Want to propel your vegan gains to new heights?
Look no further than creatine:
This supplement is one of few performance-enhancing compounds with tons of scientific evidence (700+ studies) backing it up.
So if you want to learn all about creatine and it's benefits, and also how to pick the best vegan creatine supplement, you will want to continue reading.
(Or if you're just looking for a great vegan creatine below is my top pick)
OUR TOP PICK
The Optimum Nutrition Creatine Powder is my top pick for a vegan creatine supplement as it's guaranteed cruelty-free, highly effective for boosting strength, endurance and muscle mass gain and made from highest quality CreaPure (which is guaranteed free from impurities and contaminants).
How Exactly Does Creatine Work?
There's a metric ton of misconceptions regarding creatine supplements.
So let's try and sort out what creatine is, and what it isn't (hint it's not steroids)
Hold on to your seat cause it's about to get sciency.
Our cells and muscles are fueled by ATP, or adenosine triphosphate.
During short bursts of intense exercise, this energy source in the form of ATP only lasts for so long and needs to be replenished.
Creatine is a component of the naturally occuring substance phosphocreatine (PCr) found in both the muscles and brain.
PCr contains high-energy phosphate groups which can be donated for the production of new ATP molecules = more energy.
Now listen up plant-eaters:
Creatine can be synthesized by the body using the three amino acids methionine, glycine, and arginine. Our endogenous production is somewhere in the ballpark of 1 gram per day.
In addition to this creatine synthesis, omnivores have another supply of creatine in the form of meats and fish.
A kilogram of flesh contains about 4-5 grams of creatine.
As vegans lack preformed creatine in their diet - consequently we also have lower concentrations compared to omnivores.
Due to the body's innate capacity to synthesize creatine you won't die...
...but you don't get to enjoy the full benefits that comes with filled up creatine stores. Now fortunately this can easily be remedied with creatine supplementation.
The Many Benefits of Creatine Supplementation
As noted above creatine helps cellular energy needs and provides the fuel required for muscular contractions.
Dietary creatine, in the form of supplements, reliably increases the body's creatine pool.
This has several pretty awesome performance-enhancing benefits that you can take advantage of as a bodybuilder, strength athlete or gym-goer.
And perhaps not as widely recognized, but very remarkable, is the brain-enhancing effects associated with creatine intake.
Increased Anaerobic Endurance
So, creatine supplementation increases total creatine and phosphocreatine levels, resulting in a greater energy buffer to be used for exercise.
These elevated PCr levels translates into greater anaerobic working capacity i.e repeated high intensity efforts such as strength training with high reps (10-15) and repeated sprints or similiar activities.
Increased Strength and Body Composition
One study had nineteen resistance-trained men randomly assigned to either a creatine or a placebo group and then put on a heavy resistance training program for 12 weeks.
The creatine group saw a strength increase in bench press and squat (24% and 32%, respectively) vs placebo (16% and 24%).
A meta-analysis on the subject showed that creatine supplementation combined with resistance training resulted in an average +8% and +14% more performance on 1RM strength and endurance strength, respectively, compared to the placebo groups.
And in addition to the strength gains, creatine resulted in a 6.3% increase in fat-free mass compared to placebo at 3.1%.
That's double the rate of gains!
Speaking of gains:
One review summarizing all creatine studies done between 1969 and 2001 showed an 0.36% increase in net lean mass gains and 1.09% increase in strength gains.
These results can be attributed to the increased anaerobic endurance and rapid ATP regeneration between sets - which means you can maintain higher training intensity and improve quality of workouts.
Creatine's Benefits for Cognitive Function
Creatine doesn't only enhance performance in the gym and makes you buff:
It makes you buff and smart. Like a strongman einstein, or something.
As mentioned phosphocreatine is not only found in skeletal muscle but also in the brain.
It plays an important role in supplying energy to the various parts of this important organ - indicating an important role of creatine in influencing brain performance and function.
One study, where 45 vegetarian young adults took 5 grams of creatine per day for 6 weeks, showed that creatine supplementation had a significant positive effect on both working memory and intelligence.
Another study found that creatine supplementationcan counter the effects of sleep deprivation. It enhanced mood state and had a postive effect on tasks that place a heavy stress on the prefrontal cortex.
Now here's where things get serious:
Impaired energy production in the brain is thought to contribute either directly and/or indirectly to the development of neurodegenerative disorders.
Thus it has been hypothesised that creatine, by helping improve energy pathways, may prove to be useful as a therapeutic intervention for diseases such as Huntington's and Parkinson's disease.
