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What You Should Know About Creatine: Vegan Dietitian’s Insights

vegan-creatine
6 min reading time

Is creatine vegan? 

Amidst the heaps of dietary supplements available, one has particularly caught the attention of fitness communities around the globe – creatine. Muscle strength, power, and athletic performance – all supposedly fueled by creatine.

 

But if you’re embracing a plant-based diet, this begs the question: is creatine vegan? As vegan dietitians, we can confirm that most creatine supplements are vegan. A few aren’t suitable for vegans or vegetarians so it’s important for you to know what to look out for. Read along as this article delves into creatine, what it does, and important vegan-friendly considerations.

vegan-ccreatine

What is creatine? 

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound in our bodies. It plays an important role in producing energy, particularly during short-duration high-intensity physical activity. In the fitness community, creatine supplementation has gained immense interest due to its positive effects on exercise performance.

 

What does creatine do? 

To understand what creatine does, we must first understand the role of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is our body’s primary energy currency. Just like how we need money to buy something, ATP is how our body “buys” energy. 

 

As its name alludes, there are three phosphate groups attached to ATP. In this form, our body can use ATP to create energy. When we use energy, however, ATP is converted to ADP (adenosine diphosphate). With only two phosphate groups, ADP can’t be readily used to make energy. 

 

Here is where creatine comes into play: creatine donates a phosphate group back to ADP, converting it back to ATP. This provides a fast source of energy for muscles, which is particularly helpful during short-duration high-intensity activities.

 

High-intensity activities like weightlifting, sprinting, and sprint cycling require a lot of energy at once, which can rapidly deplete ATP. But with the help of creatine, ATP regeneration is made easier – leading to improved exercise performance.

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How is vegan creatine made? 

The creatine in supplements is typically made from sarcosine and cyanamide. While sarcosine is a derivative of glycine (an amino acid), cyanamide is a compound that contains carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen. Through a series of chemical reactions and purification steps, sarcosine and cyanamide can be used to make creatine.

 

Sarcosine can be found in animal products such as eggs and meat, as well as plant-based foods like legumes and nuts. On the other hand, cyanamide is mostly found in plant-based foods like almonds, spinach, soy, and lima beans. While both sarcosine and cyanamide can be found naturally in foods, most creatine supplements are made using synthetic forms of these compounds. 

 

As synthetic production doesn’t typically involve animal products, most creatine supplements are vegan-friendly. Vegan creatine, however, implies that all steps in manufacturing abstain from the use of animal products. Where some might use gelatin, an animal-derived substance, as a capsule ingredient – vegan creatine uses alternative plant-based formulations like pectin. 

 

Is creatine safe?

Yes, creatine supplements are generally considered safe when taken as indicated on the package. Some side effects may include:

  • Weight gain
  • Muscle cramps/strains
  • Upset stomach/diarrhea
  • Dizziness

 

To enhance the safety profile of your creatine supplement, you can opt for one with a third-party certification. A third-party certification is given when the product is tested by another neutral company and deemed to meet expectations. Certifications can be easily found on the package and may include examples like NSF-Certified for Sport and Informed Choice Certified.

 

For those with pre-existing medical conditions or taking other medications, consulting a healthcare professional/physician before starting a new supplement is advised. 

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Is creatine vegan? 

Creatine itself is a substance that’s found in both animal and plant tissues – meaning it’s not inherently vegan. A vegan diet excludes all animal products and since creatine can be sourced from animals, all creatine isn’t necessarily vegan. 

 

Luckily, most creatine supplements are vegan-friendly and can be successfully incorporated in a plant-based sports nutrition regime. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, these methods can help you verify whether a creatine supplement aligns with your dietary preferences:

  • Check the product labels for claims or certifications like “Vegan”, “Vegetarian”, or “Plant-Based”
  • Double-check the ingredient list for any animal-derived ingredients
  • (If you’re choosing a capsule formulation) Ensure the capsule is gelatin-free 

 

Are there plant-based sources of creatine? 

While animal products are the primary source of dietary creatine, creatine can also be synthesized in the body. A balanced plant-based diet can help support synthesis, particularly through the provision of creatine precursors: glycine, arginine, and methionine. These amino acids can be found in many plant-based foods like legumes, nuts, and seeds. 

 

Is creatine monohydrate vegan? 

Most creatine monohydrate supplements are vegan-friendly. For tips to help you verify whether a supplement is vegan, refer to the paragraph above. 

Should vegetarians take creatine? 

Vegetarians can adopt creatine into their supplement regime, and many do so successfully. As dietary creatine is strictly found in animal products, vegetarians have been found to have lower creatine stores. Creatine supplementation may therefore be a viable option to bridge this gap.

 

However, this begs the question: do vegetarians need creatine?  Not necessarily. 

 

Although dietary creatine itself isn’t in plant-based foods, our bodies can still make their own creatine from plant-based foods. A balanced plant-based diet can support our bodies’ creatine synthesis. Whether a vegetarian might benefit from additional supplementation on top of their body’s internal production depends mostly on physical activity level.

 

Is vegan creatine effective? 

Yes, vegan creatine is effective. You might benefit from creatine supplementation if you regularly engage in high-intensity short-duration physical activity like:

  • Weightlifting
  • Sprinting
  • Sprint cycling

 

Anaerobic exercise, including strength and resistance training, requires short bursts of energy.  Through creatine supplementation, vegetarians and vegans can optimize their stores to allow for more rapid production of energy.  

 

This rapid turnover of energy, however, isn’t necessarily needed for aerobic exercise.  This means that a vegetarian or vegan who engages primarily in endurance activities might not need creatine supplementation. That is unless it’s paired with activities that require short bursts of energy (e.g., sprinting, jumping, climbing). By the same token, someone who does not regularly exercise likely doesn’t require supplementation.

 

Final thoughts – the vegan-friendliness of creatine

 

Creatine, a natural compound in our bodies, plays an important role in energy metabolism – particularly during short-duration high-intensity exercise. While creatine itself isn’t inherently vegan, most creatine supplements, including creatine monohydrate, are considered safe and vegan-friendly. 

 

Although vegetarians and vegans generally have lower natural creatine stores, following a plant-based diet doesn’t necessarily necessitate supplementation. Who might benefit from supplementation depends on several factors, including physical activity, and diet. For those engaging in activities requiring short bursts of energy like weightlifting and sprinting, supplementation can be a strategic choice. 

 

Otherwise, vegetarians and vegans can support the internal production of creatine by including plant-based food sources of glycine, arginine, and methionine. These amino acids found in foods like legumes, seeds, and nuts act as precursors to creatine synthesis in the body.

 

If would like to work on your plant-based sports nutrition with a registered dietitian, contact us to find out more.