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Supplements and Vegan Diet: Yes, Please or No Way?

29th Dec 2016

Many bodybuilders and professional athletes use supplements to max out performance, muscle gains, and nutrient metabolization, but the matter of supplementation gets a whole lot trickier if you throw veganism in the mix. While some vegan athletes swear by a 100% clean menu, others are not as exclusive when it comes to using workout supplements to improve or maintain their performance. So, should a vegan lifter or runner pick up the supp bottle or should they go au naturale through and through regardless of training intensity?

A Classic Case of Needs vs. Wants

Vegan bodybuilders and athletes who advocate the No Supp fitness agenda sometimes quote the example of herbivorous Hulks in the animal kingdom such as oxen, horses, or elephants as proof that plant-eaters don’t need pill-shaped or powdery leg-ups to stay strong. But while the concept sounds sensible in theory, it doesn’t paint the whole picture because the herbivorous animals seldom push their endurance and strength limits outside life-threatening situations – and that’s precisely what athletes (vegan and non-vegan alike) do most of the time.

In this light, the matter of veganism and supplementation is a matter of Needs vs. Wants: while not every vegan Hulk will rejoice at the thought of munching on bottled protein, some will still need it to achieve and preserve peak performance. Likewise, vegan gym bros can decide to add supplements to their menu without actually needing a dietary dial-up: a small vitamin, mineral, and protein surplus can’t do a vegan any harm, for as long as they opt for first-rate plant-based products that are compatible with their lifestyle.

The Vegan When and Wherefore

Apparently, vegan athletes may need to use supplements in periods of increased muscle strain, such as when preparing for competitions or boosting training intensity rapidly. Quality protein supplements and metabolic enhancers can accelerate fat burn and bulk building and help keep post-workout soreness and fatigue at bay, all of which are important for muscle-minded vegan sports aficionados.

As a general rule, a plant-eater should reach for extra protein in case they notice signs of chronic fatigue, focus drops, post-workout muscle strains, joint pains and/or inflammation, or sluggish muscle building progress. If you’ve ticked off one or more of the symptoms listed above as your everyday gym reality, it’s time you added a few carefully chosen supplements to your carte du jour. If you’re new to vegan supplements, here are some basic guidelines to help you pick the right bottle from the store lineup.

Plant-Based Protein on the Menu

Although a fair share of protein powders on the market comes from the dairy industry, vegans can still have their natural supplements and eat them too – and here are only a few protein supps herbivorous folks can add to their menu.

  • Soy Protein

A perfect supplement for vegans looking to get the biggest bulk-building, cognitive, and cardiovascular bang for their plant-based buck, soy protein powder packs complete protein and can be used pre- or post-workout. A word of caution: male vegans should be careful with soy protein ratios as higher than recommended intake can compromise testosterone levels.

  • Pea Protein

Although it lacks one essential amino acid, pea protein powder can help plant-eating gym goers significantly improve their performance and prevent post-workout muscle damage. An excellent protein supp for vegan athletes and gym bros looking to optimize bulk building and bone mineral density, pea protein will work best if paired with a menu rich in cysteine.

  • Brown Rice Protein

Free of GMO, gluten, and lactose, brown rice protein powder is ideally suited for vegans and folks with food allergies and digestive system sensitivities. The downside to brown rice protein is that it’s lacking in one essential amino acid known as lystine, which is why it should be combined with a menu fortified with lystine-rich foods.

  • Hemp Protein

Rich in omega-3 and other essential amino acids, hemp protein powder is another vegan supplement that can help herbivores speed up their quest to peak shape and muscle growth. For optimal results, hemp protein should be consumed together with second helpings of foods rich in lysine and leucine as it contains low quantities of these amino acids.

  • Mixed Plant Protein

Vegans who like variety rather than protein powders sourced from a single plant can reach for a mixed plant protein powder. A blend of two or more plant proteins such as hemp, pea, chia, flaxseeds, alfalfa, quinoa, and brown rice, mixed plant protein takes a little longer to digest as it has high fiber content, so it should be used post-workout for maximum muscle gains.

All That Vegan Supplement Jazz

Other workout enhancers vegans can add to their meal agenda include multivitamin and mineral complex supplements, energy boosters such as creatine and caffeine, flaxseed oil, and DHA/EPA (omega 3 fatty acids). Of course, vegan gym goers who don’t push their limits too fast, too hard, and/or too frequently can skip supplements altogether as their organism will be able to cover nutrient needs and stay on the right and bulking track granted a well thought-out meal plan and get sufficient rest in between gym sessions.

When it comes to veganism and supplementation, it’s the good, old case of de gustibus: you can use protein powders, energy boosters, and fat burn enhancers should the need for it arise, but you can also go without them – or make them a regular on your pre- and post-workout agenda if you wish so. After all, you get to make lifestyle and dietary choices all the time, so go with your gut, eat well, stay hydrated, get a good night’s rest whenever possible, go gradual with training intensity increase, and you’ll be okay even if you decide to skip supplements.

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