The 7 Best Vegan Bodybuilding Supplements
On the whole, that's a pretty damn great foundation for vegan gains to be made.
But there's one missing piece of the puzzle:
Enhancing your plant-based diet with the right supplements.
It's a bit of a shame that the term 'supplements' has gotten such a bad rep.
It conflates both products such as vegan protein powders, which can be a fantastic addition to a vegan diet, with obscure research molecules promising to get you "monstrously jacked".
There's just such a drastic difference between the two, it's like comparing apples with rotten oranges.
Fact of the matter is that supplements is a vital part of the vegan diet, for example without a B12 supplement your diet will be nutritionally inadequate.
So without further ado, let's discover which supplements are pure garbage, and which are actually beneficial for the vegan athlete.
*For whatever it's worth I'm only going to recommend supplements I personally use and stand by. Here's a picture I just took of my somewhat minimalistic supplement stack.
Are there any 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 for becoming healthy or building an impressive physique.
(I suppose steroids will take care of the latter, but for obvious reasons we should try and stay away from that particular group of supplements.)
Most of your focus ought to revolve around eating nutrient-dense whole plant foods and getting enough calories, proteins, fats, carbs and other vital micronutrients.
Satisfying these basic nutritional requirements is going to be the principal factor that determines your overall health and how well you synthesize new muscle protein and lose fat.
Having gotten that disclaimer out of the way, there are some circumstances where dietary supplements can be used to either:
A. Fill in any nutritional gaps in your vegan diet and
B. Give a slight edge when it comes to improving performance and lean body mass gains.
Notice the choice of words. 'Fill in nutritional gaps' and 'give a slight edge'.
Nowhere did I say that supplements are a substitute for food or will magically transform you into Arnold Schwarzenegger. They are just that, things that supplement an already sensible vegan diet.
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 of vitamin D.
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).
(For more information about vitamin D check out this article).
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)
Supplements to enhance performance and muscle gains
Some dietary supplements such as BCAAs have been hyped up as a 'must-have' for the vegan bodybuilder.
How much truth is there actually to this?
None. It's all smoke and mirrors, lies and marketing. Marketing above all.
As it turns out BCAAs are most likely a waste of money, here's what a couple recent reviews have to say on the matter:
There are actually a few tried-and-tested supplements that are proven to aid muscle mass gain and augment performance in the gym.
A good place to start is with creatine, protein powder and caffeine - an effective, bare-bones vegan bodybuilding supplement stack proven to work.
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
As mentioned above, 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.
By simply consuming a large cup of black coffee as a pre-workout 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. Tea, coffee, pills. If you absolutely abhor the taste of coffee you could go for either a pre-workout supplement or fat burner that contains caffeine.
And that's about it for vegan supplements! Hopefully you now know what supplements to take to help provide that slight edge.
(For further information about supplements, check out the comprehensive hub on vegan supplements.)