Thousands of vegans in the UK are interested in sport, fitness and bodybuilding, while countless high-profile athletes and celebrities globally have turned to a plant-based lifestyle to help them maintain their lean muscle and overall health.
However, it can be a minefield choosing the right sports supplements, as ingredients like whey, casein and gelatine are cornerstones of so many fitness powders, foods and snacks.
Here we take a look at some of the reasons why being a vegan athlete is so beneficial, as well as the key nutrients that vegans need to be mindful of when participating in sport, exercise or bodybuilding.
We’ll also recommend a full regime of vegan supplement, including pre workout, protein powder, post workout hydration and protein-rich snacks.
Is it better for you to be vegan?
This is a topic hotly debated among foodies, the health-conscious and fitness fans alike.
It’s certainly true that there are many clear benefits to becoming a vegan. Aside from the proven environmental benefits, there is a clear benefit to animal welfare when more people eat a plant-based diet.
Of course, it’s possible to eat an unhealthy, unvaried vegan diet. When we consider that crisps, plain pasta and many biscuits are vegan, it becomes clear how easy it is for a picky vegan to eat a nutritionally lacking diet.
However, vegans have the pick of a huge variety of nutritious foods and with some forethought, a vegan diet can be one of the healthiest around.
Veganism in athletics, sport, fitness and bodybuilding
Some people, especially those interested in sport, fitness and bodybuilding, are wary of vegan diets as they don’t believe a plant-based meal plan can offer them the nutrients they need.
These nutrients generally include protein, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
This is a common misconception, but the truth is, it’s perfectly possible to get what you need from plant-based sources. Here are some common queries about diet for active vegans:
Do vegans need B12?
The short answer is yes – everyone needs small amounts of vitamin B12 to facilitate red blood cell formation, energy production and healthy bones. 1
Plant sources of B12 are hard to find, so many vegans choose a vegan B12 supplement.
Vegan vitamin B12 can be found in yeast extract spreads, edible seaweed, fortified cereals and plant milks, and many vegan protein powders are enriched with vitamin B12.
The richest source of omega 3 fats is oily fish – but vegan omega 3 supplements made from algae, flaxseed, chia or echium seed oil also provide all you need.
Where can vegans get vitamin D?
Vitamin D is vital for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.2
Vegan vitamin D is hard to find – but it’s hard to find in non-vegan diets, too. In fact, most of our vitamin D comes from sunshine, not food. The NHS recommends everyone take a vitamin D supplement containing 10mcg vitamin D during the darker months. 3
There’s no need to look for special ‘vegan vitamins’, as vitamins are chemical and don’t contain animal products. However, sometimes gelatine is added to tablets as a biding agent so be sure to check.
Where can vegans get protein?
There are plenty of plant-based protein sources. However, plant-based protein (with some exceptions, such as soy) doesn’t tend to have the full range of amino acids required to make it a ‘complete’ protein – and the protein they do contain tends to be in lower amounts than protein-rich animal sources.
Combining plant proteins, for example brown rice and beans, solves this problem and offers the full range of amino acids which make up a ‘complete’ protein.
Vegan protein powders are an excellent place to get your protein. Protein powder is a highly concentrated version of plant protein which has undergone extensive micro-filtering, so you’ll get a high dose of protein without taking on too many calories.
What does it mean to be vegan friendly?
‘Vegan friendly’ generally means that the product is suitable for vegans.
However, be careful. A shop, café or restaurant describing itself as ‘vegan friendly’ will cater to vegans but not necessarily sell exclusively vegan products.
It also depends on your own personal rules as a vegan. If a product isn’t certified vegan, but is ‘vegan-friendly’, it may have been prepared alongside animal products. It’s best to speak to the manufacturing company if in any doubt.
Vegan workout support
Being a vegan doesn’t mean you can’t achieve muscle strength, stamina and exercise endurance to equal your non-vegan counterparts.
Our suggested vegan supplement regime will ensure you get the protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals you need to fuel your workouts and recovery.
From increasing your energy, reducing fatigue, enhancing exercise performance and promoting recovery – the best vegan supplements for exercise do all of this and more.
