are often derived from duck feathers - unappealing to many for obvious reasons.
By contrast, vegan BCAA supplements are mostly made by fermenting plant matter. The best supplements contain all three BCAAs, and should be taken about one hour before and after workouts.
4. Vegan Protein Powder
We can’t talk about vegan bodybuilding supplements without touching on protein powder. Of course, adding protein to your diet is central to any diet plan for the purposes of bodybuilding.
While it’s true that vegans can get plenty of protein from plant-based sources, they need to be a little bit more proactive in doing so than meat eaters.
For example, while high in protein, nut based sources don’t contain all of the composite amino acids which account for your protein intake. To make up this difference they must be combined with cereals.
As such, the best vegan protein powders contain all of the essential amino acids, including the BCAAs. This means your most favourable options are based around fermented peas and hemp seeds. Not only do these contain all nine essential amino acids, they also include additional digestive enzymes to speed up absorption in the body.
While protein powders can be used to replace meals, in most cases they are best used alongside a healthy diet immediately after anaerobic exercise.
5. Vitamin D
Naturally produced by our bodies when exposed to direct sunlight, vitamin D is most useful in warding off mental health problems like depression and lethargy. This is essential for maintaining motivation for your fitness plan.
For bodybuilders in particular, vitamin D supplements are useful for increasing the level of calcium in the bones. It’s also known to regulate neuromuscular functioning, so higher levels of vitamin D can greatly benefit strength, endurance, and recovery.
There aren’t any plant-based sources of vitamin D3, so vegan vitamin D3 supplements must be synthesised in a lab. It’s also not fat soluble, which makes storing vitamin D difficult for our bodies. This means that taking excess supplements is ineffective as your body will just flush them out when you pee.
For best effects, take one tablet-based supplement per day with breakfast.
6. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is one of the most important micronutrients for general health. But it’s basically impossible to get naturally from non-animal based sources. You can, however, get your fix of B12 synthetically through vegan bodybuilding supplements.
For athletes, vitamin B12 is particularly important as it helps your body to metabolize fats and protein. This means that it will help you achieve a higher rate of muscle gain, as well as reducing your body fat content.
On top of that, vitamin B12 is essential for creating red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the blood. The more oxygen your blood can carry, the higher your anaerobic threshold and therefore your performance.
As the body cannot store vitamin B12, it’s important to get just the right amount. Around 10 micrograms of B12 per day should be sufficient, even for athletes. One tablet per day will provide more than enough.
Overall, since many people are going plant-based these days, it's important to keep to a healthy diet that is filled with the right foods and nutrition, That is why we encourage supplements when need be.