The Best Supplements for Vegan Athletes

Athletes and Veganism

Veganism has become more popular in recent years, partially because of the availability of information that can be found on the Internet, which has caused more people to become better educated about the diet. It has also partially increased in popularity because many famous athletes are advocates of the diet and lifestyle, such as race car driver, Lewis Hamilton, and tennis champion, Venus Williams.

The vegan diet is completely free from any animal products, and while much research remains to discover more, veganism has, according to numerous sources, the ability to prevent cancer and type II diabetes, as well as lower LDL and blood pressure. The diet has also been reported to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Johannes Motschmann from the Athlete's Network reports that because the vegan lifestyle is healthier than others, it can be especially beneficial for athletes. Followers of the diet advocate for eating more healthful, natural selections and less processed food.  Becoming vegan helps athletes feel better and enables them to recover from their workouts faster. Regardless of the sport, the level of stress that an athlete can place on his or her body can cause muscle inflammation that can lead to bodily injury if the body is not receiving all of the nutrients needed for regeneration.   A study published in JISSN (The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition), however, suggests that when athletes choose a vegan diet, challenges can arise that require careful attention. Typically, athletes put additional stress on their bodies than less active people. Of special concern is assuring that their plant-based diets have sufficient sources of protein.

Carefully planned vegan diets should include the following nutritional components:

  • B12
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Vitamin D
  • Iodine
  • Calcium.

The JISSN study also suggests that creatine and β-alanine supplements might be something that vegan athletes particularly need because lower muscle creatine and muscle carnosine levels result from not eating meat or dairy products. A vegan diet also needs to include the long-chain n-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA. Calcium is another nutrient that athletes rely heavily upon for bone and muscular health and development. Since vegans do not consume dairy products, which are normally calcium-rich, meal planning should include plant-based sources for calcium.

Therefore, it is evident that meal planning is a crucial part of being a vegan. Not everyone has the time to plan as carefully as it takes to make sure all of the necessary nutrients are included, so some of these nutrients are bound to be omitted from time to time. Plant-based supplements can help one attain balance in the diet. 

What follows is a list of plant-based supplements that can best meet the needs of the athletic body:

The Necessity of Protein in a Vegan Diet

While numbers vary between athletes of various body sizes, exertion, and body composition, on average, approximately 1.8 grams of protein per kg of one's body weight is the recommended amount for athletes. Athletes who do not eat, at least, this amount in their diets should supplement in order to optimize their athletic performance abilities. You can use this protein intake calculator to help you identify your personal protein needs. Protein is one of the most important aspects of the vegan diet. Not only does plant-based protein help build stronger bones and muscles. It also contributes to brain function, joints, and cardiovascular health.

Plant-Based Protein

Plant-based protein powders are typically made from soy or soy isolates, rice, green or yellow peas, hemp, and, in some cases, include composite protein powders, which could be any combination of the above nutrients. 

Yellow pea protein is one of the best sources of protein for athletes. Not only does it provide ample high-quality protein. It also contains iron and necessary essential amino acids, particularly valine, leucine, and isoleucine, which can help athletes promote greater muscle strength and growth. It also includes all of the necessary essential amino acids. Pea protein usually works well for athletes who have food allergies. 

Growing Naturals Pea Powder contains 15g of protein in each serving. It does not contain cholesterol or sugar, which is beneficial for cardiovascular health and brain function and is perfect for the athlete who is seeking a low-carbohydrate diet. Each serving has .25% of the daily value of iron. It can be blended with vegan nut milk, such as almond, or with oat or coconut milk to result in a smooth, creamy shake that is easy to mix and easy to digest.

Organic hemp protein is another high-quality, plant-based protein alternative. Nutiva Organic Hemp Protein is a protein supplement that also provides 15 G of easily digestible, high-quality, plant-based protein that is perfect for people who participate in athletic activities. This organic protein supplement contains cold-pressed, organic hemp seed protein, and has all of the necessary essential amino acids. This is the perfect plant-based protein supplement for the athlete striving to achieve lean muscle mass as well. Its special formula supports muscle toning and weight loss, perfect for athletes who run or lift weights.

Busy athletes are sometimes traveling from one event to the next and are not able to mix protein shakes.  In these circumstances, protein bars are recommended.  D''s Natural No Cow protein bars contain 21g of protein, are palatable, and are easy to transport.  Not only are they an excellent source of protein.  They also help restore energy after a hard workout. 

