What Supplements Do Vegan Athletes Need?

Everyone, it seems, wants to know about supplements. After almost every talk I’ve given, someone in the Q&A has asked, “What supplements do you take?”

After my talk at the Marshall Healthfest last month, someone asked it.

Earlier that morning, in the athlete panel I did with Omowale Adewale, Rich Roll, Christy Morgan, and Ellen Jaffe Jones (in the photo below), someone had asked it.

And when we did a Q&A with Rich earlier this week inside the NMA Academy (reopening soon, stay tuned!), someone asked it there, too.

[athlete panel]

The vegan athlete panel at Marshall Healthfest 2015.

The Answer?

The main reason I haven’t written a post about supplements until now is that I’ve never taken many, and was inconsistent even with the ones I did take.

But as I’ve learned more about the plant-based diet over the years, I’ve become more regimented in my routine, and come to give greater importance to the few supplements that I take. And as the question has come up more and more, I think it’s a time for a post about supplements, in far more depth than time allows in the Q&A after a talk.

So here’s what I do — and what I used to do, but stopped — when it comes to supplements.

But first, understand: Your needs certainly might be different from mine, so don’t assume that because I take (or don’t take) something, you need to do the same. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist or registered dietitian, so talk to a real one about supplementation. I merely hope this post gives you a place from which to start asking questions.

3 Supplements I Used to Take

1. Protein powder

A lot of people are surprised to hear that I don’t use protein powder anymore.

Protein powder is tricky. When so many people wonder “Where do you get your protein?“, it’s clearly an opportunity for someone to make money. And so vegan supplement companies promote it like crazy, which perpetuates the idea that if we don’t take a protein supplement, something awful will happen.

But when I was training for my 100-miler back in 2013, I happened to run out of protein powder. And, partly out of laziness, partly out of a growing skepticism, I didn’t buy more.

A week passed. Then a month. Then two months. I didn’t die.

Then I ran my 100-miler, and still didn’t die. It’s been almost two years since then, and I’m still alive and kicking!

I don’t fault the supplement companies for selling protein powder, when so many people clearly want it. Nor do I think it’s completely useless: If time constraints prevent you from eating a diet based on whole foods (which have all the protein you need), then protein powder is a fast and convenient way to get a little more.

It’s also useful as a psychological crutch. If you’re new to a vegetarian or vegan diet and your friends are telling you you’re being weird and reckless with your health, the reassurance that you’re “getting enough protein” just by adding a few scoops of powder to your smoothie is priceless.

And it’s possible that the optimal diet for certain strength sports, say, bodybuilding or mixed martial arts, consists of more protein than the 10-12 percent of total calories that a diet based on whole foods can offer. In those cases, protein powder is again useful.

If you’re going to use protein powder, I’ll offer one important suggestion: Stick with a minimally processed form, so that your protein powder is as close to a whole food as possible. No isolates — it turns out that protein isolates and even complete plant proteins (those containing all the essential amino acids, like soy protein isolate) are likely to raise levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), the hormone commonly cited as a primary link between animal protein and common cancers when its levels are too high in adults.

2. Flaxseed oil

Back in college when I was heavy into weightlifting and trying to bulk up, I started adding flaxseed oil (or Udo’s blend) to my smoothies and protein shakes. Mainly, this was to add calories and omega 3 fatty acids to my diet.

And it worked! As soon as I embraced dietary fats instead of avoiding them, my weight shot up, and a lot of it was muscle. Even after I was past this testosterone-filled phase of my young adult life, I kept the oil in my smoothie, thinking of it as a health food.

As I’ve moved towards a diet based more and more on whole foods — and oil is decidedly not a whole food — I no longer think of oil as a health food. More than simply not adding it to my smoothie anymore, I’ve recently removed it entirely from my everyday diet: at home, we no longer cook with olive or coconut oil, and instead simply use water for sauteing.

Why? It’s a topic for another post, but in short, the caloric density is unbelievably high compared to even the fattiest whole foods you’ll find in nature — oil contains 4,000 calories per pound, compared to around 100 calories for most vegetables. And if you’re concerned about protein, you can immediately do better by removing the single food in your diet that packs the largest number of calories per ounce, calories that are completely free of protein, making more room for the rest of the foods in your diet, those whole foods that do contain protein. The same goes for most micronutrients, too. (More about my decision to stop eating oil in the March 26, 2015 episode of No Meat Athlete Radio, here.)

