As a vegan coach and nutritionist for aspiring athletes, fitnesscompetitors, and CrossFit contenders, I often hear from those who have adesire to get in the best shape of their life. The caveat is some would liketo do this on a completely plant-based whole foods diet, with nosupplements. Now, I do believe in the power of plants as much as the nextadamant vegan, but I think harping on the idea that vegans do not need tosupplement ever is doing more harm than good for our movement. Now, before Igo any further:
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Now that I have that out of the way, here is a list of my three favoritesupplements and why:
DHA/EPA are types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, which are deemed essential becausethe body cannot produce them. The body can convert a very small percentageof the ALA omega-3s found in flax, chia, savi seeds, and walnuts intoDHA/EPA, but this does not provide as much as we can benefit from. DHAaccounts for up to 40% of the omega-3 fatty acids in the brain and 60% ofthe omega-3 fatty acids in the retina. Taking DHA-rich algal oil willpreserve brain function for the future by building the foundations ofhealthy cognition.
DHA/EPA has an anti-oxidant and exercise related anti-inflammatory nature toit. These fatty acids exert an anti-inflammatory response by competing witharachidonic acid, which forms pro-inflammatory compounds. Since highintensity exercise and weight lifting causes increases in inflammation andoxidation, reducing this response may be beneficial in improving exerciserecovery. However, the research has yet to fully examine this angle ofDHA/EPA supplementation. Supplementing with DHA/EPA has been shown tosupport muscle protein synthesis and limit protein degradation. This meansit has a positive effect on building lean mass.
DHA/EPA are also suggested to support insulin function and increase glucoseand fatty acid uptake into muscle cells. This may help partition nutrientstoward muscle and away from fat, improving overall body composition andproviding more fuel to the muscle during workouts. DHA/EPA have beensuggested to increase cardiac output and stroke volume, which may helpsupport healthy blood flow and exercise performance. Being that our bodiescannot create enough of these essential fatty acids, I find that there isplenty of evidence to justify adding this valuable supplement to my regimen.
Vitamin D3 (Lichen-Based)
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a host of medical conditions such ascardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, osteoporosis, autoimmunedisease and cancer. Of course, we can get Vitamin D from sun exposure, butmany of us don’t get enough of it because of winter months, cloudy weather,or simply too much time indoors.
There are two forms of vitamin D available in supplemental form: vitamin D2(ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). D3 is the form that isproduced in our skin when we are exposed to sunlight. Traditionally, D3supplements have been non-vegan, usually produced from lanolin (a product ofsheep’s wool). It was recently discovered that the microorganism lichenproduces D3, so vegan D3 is now also available. D2 (ergocalciferol) is thesynthetic form of vitamin D in many supplements. There has been somecontroversy over whether D2 and D3 are equivalent at raising blood vitamin Dlevels and bringing about the health benefits associated with vitamin Dadequacy.
Many studies have been published showing that D3 is more efficient atraising the body's vitamin D levels. Studies show that D2 gets partiallydeactivated by the kidneys, while D3 remains active. This simply means thatif you supplement with D3, you are actually getting what you expect from thevitamin. Vitamin D directly influences over 200 genes in our body. Beingthat it is partially responsible for the prevention of many autoimmuneconditions such as MS, Crohn's disease, systemic lupus erythematosus (or'lupus') and rheumatoid arthritis, I find it a worthy addition.
ZMA is a combination ofzinc,magnesiumandvitamin B6. It is most often used as a recovery aid. Studies show that ZMA helps thebody achieve deeper levels ofREM sleepand indirectly raises testosterone and growth hormone. Although B6 is easyto obtain through diet, many are low in zinc and more than 50% of Americansdo not get enough magnesium. Zinc is important because low levels lead to anincrease in estrogen receptors and a decrease in androgen receptors. Zinc isnecessary for androstenedione to be converted to T(Testosterone). Low zincmay increase aromatization of T to estrogen, just like vitamin D. The maleprostate tissue requires 10 times more zinc than other cells in the body forhealth.
Magnesium is important for many reasons as well. It assists with forcefulmuscle contractions during exercise. It relaxes the central nervous systemand plays a primary role in cardiovascular health. It promotes blood sugarregulation to assist in energy production and prevent diabetes. It alsostimulates better quality sleep. B6 helps with the absorption of zinc andmagnesium.
For all of these reasons, I have supplemented with some version of thiscombo for years. Whether you’re vegan or not, these specific nutrients willassist in optimizing health, which leads to better workouts, betterrecovery, and a leaner, stronger physique.
Poliquin Group™ Editorial Staff. "Benefits of a DHA Rich Diet."Poliquingroup.com. 24 Jan. 2012. Web. 05 June 2014. .
Weider, Ben. Weider, Joe. The Edge New York: Avery, a member ofPenguin Putnam, Inc., 2002. Print.
Fuhrman, Joel, M.D. "Should I Take Vitamin D2 or Vitamin D3?"DrFuhrman.com. DrFuhrman.com, Inc., n.d. Web. 05 June 2014.
Welcome Trust. "Vitamin D Found to Influence over 200 Genes, HighlightingLinks to Disease." ScienceDaily.com. 24 Aug. 2010. Web. 05 June 2014.
Poliquin™ Editorial Staff. "Five Simple Ways to Raise Testosterone Levelsfor Better Body Composition & Optimal Health." Poliquingroup.com. 4Oct. 2012. Web. 05 June 2014.