TL;DR Summary: Do vegan athletes need creatine?
If you’re vegan and want to maintain optimum performance as an athlete, then you may need to take a creatine supplement. However, this is true of all athletes, as even non-vegans tend to consume little creatine; most athletes need creatine supplements to perform at 100%.
Creatine is one of the most popular supplements among bodybuilders, powerlifters, strength athletes and competitive fighters in the world. And with good reason; dozens, if not hundreds, of clinical trials have shown beyond doubt that creatine significantly improves athletic performance in a short space of time.
Simply put, no other supplement seems to be even remotely as effective as creatine monohydrate when it comes to quickly increasing strength, power, muscular endurance, and fat-free mass.
One group of people who are often prescribed creatine supplements is vegans. This is because creatine is naturally only found in relatively large quantities in muscle and organ tissue. As such, the only real way to consume creatine through food is to eat meat, particularly lean muscle and organ tissue such as heart, kidney and liver.
Because of this, it I often said that vegan athletes need to supplement with creatine.
But is this actually true?
Should vegan athletes take creatine? Is it necessary? Should all vegans be taking creatine?
Let’s find out by looking at what creatine is, where it comes from and how it works in more detail.
What is creatine and what does it do?
Creatine is an organic compound with the nominal formula C4H9N3O2. It is present in the cells of all animals, where it acts as an integral part of the energy metabolism process.
In simple terms, creatine is needed for the cycling of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) and ADP (Adenosine diphosphate). These two molecules are constantly recycled in your cell mitochondria, which are known as the engines of your cells.
It is this constant cycling of ATP into ADP and back again that releases energy from the calories you consume, and creatine is needed for this cycling to happen.
What are the benefits of creatine supplementation?
Because it is primarily involved in the metabolism of energy from food, creatine is usually used to increase power and energy output efficiency.
Creatine is of particular use to power athletes, as it greatly increases maximal strength and power output.
You see, the increased availability of creatine that results from supplementation means your body can convert ATP into ADP much faster, releasing much more power more quickly than normal.
Having more creatine available also means you can more quickly recycle your ADP back into ATP and then start the process all over again. In practice, this means you will recover from heavy bouts of intensive exercise (three rep max benches, hill sprints, heavy squats, etc) much faster. This means you can do more sets at a maximal weight, which means more muscle growth and increased strength.
If you want to see rapid increases in strength and size, then creatine is probably the best natural supplement you can use.
What foods contain creatine?
As mentioned above, creatine is only fond in appreciable amounts in animal tissue; namely in the muscles and organs (especially in the kidney and liver).
This is why vegans are always told that they need to supplement with creatine; the only viable dietary sources of creatine are meats, so clearly vegans aren’t going to be getting any creatine at all.
But this isn’t exactly the right way to think about the vegan diet and creatine.
The truth is, few people ever consume any meaningful amount of creatine through food.
The amount of creatine in meat is actually very low; you would have to eat about a pound of lean beef for get 1g of creatine. So to get the recommended 3-5g of creatine for strength and power, you’ll need to eat 5 pounds of beef per day – hardly a healthy and sustainable way to get creatine!
So while certain foods are rich in creatine, there really is no practical way to get enough creatine to make a difference to your training apart from supplements.
So while the vegan diet is typically deficient in creatine, so is a typical diet that includes meat!
Conclusion: Should vegan athletes take creatine?
If you’re making the switch to a vegan diet and you want to maintain optimal performance as an athlete, then it may be wise to take creatine on a regular basis.
A good, plant based creatine supplement can compensate for any decrease in creatine muscle stores vegans may experience after intensive exercise.
While a healthy, well-planned vegan diet is perfectly adequate for all athletes (including strength athletes), if you are looking for optimal performance and not just adequate performance, creatine supplements are a good idea.
Even non-vegans really need to take creatine supplements if they want to perform as well as they possibly can.
- How often should you take creatine?
- Do vegan athletes need creatine supplements?
- What is the healthiest form of creatine?
- How long do the effects of creatine last?
- How long before a workout should I take creatine?
- How long does it take for creatine to kick in?
Pavel Sadovnik is a leading biochemical scientist with a PhD in biochemical engineering. He has spent decades working in industry as a chemist and pjharmaceutical consultant. He has extensive experience with the supplement industry, and specialises in supplement tsting and formulation consultancy. He is the Editor of NARSTO.