I’m not anti-oil. Just like with protein powder, it has some targeted uses (not least of which, for me, is a gourmet restaurant meal now and then). If you’re looking to bulk up, sure, add oil to your diet for a little while. But as an everyday food for a typical person, I think it does more harm than good.

3. Creatine monohydrate

Creatine has always held a fascination for me, dating back to when I was a skinny kid and it was billed (by my friends) as a miracle supplement for bulking up.

When I used it in college, the results lived up to the hype. To this day, when I get too thin from running (not unhealthily thin; I just prefer not to look that way), I like to spend a few weeks in the gym putting some pounds back on, and when I do, I sometimes take creatine to help … and it certainly does.

I’ve seen interesting studies on other benefits of creatine, including a few that showed that when vegetarians take creatine, they get smarter. More about that here, too.

Since most of the creatine human beings get (beyond what our bodies make) comes from meat, is it possible that, like vitamin B12 (see below), vegetarians and vegan benefit by adding it back in the form of a daily supplement? I haven’t seen enough evidence to go that far, especially because the long-term effects of creatine supplementation still aren’t completely known.

Creatine is interesting to me, but I’ll wait for more research before I start using it on any sort of consistent basis.

The Only 2 Supplements I Take Now

1. Multivitamin, including vitamin B12

To me, vitamin B12 is a no-brainer. If you’re vegan, take B12. You can read more about why in this post.

But you can find standalone B12 supplements, apart from an entire multivitamin. So why the multi?

I’m all for whole foods, and with a wide variety I think you can usually get most of what you need. But as a safeguard, I like to take a multivitamin. Aside from the fact that the poor quality of modern soil and other modern agricultural practices make the nutrient content of fruits and vegetables lower than those we evolved to eat, there are several nutrients that are commonly deficient in 100% plant-based diets:

  • B12
  • Zinc
  • Iodine
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega 3 fatty acids

(These are according to Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Super Immunity, one of my favorite books to recommend as a relatively easy-reading introduction to whole food, plant-based nutrition.)

I should point out that mega-doses can be dangerous. Even vitamins which were long thought to be safe in high doses have turned out not to be; as an example look at vitamin A, which has been linked in large doses to cancer.

The multivitamin I take is (not coincidentally) from Dr. Fuhrman, and it contains all of these except omega 3’s, which are in the other daily supplement I take. The multivitamin contains other vitamins and minerals as well, from quality sources and in relatively small doses — both of these are so important, to limit the chance that your multivitamin does more harm than good.

2. DHA/EPA (Omega 3’s)

My understanding of omega 3’s is that they comprise three types of fatty acid: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

People are commonly deficient in all of these, but ALA is easy to get in walnuts, seeds (hemp, flax, chia), and leafy greens. This, plus the general link between nuts and longevity, is the reason I add most of these to my smoothie each morning.

But DHA and EPA are harder to find in plant foods. And it turns out that although some people’s bodies are able to convert ALA into DHA and EPA in sufficient amounts, others cannot.

For this reason, I add a small amount of DHA/EPA supplement (vegan, derived from algae) to my smoothie each morning. Apparently, a blood test can determine whether your body is capable of converting enough ALA into DHA and EPA, but I haven’t done this test so I take it (and give it to my kids, as well) to be safe.

Jogger resting at beach

Supp’, dog?

So there you have it. But for all I’ve learned about supplements over the years, the biggest lesson is that they generate a lot of discussion (and often, disagreement)!

The comments section is the place for that, as long as it’s friendly and productive. Let me know what you agree with and what you don’t, and what supplements you take (or don’t!), so we can all learn something from the discussion.

48 Comments

 


Dig this post?
Spread the word!

Keep in touch:

How to Eat Plant-Based and Get All the Protein You Need



Want to eat a whole-food plant-based diet, but worried about protein?

wooden signpost near a pathOur 7-Day Kickstart Plan is unique in that it focuses on the highest quality whole foods (including the 7 foods worth eating every day), while also providing protein-boost options, in case you're especially concerned about protein. The Kickstart Plan includes:
  • A 7-day meal plan, built around the foods worth eating every single day
  • Daily protein boost options to give you the confidence that you're getting what you need
  • Focused on simplicity and speed, to minimize stress and time commitment
It's the best way we know of to get started with a whole-food, plant-based diet, for just 7 bucks. Learn more here!