Combine creatine with an algae omega-3 supplement to really supercharge your brain!
Why Vegans Especially Should Take Creatine
A 2003 study on creatine should be particularly interesting for vegan bodybuilders.
19 vegetarians (3 vegans) and 30 omnivores were randomly assigned to either the group: vegetarian + creatine, vegetarian + placebo, omnivore + creatine or omnivore placebo.
As expected, measured creatine levels in the vegetarians were significantly lower compared to the omnivores.
After 8 weeks on a resistance-training program all the subjects taking creatine had seen an increase in lean muscle mass and strength compared to placebo.
Now here's the juicy part:
The most dramatic effect was seen in vegetarians on creatine, seeing greater increases in muscle concentrations of total creatine and phoshocreatine and gaining 2.4 kg of lean tissue vs 1.9 kg for non-vegetarians using creatine.
Are There Any Side Effects from Creatine?
Creatine as a supplement is remarkably well-studied and safe.
You might notice a small bodyweight increase when taking creatine - which is completely harmless and a result from transient water weight retention.
Anecdotally some people experience gastrointestinal disturbances. If this is a major porblem for you try and take the creatine with meals.
Overall there is no scientific evidence that suggests that creatine would be harmful for otherwise healthy individuals.
Athletes taking creatine for up to 5 years showed no adverse effects on kidney function.
Now people with kidney damage and/or high risk for developing kidney problems due to diabetes or heritage are best off avoiding creatine.
How to Effectively Supplement Creatine
I think I've hammered home the point that creatine makes you buff and strong. And smart, and awesome.
So at this point you might be wondering:
How do I actually take creatine?
It's actually super simple, here's the gist:
Buy creatine monohydrate. Don't bother with any other form of creatine as monohydreate is the variety used in the majority of studies and proven to produce good results.
Then you take 5 g once per day forever. Or as long as you want.
You don't have to cycle between months on and months off, or implement a loading phase, or take it during a certain time of the day, or snort it off dirty toilet seats for full effect.
The goal here is to achieve fully saturated intramuscular stores of creatine. Once you've done that then you'll reap all the benefits creatine has to offer.
Loading with creatine, i.e taking upwards of 25 g for 5 days and then continuing on a maintanence dose, isn't really necessary. It will simply take a bit longer to saturate creatine stores by skipping the loading phase.
Finding the Best Vegan Creatine Supplement
Fortunately most creatine products are produced by chemical synthesis - hence also cruelty-free.
But just to be sure, do check twice that your creatine is indeed vegan.
Also if you want creatine in pill form make sure that the pills doesn't contain gelatin or any other animal product.
Now the not-so-good aspect of many creatine supplements is that they may be contaminated.
A survey done on creatine supplements in Italy found that 50% of the products exceeded the maximum level recommended by EFSA for organic contaminants and some contained mercury in detectable amounts.
So how are you supposed to know if what you're buying isn't poisoning you when it's a 50/50 risk?
Making Sure Your Product is Free from Contaminants
What I do is make sure my product is made from a patented form of creatine monohydrate called Creapure, made by AlzChem in Germany.
This brand of creatine is known for its rigorous testing process and provides guaranteed purity and safety. It's free from impurities and contaminants like creatinine, dicyandiamide, dihydrotriazine, thiourea and heavy metals.
I'm not peddling this stuff because it's 20x more expensive - it costs about the same as any other creatine.
CreaPure is simply a seal of approval that your product doesn't contain any harmful toxins or stuff that's not creatine. It's also guaranteed cruelty-free as Creapure is produced through chemical synthesis.
So my personal recommendation for a vegan creatine powder would be something like:
Optimum Nutrition Creatine Powder is a cruelty-free, no frills supplement made from the highest quality CreaPure creatine (guaranteed free from impurities and contaminants).
This creatine supplement is great if you want:
What makes me thrilled about this supplement is the minimalistic ingredient list: 100% CreaPure creatine. No flavors, artifical sweeteners, colors or other stuff.
Personally I've found that the micronized powder used in this product is really gentle on the stomach. It also mixes more easily and stays in solution longer than non-micronized powders.
You can easily stack this unflavored powder with other products, for instance a pre-workout, or water, juice or anything you want.
Each serving, one teaspoon, of this product provides the daily recommended five grams of creatine.
Users report the expected effects of a good creatine supplement: some water retention, physique and strength gains at a faster rate with no adverse effects.
PS. If you found this helpful make sure to share it with others!
PSS. Get swole and make sure to check out the main information hub on vegan supplements.