Vegans, we have to stop trying to prove a point about the health of our diet.
When I was actively competing in CrossFit, I felt enough pressure as it was trying to earn invitations to competitions, or to podium in those that I was invited to. When I decided to make the switch to a vegan diet I felt even more pressure on top of an already stressful situation.
I felt this enormous pressure to support the vegan community by being a successful vegan athlete. I think a lot of us feel that way. I think we try to prove a point that a vegan diet is superior to an omnivorous or carnivore diet, and sometimes we go to extremes to make our case.
Trust me, I’ve heard it all. “I thought you didn’t have to take supplements as a vegan.” “Veganism can’t be that healthy if you have to supplement B12 to survive.” “I told you that you couldn’t get enough protein on a vegan diet.”
The honest truth is that the supplement industry is a multibillion-dollar per year industry. Vegans make up roughly 1% of the population. Supplement companies are definitely not targeting or making the bulk of their money off of vegans. I mean, can you imagine if we were what supplement companies were counting on to turn a profit?!! They’d be broke!
Show me an omnivore that has any fitness goal and eats what he or she believes to be a superior, healthy diet, that doesn’t take at least one supplement. Okay, I’m sure there are some, but I’m betting they are few and far between.
Go through the supplement section at your local grocery store. You’ll see supplements for everything and everyone, sure. But they don’t hold a candle compared to the likes of GNC or Bodybuilding.com. The supplement industry counts on people with fitness goals as their biggest, highest-paying customers.
So why should it seem odd for vegans with fitness goals to take supplements as well?
There will be those who believe that all we need are whole foods. And, for general health and longevity, they’re right. A whole-food, vegan diet is king when it comes to combating disease and the effects of aging (other than the absolute requirement for a reliable source of B12, of course).
But I’m not here to survive. I want to thrive! I want all the benefits a well-planned vegan diet brings, and then I want to supercharge it.
That’s one of the most beautiful parts of being vegan. The diet is so clean that we get the absolute maximum benefit out of supplements!
So let’s take a look at what supplements may be beneficial to pair with your vegan diet, how to know the supplements you choose are actually vegan, and let’s earn our fitness goals.
Heads up: this page includes affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products or equipment I have personally vetted.
How Do You Know What Supplement Brands are Legit?
There are a ton of supplements on the market. So much so that it’s incredibly intimidating if you don’t know what you’re looking for. And there are so many brands! Come on! How do you know what supplements actually work, or at least do what they say they will, and which ones actually contain the ingredients that are listed on the package? Remember, supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Anyone can make them. And no one is really checking to see what actually goes into the bottles.
NSF performs product and facility audits. They make sure that what’s on the product label is actually in the bottle, and they certify meat, dairy, and egg replacement products as plant-based! I don’t know about you but I love having a stamp of approval from an organization to prove a supplement brand is legit.
This is also huge for professional athletes. Professional sports organizations each have a list of banned substances, and athletes are wholly responsible for everything that goes into their mouths. If you’re an athlete and you are taking a supplement that hasn’t been NSF certified, you don’t know 100 percent what’s in it. Could be that you end up ingesting a banned substance without even knowing it. Better safe than sorry.
Head to this section of their website to browse supplements that have gone through their third-party testing process. You can also do a Google or Amazon search for NSF Certified Supplements (that’s actually much easier than using their website). Or, find a supplement you’re thinking about purchasing and then investigate if it is NSF certified.
You may not find the supplement you are looking for, and this is by no means the end-all, be-all of supplement validity. But it’s a great place to start.
Supplement Brands I Personally Endorse and Use
If I’m going to take supplements, I prefer to buy from companies that I like and that are doing the right things (at least in my estimation). We speak with our money, so I’m going to spend my hard-earned dollars where they count. The following three supplement companies are vegan, cruelty-free, and strive to positively affect the environment. I like what they stand for. Simple as that. And I love buying from companies that are vegan! I know I don’t have to worry about cross-contamination or companies that don’t truly care about the lifestyle.
