It’s common knowledge that creatine is a great supplement that every athlete should take. Creatine is produced naturally in the body by the liver, kidneys and pancreas with the average person synthesizing 1g of creatine per day. It is a nonessential nutrient since its produced in the body. However creatine is found in meat, omnivores get approximately 1-2 grams of creatine per day from diet alone. Does this mean that vegans benefit more from creatine supplementation than omnivores? The short answer is yes.
Creatine is an amino acid derivative, which is important for energy storage. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is a molecule that provides energy in the body, it is used to drive many processes including muscle contraction.
When ATP is used up from muscle activity (lifting weights) it converts to ADP (adenosine triphosphate) giving off energy, to replenish this energy, phosphate is donated to ADP by phosphocreatine to generate ATP.
Supplementing with creatine increases intramuscular creatine concentration enhancing regeneration of ATP providing increases in strength output and muscular endurance. A review of 22 studies showed that creatine supplementation along with resistance training provided an average strength increase of 8% compared to placebo.
So we know that creatine supplementation is effective. That means that every athlete who wants an edge in performance should supplement with creatine. The question that remains though, do vegans and vegetarians benefit more from creatine supplementation?
Studies looking at creatine supplementation in vegetarians and vegans
Since there isn’t a lot of research on vegans supplementing with creatine and since a vegetarian diet is devoid of creatine, vegetarians and vegans probably have the same levels of creatine in the body. For this article, I will group them together.
A study (Effect of age, diet, and tissue type on PCr response to creatine supplementation) examining the efficacy of creatine supplementation on different populations (vegetarians, elderly, children) showed that the vegetarian group (which included vegans) responded best to creatine supplementation because initially they had lower levels of intramuscular creatine.
A study (Effect of creatine feeding on maximal exercise performance in vegetarians) had vegetarians and meat-eaters supplement with creatine. They noted that vegetarians had lower plasma levels of creatine. The vegetarians and meat eaters both increased their mean power output and body mass similarly compared to a placebo group.
A study (Effect of Creatine Supplementation and a Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian Diet on Muscle Creatine Concentration) had 32 omnivores follow a vegetarian diet (16 subjects) or an omnivorous diet (16 subjects) for 26 days with 21 days of no creatine supplementation and the last 5 days with creatine supplementation. The vegetarian group lowered their levels of intramuscular creatine in the first 21 days but after 5 days of creatine supplementation, muscle creatine levels of the vegetarian group did not differ significantly from the omnivorous diet group.
From the paper ‘Effect of Creatine and Weight Training on Muscle Creatine and Performance in Vegetarians‘ there are large interindividual differences with creatine supplementation. Some people naturally having higher levels of intramuscular creatine. They showed vegetarians have lower levels of total creatine.
One aim of the study was to measure exercise performance between vegetarians and nonvegetarians with 8 weeks of creatine supplementation. 42 of the subjects (18 vegetarian and 24 nonvegetarian) underwent resistance training and supplemented with creatine for 8 weeks. The dosage of creatine was 0.25g per kg of lean body mass for 7 days (loading) followed by 0.0625g per kg of lean body mass for the remaining 49 days. They noted in the study that vegans or lacto-ovo vegetarians were considered vegetarians, but they didn’t say how many vegans were involved.
From the results, vegetarians taking creatine gained the greatest increase in intramuscular creatine concentrations with creatine supplementation
Vegetarians also experienced greater improvements in anaerobic performance, strength and muscle size with creatine supplementation compared to omnivores.
Vegetarian and Vegan athletes should take creatine
I didn’t take creatine for the first 2 years as a vegan because I thought ”it would only make a small difference” because I didn’t really see a benefit from creatine supplementation as a meat-eater. After looking into the research, I supplemented with creatine, and I noticed a difference in my performance. My pause squat shot up by 10kg and my other lifts improved, since then I’ve been taking creatine every day.
So how much creatine should people take? Loading isn’t necessary although it can decrease the time to saturate creatine stores. If you want to load with creatine, I recommend 0.25g of creatine per kg of body weight for 1 week. After the loading phase I recommend 0.0625g of creatine per kg of body weight everyday. I base those recommendations on the study above.