Today’s post is in direct response to a question that I was asked by a friend who happens to be newly vegan. She wanted to know if creatine was vegan and if it was something she should be supplementing. We mentioned in our article about the protein myth how the world has become fixated on consuming more protein.
Well in gym circles creatine has a similar reputation and for good reason. It has become one of the most extensively and scientifically studied nutritional supplements for athletes and has been shown to improve athletic performance on various levels. But back to the initial question, is creatine vegan and is it really needed? Let’s jump in and take a look.
What Is Creatine?
Creatine is a naturally occurring organic acid that is produced by the body in the liver. Around 95% of creatine is stored in the muscles with the remaining 5% in the brain. It also makes up about 1% of the total volume of human blood.
In the muscles creatine is converted to phosphocreatine where it is used as energy reserve for muscle cells, giving them greater strength and endurance. Creatine is transported through the blood and supplies energy to parts of the body where it is needed.
Although the body naturally produces creatine, levels are typically higher in omnivores because creatine is found in animal food sources mainly red meat and fish. Adequate creatine levels are essential for overall health but creatine it is not an essential component of our diet.
Vegans and vegetarians may have lower levels than omnivores but this shouldn’t detract from their health. So why supplement with creatine? Well because supplementation has been shown to increase both muscle size and strength.
Creatine Supplements For Vegans
As someone who years ago took a whole raft of supplements I am now very much of the opinion that for long term health we should focus on a natural whole food plant based diet. In doing so we can meet all of our nutritional needs. In fact the only supplement that I take regularly and recommend to others is vitamin B12.
So does that mean that we shouldn’t supplement with creatine? Well no, creatine supplementation has its place for both vegans and non-vegans but it is important to ask yourself why you’re taking it and what your long-term goal is. As the most tested supplement on the planet creatine has been proven to have a range of effects.
These include improved exercise performance, muscle gain and muscle strength. Creatine also increases water content in your muscle cells which can cause them to swell slightly and produce signals for muscle growth.
Additional studies have suggested that creatine may also increase the levels of hormones that are required for muscle growth such as IGF-1 and that it decreases the breakdown of proteins in muscle tissue.
Over the past 2 decades there have been thousands of studies into the benefits of creatine and one thing is clear creatine can help increase both muscle mass and strength.
Is Creatine Safe For Vegans?
Well the good news is that because creatine has been so heavily studied we know that it is a relatively safe supplement. Why do I say relatively? Well because it is difficult to find any really long term studies of regular creatine users over periods of decades.
In 2017 the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that “creatine supplementation is acceptable within recommended doses, and for short-term use for competitive athletes who are eating a proper diet”. A long-term study of creatine supplementation
published in PubMed stated that “it does not significantly affect clinical markers of health.
Are There Any Side Effects?
So the good news is that the science is pretty clear that taking creatine as instructed is safe and is not detrimental to health. But is there anything else we should consider? Are there any side effects? I add this because when I last took creatine (almost 15 years ago) I used to suffer from cramp when straining really hard with heavy lifts.
So let’s quickly look at some of the concerns that have been raised about creatine use and see if any are justified.
Although I can find no real scientific evidence to support this claim I have found certain individuals say that hey felt dehydrated when taking creatine. Although it is true that creatine encourages the body to store more water in the muscle cells and most creatine supplements will tell you to consume a minimum amount of water daily.
It is likely then that claims of dehydration are actually down to insufficient water intake. As with any supplement follow the instructions and ensure you are drinking enough water
Again there is no scientific evidence to support this claim but I can attest to having suffered muscle cramps when straining really hard whilst supplementing with creatine. I have read other reports of people suffering with cramps but it seems that we are in the minority and I still am no the wiser as to why this might have been.
This was the most common cause for concern when I was taking creatine and a query that was raised regularly. The good news is over the past 2 decades research has consistently shown that creatine does not negatively affect kidney function.
There was good reason for the concern because high levels of creatine will raise levels of creatinine in the blood. These levels are often used as bio markers in medical tests to check that the kidneys are working well. This can lead to confusion because what doctors want to know is that the kidneys are working properly filtering the creatinine.
Higher levels often indicate that this is not the case. Of course because the creatine is increasing the blood levels of creatinine it’s likely the kidneys are filtering the creatinine perfectly but because there’s more of it levels are still elevated.
Is Creatine Vegan?
So hopefully that’s given you a pretty good overview on creatine. Let’s get back to the original questions I was asked. Is creatine vegan and is it something you should supplement? Well most creatine is vegan but not all. That’s because there are two methods of production, the first, and much lesser used, does derive from animal products.
The good news is that the majority of creatine supplements are laboratory produced and are completely vegan. There is another issue that you need to consider and that is that you can buy creatine capsules. Many of these capsules are made with gelatine and so are not vegan.
The key is to look for synthetic products and ideally those that are labelled vegan. The good news is that labelling is improving and most vegan products are now clearly labelled. And should you supplement?
Well I would say for the vast majority of us there is really no need. However if you are looking for specific gains in muscle size and strength then there is no doubt that creatine will give you a boost.
Creatine For Vegans Lets Sum It Up
Supplementation is big business. It’s very easy then to be persuaded that we “need” a certain supplement when this just isn’t the case. Certainly none of us “need” to supplement with creatine and there are plenty of elite sportspeople who are highly successful without taking creatine as a supplement.
Creatine can help increase muscle mass and strength and I would only ever recommend supplementing with it if this is your goal. Make sure you only buy 100% creatine and ensure that it is lab produced and ideally certified vegan. Creatine is widely used and the research indicates that there are no long-term adverse health issues.
That being said I would never recommend creatine as a long-term supplement option. So is creatine vegan? Well yes in most cases. And should you supplement? Well only if you are looking to increase gains in muscle size and strength and only then for short periods.
Do you have experience of taking creatine? Was it like mine, did you experience cramps? Do let me know in the comments below, we would love to hear from you.