Here are the companies I endorse and personally get my own supps from.
Deva Nutrition. Deva focuses on vitamins, minerals, and supplements for vegans and vegetarians. Their products are manufactured at GMP-certified and FDA-regulated facilities, and all of their products are registered by the Vegan Society. Deva Nutrition supports organic farms, fair trade, cruelty-free products, and is committed to protecting animal rights. Most of their products can be found on Amazon, and they are the most budget-friendly of the brands I like.
Future Kind is founded by Shaun and Eliot Cunningham, both certified nutritionists. Their focus is on producing vegan products using only ingredients that actually work and are necessary. Their main focus, however, is on sustainability. Their goal is to be the world’s most sustainable supplement brand. They have a ton of products, and I know that they are being produced by people who know what they are doing.
Vivo Life is another vegan company that is doing incredible things! They make 100 percent plant-based health and fitness products. And when you look at the list of ingredients on any of their supplements you won’t find garbage like artificial colors, flavors, fillers, or binders. Yet their products are some of the most delicious you’ll ever come by! They strive to stand up for the planet and all the living beings that we share it with. And, for every order they receive they plant a tree.
Yes, I am an affiliate for all three of these companies. If you buy a product through one of my links, I will receive a commission. At no extra cost to you. The reason I affiliate with and endorse these companies is that I believe in what they stand for and because I personally use their products.
I have one other brand that i personally buy from, through Amazon.
Deva, Future Kind, and Vivo life don’t produce all of the supplements that I personally use and recommend in this article. This is when I turn to Bulk Supplements. They produce a lot of single-ingredient products, like creatine and beta-alanine. They are NSF Certified and make their products in an FDA-registered facility. At least I know I’m getting what I’m paying for. And I can get single ingredients and know that there won’t be any animal-derived ingredients to worry about.
Supplements You Should Consider Taking As a Vegan
There are a ton of supplements out there, and not all are going to give you the benefits they claim. But here is a list of supplements that may benefit an already healthy diet. I’ve listed them here in order of importance, which is why you’ll see B12 as numero uno. Once you get to the middle of the list, it’s get a bit subjective, and some of them may be more for athletes or those with very specific fitness goals.
B12 is Non-Negotiable for Vegans
B12: B12 is responsible for energy metabolism, including fatty acid synthesis and energy production from carbohydrate and protein. It also helps keep your body’s blood and nerve cells healthy and helps make DNA. (R) This vitamin is especially important for vegans as the main dietary sources of B12 are meat or dairy products.
Recommended Amount of B12
At least 2,000 mcg (µg) of cyanocobalamin once each week, ideally as a chewable, sublingual, or liquid supplement taken on an empty stomach.
Or at least 50 mcg daily of supplemental cyanocobalamin.
Those over 65 years of age should take at least 1,000 mcg (µg) of cyanocobalamin every day.
You needn’t worry about taking too much B12.
You can get B12 from fortified foods, of which there are a ton! The recommendation is to take a serving of B12-fortified foods three times a day, each containing at least 190% of the Daily Value listed on the nutrition facts label.
You may already be getting all the B12 you need from fortified foods. But I like taking a 2,000 mcg chewable every Sunday. That’s my routine.
Oh and always take your B12 separately from any other vitamins you are taking. Some other vitamins hinder the absorption of B12, which is why I never count on it from a multivitamin.
This is my favorite B12, though. Nature’s Bounty’s B12 is incredibly inexpensive and lasts a long time. Plus, it’s cyanocobalamin, which I prefer.
Vitamin D3 Supplements Are Necessary If You Don’t Get Enough Sun
Vitamin D is a weird one. We are designed to get all we need from the sun. However, if we wear sunscreen, don’t get midday sun, live in an area with a lot of pollution, or don’t live i an area that is summer weather all year long, we don’t get what we need.
