Vegan Supplementation Breakdown

Vegan Supplementation Breakdown

When you are focused on a fitness routine and seeking to build a stronger, leaner physique, you absolutely need to make sure your nutrition is on point. Gains only happen with the right training regimen - a balance of exercise and recovery - and the proper nutrition that supports and fuels you so you can reach your goals. Therefore, you will need to ensure your workouts are carefully planned and your meals are equally as balanced. 

For example, protein is necessary to build stronger muscles. Water is essential to aid your body in its efforts to recover. And plenty of fruits and vegetables are needed to replace the vital nutrients your body uses as fuel during your workouts. However, many who follow plant-based diets (or are considering a plant-based nutrition plan) are concerned about balancing a proper nutrition plan and consuming enough protein. That is because most of the protein we consume is from animal-based food products, and those do not align with a vegan diet.
 
So, what if you follow a vegan diet but still want to earn those gains? You may be wondering about the implications and if it is possible to still be a vegan and follow a diet that offers the protein your body needs to build and strengthen muscles and ensure proper recovery.
 
The short answer: Yes. 
 
The long answer: Vegans may have to work a little harder to plan a diet that maintains a balance and avoids animal products, but with some research and planning, it is completely possible.

The Fundamentals of Vegan Nutrition

A vegan diet consists primarily of plant-based foods. Keep in mind  this type of diet is different than a vegetarian diet, which has a little more leeway and flexibility based on personal preferences. Vegetarian diets are free of meat and fish, but some may still include dairy and eggs. Whereas vegan diets are free of meat, fish, dairy, and eggs, and products that contain those ingredients. In general, vegans avoid consuming any animal-based products.

When following a vegan diet, many individuals find it challenging to consume their daily recommended intake of protein. Since vegans do not consume animal products - steak, eggs, chicken - they lack the foods that are often common sources of protein for those on non-vegan diets. Instead, vegans who follow a strictly plant-based diet must get their protein from legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. It can be tough to consume the recommended amount of protein (between 10 and 12% of total calories consumed) with limited vegan food options. However, one strategy many vegans try to follow is to make sure there is some protein present at every meal and snack.

The continued struggle for vegans is in the past, those following a vegan diet would reach for protein supplements to reach their daily dose. However, vegan supplements were not as widely available and oftentimes were not anywhere near as tasty as their non-vegan counterparts. Some vegan protein powders were gritty and lacked the creamier milkshake consistency of regular protein powders. And other supplements were riddled with questionable ingredients. These supplements also did not always provide the main components found in proteins and other products that vegans actually needed to add to their diets. Therefore, vegan supplements and protein options were disappointing and left a bad taste in the mouths of those who gave the supplements a fair chance - there was a lot to be desired. 
 
However, with a growing demand for vegan options - thanks to sustainability movements, education about the effects of animal products on our bodies and communities, documentaries highlighting plant-based benefits, medical conditions, and other reasons that pertain to the environment and digestive system  - manufacturers turned their focus to creating friendlier vegan options that followed higher quality recipes and were void of that terrible aftertaste. These changes are transforming the industry and we are entering a new [exciting] age of vegan supplements.

The New Age of Vegan Supplements

Through advancements in food science and ongoing research by top culinary scientists, new formulations are continually being concocted. This focus to appease and serve the vegan community is a positive change. The efforts are resulting in supplements that have improved from all aspects, not only are the ingredients changing for the better, but the nutritional benefits are increasing, and the taste is significantly more palatable.

Let's break this down and take a deeper dive into what vegans need in their diet and how changes to supplement production are making an impact.

What Vegans Need

According to medical research, those following a vegan diet may need to pay special attention to specific elements of their nutritional intake. There are certain vitamins and nutrients that may be lacking or missing altogether and causing health issues or serious deficiencies which can affect some of the body's functions. 

Based on the research, those following a vegan diet should consider the following: 

  • Vitamin B-12: This is an essential vitamin that helps your body form red blood cells, metabolize proteins, and contributes to fostering a healthy nervous system. While vegans are not the only ones that may experience a B-12 deficiency, they can find the vitamin in some "non-traditional" food sources such as nori and nutritional yeast.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s offer a slew of cognitive and physical benefits for the mind and body. Most individuals consuming a more traditional diet will get these acids from foods or supplements such as fish and fish oil. For vegans, these vital Omega-3s can be found through supplements including algae oil.
  • Iron: When following a vegan diet, individuals should have bloodwork completed, which will offer a full profile and reveal if someone has an iron deficiency or if iron levels are (un)satisfactory. This is because vegan foods such as legumes, nuts, whole grains, seeds, and green leafy vegetables can provide plenty of iron, but too much iron is not a good thing either. If a vegan is consuming iron-rich foods but still detects a deficiency, supplements can help increase levels to reach healthy numbers.
  • Calcium: Consuming adequate amounts of calcium is not just about healthy teeth and bones. It is also about building strong muscles, which includes the heart. According to another research study,  vegans have lower levels of calcium than non-vegans. For vegans, calcium can be found in dark leafy greens and within some fortified foods such as plant-based milk products.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D is naturally created by the body, and a healthy level of sun exposure helps the body produce this essential vitamin. Vitamin D helps strengthen the body's immune response, regulates mood, and can help the body absorb other nutrients. The most popular source of Vitamin D in foods comes from dairy products. Vegans who require Vitamin D from sources outside the body may turn to fortified cereals or supplements.

