Believe it or not, 99.43% of bodybuilding supplements are essentially useless.
Luckily for you, we’ve reviewed the scientific literature to help you find out which supplements are worth buying and which are just a waste of your money.
Read on if you want to discover the best vegan supplements that are actually effective.
Think about this: Are you a vegan athlete or bodybuilder who wants to make gains in muscle mass, strength, performance, and health? If so, you definitely want to continue reading.
We have broken down these supplements into two: general health and performance-enhancing. It means that you'll get an idea on what supplement to buy whether you want to be more powerful at the gym or you just want to be healthier in general.
Here's the list of supplements:
Best Vitamin B12
Best Vitamin D
Best Algae-Based Omega-3
Best Iodine-Rich Supplement
Top Vegan Supplements For General Health
We should begin with one of the most essential components for vegans and vegetarians:
1. Vitamin B12
It is vitally important to take a B12 supplement.
Vegan diets don’t contain any reliable sources of B12, a vitamin which is essential for good health and energy. It must therefore be consumed artificially, usually in the form of a vitamin or foods which have been fortified with the vitamin.
Any doctor who regularly works with patients on a plant-based diet will tell you how important B12 is for people who don’t consume animal products.
Get your B12 folks - it can be found in fortified foods or taken as an oral or sublingual pill (1000 mcg).
The pill form of B12 should be taken every few days.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an interesting one. Vitamin D is known for its hormone-esque qualities, as well as its adorable nickname “the sunshine vitamin.” This is because it is naturally produced by people who get a lot of sun exposure all the time.
However, the more bioactive form, which is known as vitamin D3, is not found reliably in any plant sources.
This means that for vegans to get the Vitamin D that they need, they may have to consider sunbathing. Alas, if you’re reading this in Alaska or Minnesota, your chances of year-round sunbathing are slim at best.
There are many health benefits associated with vitamin D in high quantities, including a reduction in mortality, which is always an added bonus I suppose.
If you want to get as much Vitamin D as possible without tanning or eating animal products, I recommend taking a 2000 IU vegan vitamin D3 supplement every day.
3. Algae-Based Omega-3
Despite their unappealing name, omega-3 fatty acids are crucial to our good health. Luckily, a plant-based diet can supply omega-3 in a form known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is found in various vegan foods. This includes flax, hemp seeds, chia, macadamia nuts, and walnuts.
So if this is the case, then why do you need an omega-3 supplement derived from algae?
As it turns out, ALA is not the only form of omega-3 fatty acid out there. EPA and DHA are 2 additional forms of omega 3 fatty acid, and it has been suggested that they help to prevent heart disease, reduce inflammation, increase brain health, and keep you cognitively sharp for longer.
These 2 forms of the acid are found in fatty fish, although vegans are able to take an algae-based supplement which is completely plant-based.
It has been shown that people eating a plant-based diet have low baseline levels of these 2 fatty acids, which is why it’s recommended that you take one of these algae-based omega-3 supplements once a day.
If you’d rather not take this supplement, make sure that you get plenty of ALA from sources like chia seeds and flax.
You may remember it as something you played around with in Science class, but iodine is an essential part of a healthy diet. Sadly, many vegans end up neglecting it from their diets. Iodine is essential for healthy thyroid functioning and could result in hypothyroidism if you don’t take enough of it.
For those who only eat plants, you will only get iodine from plant foods which grew in iodine-rich soil. As you may have guessed, this is not the easiest thing to keep track of. As a result, there is no reliable plant source of iodine.
You must either rely on iodized salt or take a vegan iodine supplement if you want to get your fix. Both of these can work, although the salt option isn’t ideal if you’re trying to limit for salt intake for health reasons.
Some people believe that seaweed is a good vegan source of iodine, but it can actually contain levels considered toxic.
Top Vegan Performance-Enhancing Supplements
Vegans need BCAAs because their diet may restrict their natural intake of these essential amino acids.
BCAAs cannot be produced naturally by the body, so people need to consume them via food sources.
However, plant-based foods are not abundant in BCAAs, so many vegans turn to supplementation for their intake.
BCAA supplements are commonly taken in order to boost muscle growth and enhance exercise performance.
They may also help with weight loss and reduce fatigue after exercise.
Creatine is perhaps the best-known and most well-researched nutritional supplement. Here's a brief overview of this common gym supplement:
Creatine is a molecule which your body naturally produces, acting as a place where your cells can store energy. Taking creatine supplements means that you’re basically filling up these energy-storing cells, helping to enhance cellular function when you’re lifting.