Vitamin D allows calcium and phosphorous to build strong Bones. Recent research even suggests that vitamin D may help prevent some cancers. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can include muscle weakness, pain, fatigue. (R)
Recommended Amount of Vitamin D3
Sun first! During the summer months where you live, aim for 15-30 minutes of midday sun (15 for those with lighter skin; 30 for those with darker skin).
During non-summer months or days when you don’t get the allotted time of midday sun without sunscreen, take a 2,000 IU supplement.
D3 from plant sources is more bioavailable than the D2 sourced from fungi. Look for vegan versions that are sourced from lichen (typically D3 is sourced from lanolin).
Omega-Three Fatty acids Are Essential
Omega-three is a vital nutrient for vegans and vegetarians because it helps boost heart health by lowering blood pressure and triglyceride levels. It also reduces the risk of several chronic diseases and may be protective against age-related cognitive decline and dementia. It’s also highly anti-inflammatory!
Yes, you can get omega-3s from ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), but the conversion isn’t great, so supplementation may be worth looking into. I eat flaxmeal and chia seeds daily, which are loaded with ALA. But just in case, I take 250mg before bed every day. Think of it like an investment against memory loss.
Vegan supplements are a good alternative to fish oil capsules. Vegan DHA and EPA supplements come from algae or yeast, rather than marine life.
Recommended Amount of ALA Daily
250 mg daily long-chain omega-3’s (EPA/DHA), derived from yeast or algae
Deva Vegan Omega-3
Future Kind Vegan Omega-3
Vivo Life Vegan Omega-3 – in all honesty, this one’s not my favorite. I like the convenience of chewables or capsules. Vivo Life’s omega-3 is really fishy-tasting, and it clumps up in the fridge and is hard to get the dose right.
A Vegan Multivitamin Is An Insurance Policy When Paired With a Healthy, Vegan Diet
A whole-food, vegan diet is loaded with vitamins and nutrients. Vegan supplements can help fill in the gaps that vegan foods don’t cover, and vegan multivitamins are an easy way to get your daily dose of vitamins and minerals.
Even the best multivitamin will not fix a bad diet. But, if your diet is on point, vitamins can make sure every base is covered.
Assess your own diet. Are you eating 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day? Are you eating whole grains like oatmeal, rice, and quinoa daily? What about legumes? If you eat these on a regular basis, you don’t need a multi.
But life gets in the way. We travel. We’re tired. We eat out. Work lunches are hit and miss where quality is concerned. So a good vegan multi can act as a solid insurance policy.
Recommended Amount of a Multivitamin Daily
One a day. Keep it simple.
Deva Vegan Multi – This is the one I get if I go with deva. I want the plant-based iron and iodine, and I like that I get that here in one neat little package.
Future Kind’s Compete Multi. It’s non-GMO and made from 42 raw fruits and vegetables. It’s loaded the vitamins you need, as well as probiotics and enzymes to help with digestion and absorption.
Vivo LIfe Multinutrient – Great multivitamin that only has what you need, including iron and iodine.
Supplements for Athletes, Fitness Enthusiasts, and Anyone With a Fitness Goal
The supplements mentioned above are important for general health (except maybe the multivitamin, if you’re diet is really dialed).
But let’s get on to the fun supplements! Those that are going to help your performance in your chosen workout environment, and move you one step closer to your fitness goals!
Vegan Protein Powders Make Reaching Your Protein Goals Easy
Protein powders and meal replacement shakes are one of the best-selling supplements on the planet. If you’ve ever had a fitness goal, you’ve probably had a protein shake at some point. And for good reason! Protein provides the building blocks for muscle (along with everything else!). Even if you’re not looking to bulk up or add muscle, you still need to be able to recover from workouts. Protein gives you what you need.
If you are a vegetarian you have your pick of pretty much any protein powder on the market, which are typically based around whey or casein (milk proteins).