And of course, proteins and amino acids offer the essential building blocks for healthy (and recovered) muscles. 

While most of the aforementioned nutrients can be found in food sources that are allowable within the confines of a vegan diet, there are also supplements that will help vegans get what is needed when one of the components is missing. However, before turning to supplements, always be sure to consult a physician and share your concerns. A health care professional will determine the levels required for your specific situation and help you focus on the correct supplements, sources, and doses.

Vegan Protein Ingredients

Another popular method of nutrient supplementation - specifically for protein - is powder supplements. Luckily, today's vegan supplements are greatly improved in terms of consistency and taste. However, anyone who consumes supplements or protein powders needs to be cognizant of one very important element: the ingredients. This is because lower-quality supplements can contain unnatural substances such as sweeteners or metals, which are considered "vegan" but are not necessarily healthy (so make sure you know the difference and don't get the connection between healthy and vegan twisted).

Sources used in plant-based protein supplements include:

When it comes to protein powders, there are also seed protein powders that are becoming more popular as they improve in taste, texture, and nutritional benefits. These include pumpkin, sunflower, chia, and sacha inchi. However, with the exception of soy and quinoa, plant proteins sometimes lack in providing the full spectrum of essential amino acids found in proteins and used by the body to build and repair.

But, there is news on the vegan protein front. Food scientists dissected the composition of amino acid profiles and identified a way to create a complete protein using vegan ingredients - specifically through pea protein. This elevates the benefits and nutritional value of certain vegan protein powders that can offer a full amino acid profile with each serving. 

For example, pea protein is a complete protein. This means it contains all nine essential amino acids—including branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs)—necessary to build muscle effectively. This is a welcomed advancement for vegans who stick to their lifestyle choices and want to simultaneously "up" their fitness game and build lean muscle mass. Consider looking into pea protein options such as Planta Vegan Protein, which offers a full range of nutritional benefits and is made using a list of clean ingredients. 

Benefits of Vegan Protein Supplements

In general, this new era of protein supplements offers a more agreeable way to consume vitamins, nutrients, and an adequate amount of protein. 

These options include the following benefits:

  • Better taste: Less gritty and smoother options that are easier to consume and much more appetizing.
  • Healthier ingredients: Less filler and more natural ingredients lead to cleaner supplements and healthier options.
  • Easier digestion: Better for the belly, vegan proteins are often easier on the digestive system.
  • Improved distribution: More widely distributed and easier to find supplements are giving vegans more high-quality choices.

As more people turn to vegan and vegetarian diets for health and environmental reasons, the selection of options will continue to expand. These supplements will only improve over time, and there is no sign that vegan supplements will lose steam in research and development for product improvements.

Specific Vegan Supplements and Tasty Treat Options

If you are in the market for healthy vegan supplement options, check out this Tiger Fitness approved selection:

  • Planta Vegan Protein: Planta™ is made using a precise combination of Organic Brown Rice and Organic Pea Proteins. This combination is further leveraged by adding sunflower sourced SunBCAA™ to maximize the amino acid profile of Planta™ to stand up to even the hardest training recovery demands.
  • The Complete Cookie: The All-Natural Chocolate Chip Complete Cookie has been a crowd favorite since the day it began. This great-tasting vegan cookie has no animal products, dairy, or preservatives. It contains 15 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, 0 grams of trans fat, and 0 grams of cholesterol.
  • Flora All-Natural Probiotic: Flora is an all-natural Probiotic designed to support a healthy digestive tract, boost your immune system, and aid in weight loss. It is the only vegan-friendly Probiotic with 30 million CFUs, a vegan-based Prebiotic blend, and a clinically proven digestive enzyme designed to help improve your physical well-being.
More vegan supplements will continue to enter the market and offer variety and options that will vary in taste, benefits, and price points. However, when shopping for supplements, be sure to research the vegan supplement manufacturer and review food labels to evaluate the ingredient list for quality.
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