So what does this effect mean in practice?
I highly recommend that athletes eating a plant-based diet should supplement themselves with a vegan creatine. This is because creatine only occurs naturally in animal products like eggs and meat, so there is no plant-based source of creatine in an everyday diet.
Compared to meat eaters, vegans have been shown to have lower measured creatine levels, however, when they take supplements, they see a huge increase in muscle concentration.
This means that creatine supplements can have even more benefits for us, so it’s pretty much a no-brainer - get yourself some vegan-friendly creatine supplements. For myself personally, I take 5 grams every day.
3. Vegan Protein Powder
A high-quality vegan protein powder is not just a supplement, but can often act as a meal replacement too due to its nourishing properties - it is an extremely effective and convenient way of making sure that you get enough protein in a plant-based diet.
There are many different sources for acquiring vegan-friendly protein, such as rice, peas, hemp, soy, and much more. If you’re looking to build muscle mass in particular, then I would recommend a pea protein supplement due to its BCAA content.
Personally, I would struggle to get my macros every week without a decent pea protein powder by my side.
It’s one of the most essential vegan supplements, especially if you’re an athlete and/or bodybuilder.
4. Caffeine (or Pre-workouts)
Caffeine is a stimulant of your central nervous system, as you probably know if you’ve ever downed a few cups a coffee on a late night.
There's no need for elaborate testing to establish if caffeine gives you a boost of energy - it’s well established that caffeine gives you a boost in energy levels.
Drink a large cup of black coffee before working out and you’ll find that you’re much more energetic and alert during your workout, whether you’re doing cardio or lifting weights.
Alright, as an avid coffee consumer I'll admit that I'm slightly biased on this subject.
Put simply, this means that it is easier to lose fat, so make sure that you’re getting that caffeine intake in one form or another, the entire Western world basically runs on the stuff. This could be in the form of tea, coffee, or through a vegan pre-workout.
Beta-alanine is an amino acid which occurs naturally in our bodies, being turned into carnosine once our bodies digest it.
Carnosine acts as a buffer for acid, helping to protect your body from excess lactic acid which is produced when we exercise intensely, making us feel weak and sore.
Beta-alanine levels thus help to raise your intramuscular carnosine levels, positively affecting your endurance when lifting.
This offers several benefits to plant-based athletes, including:
Do bear in mind that you might feel a tingling or itching sensation in your hands or other parts of your body when you take beta-alanine supplements. This is a harmless side effect called “paresthesia,” so don’t worry about it unless it’s causing you problems.
Here's a good vegan product if you want to introduce beta-alanine into your supplement regimen.
6. Citrulline Malate
Citrulline malate is a compound consisting of citrulline, a non-essential amino acid.
Upon ingestion, this compound stimulates the production of arginine, which in turn boosts levels of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is an effective vasodilator, meaning that it widens your blood vessels (5).
If your bloodstream has higher levels of nitric oxide, it will result in increased blood flow, helping to supply your muscles with the blood they need when you’re pumping.
Hence why this ingredient typically is included in pre-workout formulas, so you can look awesome at the gym.
Are There Any Vegan Magic Pills?
Yes, that was a rhetorical question. But just to make one thing clear from the get-go:
There are no magic pills or shortcuts when it comes to achieving your health goals, building an impressive physique, or getting stronger.
Proper diet and training should always be the #1 priority, for good reasons.
First, get the basics right:
That entails eating mostly nutrient-dense whole foods, hitting your calories and macros consistently every day, going to the gym and putting all of your efforts into adding both weights and reps to exercises, and that's what will give you 90-95% of results.
Whether you take beta-alanine or not doesn't matter if your nutrition and training aren't en pointe.
With that out of the way, the right vegan supplements can indeed be quite helpful. But you also have to take the right approach to supplementation. Throwing spaghetti (supplements) against the wall (in your body) and seeing what sticks is not a good way of doing things.
Every supplement or ingredient you choose to put in your body should serve a specific function:
Notice the choice of words. 'Fill in nutritional gaps' and 'a slight edge.' Nowhere did I say that supplements should serve as substitutes for whole foods or that they will magically transform you into Arnold Schwarzenegger.
They are what the term 'supplements' implies, things that supplement an already-sensible vegan diet.
The Bottom Line
Apart from these supplements, you might want to check out these too:
Hopefully, you now have a better grasp of what vegan supplements are available and how they work!
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