If you’re vegan, you need to spend a bit more time making sure the supplement you choose doesn’t contain milk products. While all plants contain a complete amino acid profile, vegan protein powders are typically made from two or more protein sources that compliment each other. That way you get a good amount of each and every amino acid, especially the essential ones.
Some typical protein combinations you will see are rice and peas, rice and hemp, pea protein isolate with brown rice protein concentrate. Look for vegan supplements that are 100% plant based (not blended) to ensure there aren’t any hidden dairy ingredients added in the mix.
Recommended Amount of Protein Daily
How often you use or how much protein you get from a supplement depends on the rest of your diet (like most things here!). You should be shooting for 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight each day.
I’ll use the following numbers as an example:
185-pounds, divided by 2.2 to get your weight in kilogram = 84kg
84kg times 1.2 = 101 grams of protein each day
84kg times 1.6 = 135 grams of protein each day
On days you workout (whether in the gym, swimming cycling, running, or hiking), aim for the higher end. On rest days, be on the lower end.
A really easy way to make this work every day is to always shoot for the lower range (100 grams in this case), and then add in a postworkout shake to make up the difference on days you train. Most protein powders will give you about 20 grams of protein. By the time you add in all of your other ingredients you will be very close to your higher end goal.
Within 20 to 30 minutes after you workout you want to give your body the nutrients it needs to start the recovery process. Carbohydrate and protein are key here! And keep fat content low.
The optimal ratio of carb to protein is 3g carb to every 1 gram of protein.
This is a great time to make a smoothie with your protein powder. A great general recipe for a homemade smoothie is 1/2 to 1 scoop of protein powder, 1 cup of nut milk, 1 to 2 cups of frozen fruit (blueberries, mango, strawberries, or sweet cherries are my favorite), 1 banana, and some ice chunks. Add water as necessary to reach your desired consistency. I also love to throw in chia seeds, flaxmeal, or hemp hearts, along with peanut butter. Great way to get in good fats, omega-3s, and protein.
Here are my favorite protein powders:
Vivo Life. Their PERFORM Raw Plant Protein & BCAA has several flavors and they are absolutely amazing. This powder is made from bio-fermented yellow peas and cold-pressed hemp. I usually drink their RITUAL Plant-Based Protein, which comes in vanilla and chocolate (they also have unflavored, but where’s the fun in that?!). I like chocolate as a stand-alone shake, and vanilla mixed in smoothies or added to oatmeal. This supplement is also made from fermented yellow peas, cold-pressed hemp, and they add quinoa to the mix.
Creatine Provides Fuel for Your Muscles
Most of the creatine in the body is found in skeletal muscle. It exists here as an important storage form of energy that buffers ATP and helps maintain a continuous supply of energy to working muscles (R). Many studies have shown creatine supplementation to improve performance during high-intensity, short-duration exercise (R) and can lead to greater gains in lean mass and muscular strength and power (R). Creatine supplementation is even endorsed as effective by the International Olympic Committee!
Omnivores get about 2 grams each day from eating meat. Vegans and vegetarians don’t really get any. Yes, creatine can be made from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine (but methionine is really hard to get in adequate amounts on a vegan diet!), but low concentrations have been found in the blood of vegans.
So supplementing can definitely help your fitness goals, especially on a vegan diet! Not only that, vegetarians, in general, have been found to respond better to creatine supplementation the omnivores! (R)
Recommended Amount of Creatine for Workouts
Supplement with 3-5 grams of pure creatine monohydrate every day, even if you don’t train. This will keep your muscle creatine levels consistent. No need to perform any loading phase (complete waste of money).
I take creatine as part of a pre-workout supplement regimen, which I’ll describe further down in this article. Because I train in the morning, on days that I don’t workout I take creatine in the morning as well, so that I am constantly spacing the supplement 24 hours apart.
If you take any time off of working out, simply skip the creatine. Resume your 3-5g regimen what you start working out again.