Amino Acids and a Vegan Diet

Erdman & Burke (2016) note that while plant-based proteins contain essential amino acids, three of these essential amino acids, (lysine, methionine, and Lucine) tend to be found in lower amounts than in diets that contain meat. Insufficient Lucine is a concern for vegan athletes because of its beneficial effects on muscle recovery and its muscle tissue-building properties. According to the vegan-oriented website, VegFacts, varying the sources of protein in one's diet can assure that the vegan athlete will get all of the necessary amino acids to promote ideal health. Using a supplement that contains these amino acids is also helpful.

Amino acids are also beneficial in other ways. The amino acid, tryptophan, for example, can help regulate sleep, which helps to improve brain function and overall health. It can be found in protein-rich foods and helps the body produce serotonin and melatonin.

Serotonin plays an important role in the healthy functioning of the brain and affects mood, sleep, anxiety, depression, digestive disorders, and other bodily functions. Low levels of serotonin can shorten one's overall lifespan. Vegan foods that aid in the production of serotonin include walnuts, mushrooms, oat bran, soy, cucumbers, and cauliflower. The protein-rich supplements recommended herein can also help boost the production of serotonin and can also help keep it in check.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that vegans supplement any amino acids that are missing from their diets. Therefore, using plant-based protein sources, such as protein made from yellow peas, will assure vegan athletes of a complete profile of essential amino acids. Mineral Blend Fulvic-Humic by Vital Earth Minerals is a high-quality supplement oil that not only contains energy-providing minerals. It also provides the amino acids that could be missing from the diet.  The Fulvic is derived from humic found in freshwater and contains many of the trace minerals that occur naturally in vegetables and fruits. 

Plant-Based Multivitamins

The balanced vegan diet should contain vitamin K2, vitamin B12, zinc, vitamin D, magnesium, DHA/EPS, iodine, and selenium. However, if time and inconvenience stand in the way of eating a properly-balanced vegan diet, or if the athlete can only manage to eat some of the foods that contain these things, it can be helpful if the diet is supplemented with a high-quality, plant-based multivitamin that contains these nutrients. The best vegan multivitamin for athletes is called  Compliment Essential Vegan Nutrients.  Understanding the meanings of ingredients listed on the vitamin labels is important for any vegan. Therefore, when vegan athletes buy vitamins, they should carefully read the labels to determine that the products are 100% free of any animal-derived ingredients.  Among other ingredients, these include vitamin B-12, protein and vitamin D.  Caution should also be exercised when selecting supplements that include omega-3s and glucosamine. Plant-based substitutes for these ingredients can be derived from a certain type of algae. 

Before purchasing vitamins, it can help to familiarize oneself with lists of commonly used ingredients that can be included on vegan labeling, but that is not actually derived from plants. Some commonly used non-vegan ingredients that are labeled as  vegan products can include, but are not limited to:

  • Provitamin A
  •  Provitamin A can be found in fruits and vegetables.  When certain fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, are consumed, the body converts beta carotene and other carotenoids into retinoids which is a vegan form of Vitamin A.  
  • Beta Carotene
  • Plant-based sources of beta-carotene are found naturally in plant-based margarine, butternut squash, kale, carrots, cantaloupe, mangos, spinach, watercress, red peppers, and sweet potatoes. 
  • Collagen
  • Scientists have developed synthetic collagen, which is normally sourced from animals, by using specific types of yeast and bacteria.  This plant-based version of collagen is less likely to cause allergic reactions than collagen that is derived from animals. 
  • Gelatin
  • A plant-based substitute for animal-derived gelatin is agar-agar, which is made from red algae. 
  • Vitamin D3
  • A plant-based substitute for vitamin D3 comes from a mineral supplement called Veg-1, a combination of plant-based B-12, iodine, selenium, and a plant-based vitamin D.
  • Propolis
  • An herb-derived substitute for propolis is available from a number of different manufacturers.
  • Glutamic acid can come from vegan and non-vegan sources. If a label does not specify that it is vegan, it probably isn't. 
  • L-cycteine is a vegan substitute for cysteine that comes from nuts, seeds, and other plant-based sources. 
  • Estrogen
  • Photoestrogens have a similar chemical makeup to estrogen, and are used as a plant-based substitute.  A plant-based estrogen alternative is manufactured by Nature's Way, and is called DIM Plus Estrogen. 
  • Progesterone 
  • Progesterone can be replaced with certain plants, such as hemp seeds, dark chocolate, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. 
  • Vitamin B12
  • The  Vegan Society recommends Methylcobalamin  if one is opposed to ingesting animal served B-12.  Methylcobalamin is a bioidentical form of naturally occurring B12.  A  highly-rated plant-based B12 substitute is manufactured by Deva Vegan Vitamins. 