Pre workout supplements:
This pre workout includes a wide array of vegan ingredients to fuel your workout. These include:
Athletes who ingest caffeine before a workout can train for longer before reaching exhaustion.
Caffeine is thought to be ergogenic – meaning it gives you energy. 4
A naturally occurring compound in muscle cells, creatine helps increase production of energy in muscles.This beneficial effect is obtained through ingestion of 3g of creatine per day.
This is an amino acid which your body makes naturally. Supplementing with beta-alanine has been associated with better muscle endurance during exercise. 5
L-Citrulline is another amino acid your body makes naturally. Unlike the others, it’s not involved in making protein. Instead, l-citrulline helps your body make l-arginine, which may promote blood flow, which can give you an edge while exercising. 6
Branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) are 3 essential amino acids which are important for forming protein.
BCAA’s are thought to help stimulate protein synthesis even more than the other 6 essential amino acids, as BCAA’s are stored and metabolised within the muscle tissue. 7
We must get BCAA’s from our diet – but as they’re naturally richest in meat, poultry and fish – vegans may struggle to do this.
Luckily, BCAA’s themselves are naturally vegan and are found in vegan workout supplements.
The Precision Engineered (PE) Branched Chain Amino Acid Powder is made up of the 3 branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) – leucine, isoleucine and valine – and contains 5g of BCAA’s per serving.
You may not need a supplement during your workout. Some people choose to just keep hydrated with water during light workouts.
You may wish to choose an intra-workout supplement, usually containing ingredients to help replenish what you lose during workouts. This can include carbohydrates, amino acids and electrolytes.
Luckily, these are usually vegan as they generally contain a form of carbohydrate – but beware of on-vegan binding agents like gelatine in some energy gels.
This vegan gel contains 22g of fast-digesting carbohydrates to give you an instant energy support.
These vegan tablets dissolve in water to create a hydrating drink. They contain glucose, electrolytes and essential minerals to help top up what you lose during an intense session.
Post workout supplements:
Much like intra-workout supplements, post workout supplements should contain ingredients which help replace the nutrients you may have used up during your training session.
If you’ve used an intra-workout supplement, you’re unlikely to need any more electrolytes.
As building lean muscle is a goal of many who work out, it’s important to add protein to your post-workout nutrition. This will help you build lean muscle mass, as well as promote recovery of the muscles you’ve just worked hard.
Many common protein powers contain whey and casein proteins from milk, which aren’t suitable for vegans. Luckily, there are plenty of plant-based protein powders which can give you the full amino acid profile you need for muscle growth and maintenance.
This protein powder is made from a blend of pea protein isolate and rice protein. With 20g protein per serving, sipping on this vanilla-flavoured shake after a workout will help maintain your muscles as well as build new muscle tissues.
If it’s mass gain you’re after, try mixing the formula with your favourite plant milk for an extra-creamy protein drink.
Creatine occurs naturally in the body. It helps create ATP – a compound which plays a key role in creating the energy required to drive various bodily process, such as muscle contraction.
Supplementing with creatine is thought to help perform better during short burst high intensity exercise, such as push-ups or sprints. 8This beneficial effect is obtained through ingestion of 3g of creatine per day.
Lots of people have seen their anaerobic power during workouts increase with creatine – try it and see if it can help you set a new personal best.
Protein bars are great for topping up your protein intake during day. Even when you’re having a rest day, your muscles still need protein to fuel their maintenance and growth.
Much like plant-based protein powders, vegan protein bars bypass the common whey and casein – instead getting their protein from sources such as pea, nut, brown rice, hemp and soy.
This bar contains 20g protein, from soya and almond sources.
Last Updated: 15th December 2020
Expertly reviewed by:
Author: Bhupesh Panchal, Regulatory Affairs
Bhupesh started his career as a clinical toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products. After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
In his spare time, Bhupesh likes to cycle and has been learning to speak Korean for several years.
1 Vitamins and minerals – B vitamins and folic acid – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
2 Vitamins and minerals – Vitamin D – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
3 Vitamins and minerals – Vitamin D – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
4 Exercise and Sport Performance with Low Doses of Caffeine (nih.gov)
8 Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update (nih.gov)