How Effective is Vegan Creatine?

There is much talk online of vegans being low in creatine. But you don’t need to supplement unless you’re into high intensity, short duration activity sports like weight training or the 200m sprint, for example. So how effective is vegan creatine if you do decide to supplement? Can vegans benefit from this nutrient, found naturally in meat?

 

How Effective is Vegan Creatine?

 Vegan creatine is very effective for building lean muscle mass and providing athletes with an extra second or so of intense energy when the body calls for it. Vegans get almost no additional creatine from the diet so tend to respond well to supplementation. 

 

Watch: Dr Greger on creatine supplements for vegetarians

( this video also applies to vegans )

 

Creatine is one of the non-essential nutrients in a healthy human diet. This means our bodies synthesise the compound from other dietary elements.

In the case of creatine, these elements are the 3 amino acids, arginine, glycine, and methionine.

So even though amino acids are crucial in the formation of this substance, it is actually a non-protein compound, playing a vital role in the ‘on-demand’ delivery of energy to our cells.

For performance athletes, creatine supplementation is proven to be beneficial in giving you ‘the edge’ in sports where a short, sharp burst of energy is needed.

A diet rich in meat and dairy means you’ll get additional creatine from your diet, compared to vegans. Creatine is stored primarily in muscle tissue, which is what you’re consuming when you eat another animal.

Obviously vegans don’t eat other animals so vegan bodybuilders, for example, would almost certainly benefit from taking a creatine supplement. Plenty of studies show this to be highly likely.

 

Is Vegan Creatine The Same As Regular Creatine?

How Effective is Vegan Creatine? (ripped muscle man doing pull ups)Most creatine supplements are vegan friendly. I checked the 8 top sellers on Amazon and all of them are suitable for vegans. I honestly couldn’d find a creatine supplement derived from animal products.

It doesn’t matter where your body gets the creatine from, whether animal muscle tissue, powder or capsule … it has exactly the same effect.

The main concern for vegans is what the capsule is made from. You will find some products which use pork or beef gelatine in the capsule. So just watch out for that.

Most creatine supplements are made from cyanamide and sarcosine. There are some potentially harmful by-products created in the manufacturing process so the purity of your supplement is important.

Cyanamide is manufactured using limestone, coal and nitrogen gas extracted from the air. It is quite heavy on electrical energy usage during the process.

Commercial scale sarcosine manufacture usually starts with formaldehyde and an alkali-metal cyanide. Neither are particularly pleasant chemicals.

But they are vegan!

 

Do Vegan Brains Benefit From Creatine Supplements

Stylised picture of a human brain in shades of blue.

A very interesting double blind study published in the British Journal of Nutrition and carried out at Swansea University in Wales showed that memory function increased in vegetarians when creatine supplementation was given over 5 days.

This is not all that surprising since it’s known that creatine enables the supply of energy to the brain. Our noggins consume a significant percentage of the body’s energy so the study’s findings make sense.

What was surprising in this study was the meat eaters memory function actually decreased with the creatine supplementation. How is this possible?

Well the reason could be that meat eaters experience what is known as down regulated creatine synthesis, as renowned clinical nutrition scientist Doctor Michael Greger puts it.

The theory goes that because meat eaters get extra creatine from the diet, their bodies simply don’t bother to synthesise it. Whereas vegetarians (and vegans) are constantly churning out the stuff because we don’t get it from the creatine rich muscle tissue of animals.

The human body is an amazing feat of biological engineering and will do all it can to obtain the nutrition it needs to survive.

But while the theory doesn’t fully explain these surprising results, one takeaway from this study is that a perceived creatine deficiency in vegetarians (and vegans) didn’t affect memory function. Rather, the vegetarians were more sensitive to creatine supplementation than the meat eaters.

 

How Much Creatine Should a Vegan Take?

Purple teat pipette filling a tray of glass vials. Science lab.

Officially, creatine is an unproven supplement and as such, there is no universally recognised dose. However, it is one of the most scientifically studied substances used in high-end athletic performance.

Because of this, there are some generally accepted dosages which appear to be perfectly safe.

If you’ve looked into creatine at all you will know there is a recommended ‘loading phase’ which initially elevates concentrations to the desired level and then an ongoing ‘maintenance dose’.

For vegans the loading phase of 5-7 days involves taking 7-10g four times daily and then a maintenance dose of 5-7g per day.

The dose for vegans is a little higher than that for meat eaters because vegans get almost no extra creatine from the diet. Vegans still synthesise it from the amino acid building blocks but overall levels in a vegan body will be lower.

If these numbers seem high to you (like they did to me!) then it should be pointed out that subjects who were followed for 5 years taking doses of 40 – 50g per day showed no adverse effects. This was true for vegetarians and meat eaters.

However, you may just want to knock 20% off those quantities because once you reach muscle saturation with creatine there is absolutely no point taking any more – your body will simply excrete the excess in the urine.

 

Is Long Term Creatine Use Really Safe?

Woman with well defined muscles with her back to the camera.

While, theoretically, increased creatine intake could place extra pressure on the kidneys, there are currently no long term studies which show this to be the case.

However, to be on the safe side, if you do suffer from kidney disease it is probably not a good idea to supplement with creatine. Daily, around 2% of the creatine in the body breaks down into creatinine which is what the kidneys have to process.

For vegans with no kidney issues it certainly does look like prolonged supplementation is not detrimental in any measurable capacity.

This doesn’t mean it is completely safe. It just means we currently have no data to support some of the common negative health claims you may have read about creatine.

These claims include dehydration, cramping, increased water retention and renal distress which commonly causes kidney inflammation.

Sports science writer and researcher, Andrew Hamilton, writing in the Sports Performance Bulletin, provides some very detailed information about long term use here. Well worth a read.

Andrew highlights that the other thing to watch out for is the purity of the supplement. This can vary wildly and you’d be well advised to check out other’s reviews of a product before you buy. I’m sure you would anyway but it’s just worth mentioning here.

I should clarify that the content on this website is not to be taken as medical advice and if you have any health concerns you should consult a medical professional.

You may also like: Does All Protein Come From Plants?

 

In Conclusion: Creatine Is Effective For Healthy Vegans

A measuring scoop full of white powder, sitting on a bed of the same white powder.

Numerous studies have shown that vegetarians benefit from creatine supplementation in sports where short duration bursts of energy are required.

By association, this applies to vegans as well.

It can give an athlete that 100th of a second advantage over the competition. Sometimes that’s all that is needed to take the gold medal!

Creatine is one of the most widely studied sports supplements and to date, no significant adverse health effects have been observed in healthy individuals.

Creatine supplements appear to have a disproportionately greater benefit to vegetarians (and vegans) when it comes to some cognitive functions. More research is needed in this area.

Most creatine supplements on the market are vegan friendly but with capsuled products, check the label for gelatine … which is obviously not vegan.

I hope this article has answered your questions on vegan creatine and you will share with your friends. If not, please do leave your comments and questions below … we’ll do our best to answer them for you.

Thanks for reading and have a compassionate day!

Rohan.

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