Beta-Alanine Is My Favorite Fitness Supplement
My favorite supplement. Have you ever taken a pre-workout supplement and got that tingly feeling shortly after? That’s beta-alanine. The tingling effect is perfectly harmless. Some people don’t like it. I love it. It lets me know it’s working, and that it’s time to hit the gym (or road).
Beta-alanine helps dampen the buildup of acid during high-intensity exercise. What I notice most when I take beta-alanine is that I can go a couple of extra reps before the “burn” sets in. Studies have shown small but meaningful improvements in sports performance when taking beta-alanine, but many suggest that the effect is lower in well-trained athletes (R).
Mat Fraser, 5 time CrossFit Games champion, may disagree with that statement. During his reign as the Fittest Man on Earth, beta-alanine was his secret weapon. He states that the supplement made him “feel like he had an extra lung.”
Me, I’m just a 41-year old father who wants to continue to be strong and in incredible shape. But I still love this supplement and continue to take it regularly.
Recommended Amount Beta-Alanine for Workouts
Take 65 mg per kilogram of bodyweight. I am a 75kg athlete, so I take 4,875mg, or 5g. You may want to split that does evenly throughout the day if you don’t like the tingly feeling it gives. You will get the same fitness benefit either way. I take this as part of my pre-workout, mostly because I like the tinglies. Makes me feel like I’m going to have an awesome workout. Even though that’s just placebo effect.
Citrulline Malate is Great for Intense Workouts or Competition
Citrulline malate (CM) has gotten some publicity lately, which is why you’ll likely see a lot of pre-workout supplements suddenly list it in big, bold, colorful letters on the front of the container. I have yet to see a brand that adds more than 5-6g. It’s somewhat expensive (at least compared to caffeine, creatine, and beta-alanine which are all dirt cheap), so it’s hard to supplement manufacturers to keep their costs competitive if they put an effective dose in.
But it looks nice on the package, and the marketing works!
If you choose to supplement, make sure and choose citrulline malate, and not just L-citrulline. L-citrulline alone does not directly affect aerobic ATP production. Malate is an intermediate of the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA), which affects aerobic ATP production. [R].
Citrulline malate has been shown to increase strength (R), delay muscle fatigue (R, R), speed up recovery time between workouts (R), and “increase athletic performance in high-intensity anaerobic exercises with short rest times and to relieve post exercise muscle soreness (R).
L-citrulline is also found naturally in watermelon! This makes watermelon a great pre-workout snack!
Recommended Amount ofCitrulline Malate for Workouts
All of the studies above used 8 grams. Because that’s the dosage that’s actually been shown to provide results, that’s the amount I recommend.
But, unlike creatine and beta-alanine, I only take citrulline malate on days that I work out.
Assess Your Own Diet and See If You Need Any of These
Any deficiency is not good, and is going to get in the way of your health and your goals. As a vegan, or someone eating a vegan diet, the following are nutrients to take a look at and make sure you are getting what you need.
If your diet is lacking, start there first. Essential Vegan Nutrients discusses the foods to add so that you are covered for each of these.
Non-Heme Iron Recommendations Need to be Met Daily
Men: 8 mcg per day
Women: 10 mcg per day
the type of iron that comes from plants is non-heme iron. This form of iron is not as well absorbed as heme iron from animal products, which is the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) is based on.
Getting enough iron on a plant-based diet is easy enough with some planning. For example, taking vegan vitamin C with vegan iron helps the body absorb more plant-based iron. Also, avoiding coffee and tea one hour before eating, and a couple of hours afterward is important. The polyphenols in these drinks can decrease iron absorption.
I like to shoot for a higher intake of iron than what is recommended because non-heme iron isn’t as well absorbed. I don’t worry about toxicity because your body will use what it needs and get rid of the excess, unlike with heme iron from meat. This is, however, also why I make sure I hit my iron goals every day.
