99.43% of supplements are useless.
To help you separate the wheat from the chaff, in this post we will look at the few vegan bodybuilding supplements that actually work (with good support from the scientific literature).
So if you're a vegan athlete that wants an edge when it comes to health, performance and muscle & strength gains...
...you definitely want to continue reading.
(Short on time? Below are the 5 supplements that will give you the best bang for your buck).
Essential Vegan Bodybuilding Supplement Stack
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 put all of your effort into adding either 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 isn't on point.
Having gotten 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 see 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:
A. It can fill any nutritional gaps in your diet
B. Provide a slight edge when it comes to enhancing performance, energy levels and muscle growth.
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.
Vegan Supplements for General Health
We should start by addressing the most urgent need:
It is vitally important to take a B12 supplement.
There are no reliable natural sources of B12 on a vegan diet and it must be 'artificially' supplied in some manner - either in the form of fortified foods or as a sublingual or oral supplement.
And this isn't my personal opinion on the matter, any serious plant-based doctor will tell you the same thing:
Get your B12 folks - either through fortified foods or as an oral or sublingual pill (1000 mcg) every few days.
Vitamin D is an interesting one.
It's has hormone-like properties and is produced by the skin through sun exposure, hence why it's sometimes referred to as the 'sunshine vitamin'.
There are no reliable plant sources of the more bioactive form, vitamin D3.
So that leaves us with one option, sunbathing.
The problem with this method is that you can't sunbathe all year around in some places around the globe. I know this for a fact as I've lived the majority of my life in Sweden (spoiler: it's cold, dark and miserable).
Personally I take 2000 IU from a vegan vitamin D3 supplement everyday to make sure I get enough for optimal vitamin D status.
The omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our health and survival.
A plant-based diet does provide omega-3 in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) - found in plant foods such as chia, flax and hemp seeds as well as nuts such as walnuts and macadamia nuts.
Then what's the need for an algae-based omega-3 supplement?
Well there are also two other long-chain omega-3 fatty acids called EPA & DHA which have been suggested to help protect against heart disease, enhance brain health and mitigate cognitive decline, reduce inflammation and much more.
EPA & DHA is found in fatty fish, however a viable option for vegans is to take an algae-based omega-3 supplement (100% plant-based).
If you don't want to take a vegan EPA & DHA supplement, the next best option is to make sure you get ALA from either flax or chia seeds.
Iodine is one essential nutrient that many vegans neglect entirely.
An adequate intake of this trace element is required for healthy thyroid function and a deficiency might result in thyroid dysfunction or hypothyroidism.
Here's the problem for us plant-eaters:
Iodine is only found inconsistently in plant foods depending on the iodine content of the soil. As such there are no reliable plants sources of vegan iodine.
Basically you have two options which is to either A. rely on iodized salt or B. take a vegan iodine supplement. Both of which are viable strategies, though if you limit salt consumption then obviously a supplement is better.
(Nope seaweed is not a good source as it may actually contain toxic amounts of iodine)
Vegan Performance-Enhancing Supplements
Some dietary supplements such as BCAAs have been hyped up as a 'must-have' for vegan athletes and bodybuilders.
How much truth is there actually to this?
As it turns out BCAAs are most likely to be a waste of money, here's what a couple recent reviews have to say on the matter:
Sure they're likely not to be harmful, so if you have the extra cash then go for it.
But I would much rather spend my hard-earned cash on supplements actually backed up by the scientific literature to aid muscle growth and augment performance in the gym.
Creatine is perhaps the best-known and well researched nutritional supplement.
Here's the brief summary of this gym supplement staple:
It is a molecule produced in the body that basically acts as an energy storage for the cells.
When you take creatine you effectively fill up these storages which then helps aid cellular function during lifting.
This effect translates into:
Now if that didn't convince you here's why I highly recommend any plant-based athlete to supplement with creatine:
Creatine is only found naturally in animal foods such as meat, eggs, and fish. So there are no vegan dietary source of creatine.
Measured creatine levels in vegetarians are also lower compared to the omnivores...
...and when vegans supplement with creatine they also see more drastic increase in muscle concentrations of creatine.
Which means we reap even further benefits from creatine supplementation.
For me the decision is simple, creatine just works and there's no reason to think it's harmful.
I take 5 grams of a good vegan creatine supplement every day.
Vegan Protein Powder
A vegan protein powder is as much a supplement as it is food in powder form.
A high-qualiy plant-based protein powder provides an extremely convenient way of making sure you get enough protein per day.
There are a number of different types of protein sources. Pea protein, rice protein, hemp protein, soy protein, a vegan blend of different proteins and so forth and so on.
For the vegan athlete I'd recommend a pea protein as it's often cheaper than other alternatives and contains plenty of muscle-building BCAA.
For a more in-depth look at vegan protein powder check out this article.
I know I definitely wouldn't be able to hit my macros during cutting without a pea protein powder. Thus I consider it a staple in my supplement stack.
Caffeine is central nervous system stimulant, and is the world's most widely consumed physoactive drug in the form of coffee.
There's no need for elaborate testing to establish if caffeine gives you a boost of energy.
Upon ingesting this stimulant you feel more awake, alert and get a substantial boost to energy levels.
Drink a large cup of black coffee before working out and you'll notice you have tons more energy to throw barbells around (without hurting others ideally).
Alright, as an avid coffee consumer I'll admit that I'm slightly biased on this subject.
So do whatever it takes to get that caffeine in you. That could be in the form of tea, coffee, or as high quality, certified vegan caffeine pills.
Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that upon ingestion is turned into carnosine.
Carnosine acts as an acid buffer in the body and as such can help offer protection from exercise-induced lactic acid production.
When you supplement with beta-alanine, intramuscular carnosine levels rise.
This offers several significant benefits that can benefit a vegan athlete such as:
When you take beta-alanine you might experience a tingly or itching sensation in your hands or elsewhere in your body - this is called paresthesia and is a completely harmless side effect (in fact it's a good sign that the dose is correct.)
Here's a good vegan product if you want to introduce beta-alanine into your supplement regimen.
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 - a potent vasodilator (meaning widening of the blood vessels).
More nitric oxide in your blood stream results in a greater blood flow which encourages muscle pumps and vascularity.
Hence why this ingredient typically is included in pre-workout formulas, so you can look awesome at the gym.
Here's an affordable, high-quality 100% vegan citrulline malate supplement if you desire some pumps!
And that's about it for vegan supplements!
Hopefully you now have a better grasp of what vegan supplements are available and how they work!