Weight Management for Vegans

Some sports, such as gymnastics, bodybuilding, and figure skating, require that participants pay particular attention to their body weight, keeping it in check to enable the safe practice of their particular sport. Sports Medicine, a New Zealand publication that specializes in empirical literature having to do with athletes,  notes that, depending on the sport and level of activity, the vitamins needed for athletic weight management depend on a number of different factors.

First and foremost, the vegan diet should be taken into consideration before the decision to supplement the nutrients therein. The diet should focus on high-fiber, high-water, low-fat foods, which can help vegan athletes reduce their calorie intake without losing gains. An understanding of the necessary dynamic energy balance can help determine which dietary approaches are most apt to help athletes achieve their body-weight goals. It is a good idea to consult a dietitian who is aware of the nutritional science associated with becoming a vegan, or a trained health professional educated about vegan dietary needs.

Some athletes go through cycles called, cutting and bulking, to help them achieve what has been deemed their perfect body weights. These same strategies work for vegans as for meat-eaters. Supplements that can help athletes during the bulking and cutting phases of their athletic training include those containing branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs) for bulking, and supplements that help burn fat and replace the electrolytes lost while losing weight in the cutting phase.

Bulking on a Vegan Diet

The promotion of muscle growth for the vegan athlete involves the intake of a caloric surplus. Typically, this can mean the incorporation of from 400 to 800 extra calories into their diets on a daily basis. Carbohydrates are an excellent way for athletes to gain and enhance muscle recovery. Therefore, during bulking, the vegan athlete should increase the number of high-nutrition complex carbohydrates, which provide a vast range of high-quality nutrients, in their diets while avoiding simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates contain phytonutrients, which contain anti-inflammatory advantages and antioxidant benefits. This phase should exclude most sugars and starches from the diet in order to increase muscle mass without increasing fat.

Complex carbohydrates include such foods as beans, brown rice, lentils, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, green leafy vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Simple carbohydrates include such things as cake, cookies, ice cream, pie, and pudding.

Eating high-quality fats is also an important element of the bulking phase. Foods that contain beneficial fats include, but are not limited to, green peas, tofu, avocado, a variety of nuts, such as walnuts, pistachios and almonds, olives/olive oil, flaxseeds, dark chocolate, and lentils.

Cutting on a Vegan Diet

The cutting phase is entered when the athlete is seeking to lose body fat. This involves burning more calories than the athlete consumes, resulting in a caloric deficit.

  One of the best vegan supplements for vegan weight loss is Alive! Multi-Vitamin, which contains a variety of nutrients from fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, and many different plant-based nutrients, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, Thiamin, and Riboflavin.  One of the best vegan supplements for weight gain is Plantfusion Complete Protein, which is a BCAA-infused powder for use during the bulking cycle. This powerhouse supplement contains digestive enzymes, key amino acids, and high-quality plant protein sources. 

One of the best vegan supplements for weight loss is manufactured by Bio Nutrition. Garcinia Cambogia is a plant-based metabolism booster that is caffeine-free and that supports appetite control.

Herbal Supplements for Vegans

An outstanding herbal supplement for vegan athletes who want to boost their muscle productivity is Beta-Alanine. a non-essential amino acid.   By reducing lactic acid buildup, this supplement can help delay muscle fatigue, improve muscle stamina and improve muscle strength and workload.  Research suggests that muscle camosine content is usually consumed by eating meat and dairy.  However, the plant-based Beta-Alanine supplement can help optimize exercise capacity and improve athletic performance levels.

Vegan Probiotics

Vegan athletes who have issues with gut health can benefit by taking a vegan probiotic supplement. Probiotics are naturally occurring microorganisms in the digestive system that help ward off diseases and that make sure nutrients from food are properly distributed throughout the body.  Natures's Way – 50 Billion Probiotic is a fast-working, effective probiotic that can help vegan athletes stay on track with their gut health. It is one of the few time released probiotics that delivers its benefits steadily throughout the day.

Another highly touted probiotic is included in a protein shake as a dairy-free probiotic concentrate. This shake is low in fat and has a high protein content.  It is manufactured by Green Foods, and is sold as Vitality Plant Protein Shake.

Joint Support for Vegan Diets

Glucosamine is often used for joint support because it helps regenerate cartilage. However, it is usually sourced from the tendons and ligaments of animals. Deva Vegan Vitamins Glucosamine MSM and CMO offers a plant-based alternative to Glucosamine that is derived from animals, including cattle and shellfish. It is manufactured from  corn and offers support for not only joints, but also for all connective tissues. This can be a vital supplement for athletes who play contact sports.



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