If you find that it is difficult to get all of the iron you need on a daily basis, you may want to consider supplementing. Some vegan multivitamins will contain iron. Or, you can purchase a vegan iron supplement on its own. But do not go for an extremely high number. A supplement that meets the RDA will be more than sufficient.
Calcium for Strong Bones and Muscle Contractions
The RDA for calcium is 1,000mg each day. You definitely want to reach that each day. Whole plant foods are a great way to get your calcium. In fact, you should always try and get your calcium from food! But if you’re not reaching your needs you may want to look at supplementing.
Iodine is Critically Important
For those who don’t eat seaweed or use iodized salt, a 150 mcg daily supplement
Kelp should be avoided as it tends to have too much iodine.
The multivitamins from Deva and Vivo Life both have iodine added. Just another reason I like them!
Future Kind has a stand-alone iodine supplement, which is a great way to get what you need.
But the cheapest way is to use iodized salt. Too much salt is absolutely not good for you, but 1/2 teaspoon meets your needs for the day.
Make You Own Pre-workout Supplement: Don’t Waste Your Money
A cheap pre-workout supplement is going to cost you $1.00 per workout. Typically you’re looking at $30 for 30 servings.
Look at the label and you’ll see a long list of ingredients, most of which have no scientific backing for exercise performance.
I really good pre-workout supplement should have a stimulant (caffeine is my favorite), creatine, beta-alanine, and l-citrulline, D-malate. Those are the supps that have been shown to actually work.
A good pre-workout supplement should have those ingredients in the following amounts:
Beta-alanine: at least 4g
l-citruilline malate: 8g
Anything less than those amounts and you aren’t actually getting an effective dosage. You are paying a lot of money for a bunch of ingredients that aren’t proven effective, and being short-changed on the ingredients that actually have scientific backing.
So build your own. If these are the only ingredients you need, why waste money on anything else? You can buy these ingredients in bulk, and take them individually for a fraction of the cost of even a cheap pre-workout supp.
Here’s what I do:
Bulk Supplements Creatine: $40 for 200 5g servings on Amazon
Bulk Supplements Beta-Alanine: $22 for 277 5g servings on Amazon
Bulk Supplements Citrulline Malate 2:1 ratio: $35 for 125 8g servings on Amazon
Best Naturals Caffeine Pills: $7 for 120 200mg vegan tablets
Since the caffeine and citrulline malate have the least number of servings, we’ll say you get 120 workouts from this purchase, for a total of $104 (without tax). That’s $0.86 per workout, for high quality ingredients and no fillers. And, you’re left with 80 servings of creatine and 157 servings of beta alanie leftover!
Personally, I take creaine and beta alanine every single day. If I workout I take both as part of a preworkout cocktail. If I don’t work out, I take the cretine in the morning and I split the beta alanie into two servings to avoid the tingles.
I only take the citrulline on days that I have a really intense workout planned. Or before competitions. I like feeling a little extra edge when I really need it, as opposed to getting that feeling every workout.
And I only take a caffeine if I feel like I need it. Usually if I train really early in the morning. Otherwise, my morning cup of coffee is just fine.
That’s a Wrap
The benefits of vegan supplements are numerous and can be a beneficial addition to a healthy, plant-based diet. Take stock of your own diet first. Look for areas that you may be lacking in nutrition and see if you can fill those gaps with whole plant foods first. If you can’t consistently meet those needs, consider supplementing.
And if you ahea. fitness goal, let’s THRIVE! Don’t be afraid of supplements! We don’t want to rely on them, but they can help us get the most out of our already healthy diets.
In this article I’ve outlined some reasons why vegan supplementing is good for you, as well as which supplements will help you thrive on your vegan lifestyle.
Want some more information on how to get the most out of your plant-based diet, read about the essential nutrients all vegans need.
Need some one-on-one help with your diet? I’m here for you! Check out my Nutrition Coaching Services and let’s get started!
Until next time, stay strong and healthy!
Plant-based, plant built