Comments

  1. Nice post! I am in a state of confusion about Vitamin D. I seem to always be low, unless I supplement every day, according to blood tests. But then I’ve read that just raising blood levels doesn’t necessarily provide the same benefits as getting your body to make it from the sun or a tanning salon. Do you have an opinion? It seemed like I felt better after taking supplements, but maybe that was just the placebo effect.

    • Karenkkj says:

      Susan, I have had low vitamin D lab results multiple times. I origanally to my drs advise and took the prescription. After starting this way of plant based eating over a year ago I started getting off all of my medications. After taking Vit. D for a few years, I stopped taking it last year. Just got my labs back this week and my Vit D levels are somewhat low again: 26. The dr wanted me to go back on the supplment again. I did some research…Dr. McDougall states 20 or better is acceptable to him. He also recommends getting sunshine, not taking supplements. I am going to skip that supplement and keep working on getting pleanty of sunshine. I only take B12 now.

      • Thanks for the reply. Mine has tested as low as 18. After that reading I took D supplements and it tested as high as 36. Then I stopped taking the supplements after reading all the advice and it tested 19. So now I’m taking a supplement again 🙁 Not really sure what is the right thing to do.

        • Karenkkj says:

          Susan,
          Did you try getting more sun when you went off of the supplement? I would recommend researching on how to get Vit. D thought sun exposure.
          Karen

          • Karen,
            Yes, in general. It was during the summer. Yard work, dog walking, you know. I guess I wasn’t out at the right time of day? Hot and humid isn’t when I want to be out at noon, but it’s not like I was avoiding sunlight either.
            Susan

    • I take Vit D3 daily after I had a blood test that showed it was very low and my liver function was really bad. 3 months in and all has returned to normal. I’ve read that you can’t overdose on D3, the body just exctretes it if there ts too much. But if it is a very sunny day I might not take it as the sun can do the work as I prefer natural solutions.

  2. bonnie somer says:

    i have done multi day races plus many 100 milers and i like beans w/cheese and brown rice; or lentils or quinoa if none of that is appealing i do eat fish sometimes.

  3. Howard Veit says:

    Matt, thanks for your thoughts on supplements. I am a 73 yo cyclist, love your website and proudly display my No Meat Athlete sticker on the back of my minivan. I have been following a whole foods plant-based eating style since 2007. My first guru was John McDougall, M.D. and I also have been following Joel Fuhrman, M.D. since about that time. Three others that I rely on are T. Colin Campbell and his son, Tom and Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D. Of this group of gurus, only Dr. Fuhrman recommends supplements. Tom Campbell’s recent book, The Campbell Plan (which is excellent) recommends against most supplements. I respect all these professionals, but am still confused about supplements. Dr. Fuhrman sells his brand of supplements, so to some degree, he has a conflict of interest. To me, this is all further confused by the recent publications, such as Vitamania by Catherine Price, which cast serious doubts about the integrity of the supplement industry, and the fact that the industry is mostly unregulated. All that having been said, I still hang on to my supplements because I am not sure. I take Dr. Fuhrman’s multivitamin and a DHA/EPA supplement in my daily smoothie. I am very sure about the wonderful health benefits of a whole foods plant-based diet. I am less sure about the wisdom of taking any supplement, except possibly for B12.

    • Hello Howard.

      I study this stuff. It doesn’t relieve my confusion.

      The best thing I can suggest is that you follow the work of those scientists who study specific supplements, often just the main active ingredient. Try to determine who is funding the research.

      Then check on quality. Certain brands, like New Chapter, MegaFood and (by and large) Life Extension are good. When it comes to mushroom extracts, Paul Stamets company – Host Defense — is excellent. There are many others.

      A good resource to determine effectiveness is Examine.com. I wrote about them here: http://www.garmaonhealth.com/your-better-health-supplement-cheat-sheet/

      -jg

      • Howard Veit says:

        Matt, thanks for your thoughts on supplements. I am a 73 yo cyclist, love your website and proudly display my No Meat Athlete sticker on the back of my minivan. I have been following a whole foods plant-based eating style since 2007. My first guru was John McDougall, M.D. and I also have been following Joel Fuhrman, M.D. since about that time. Three others that I rely on are T. Colin Campbell and his son, Tom and Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D. Of this group of gurus, only Dr. Fuhrman recommends supplements. Tom Campbell’s recent book, The Campbell Plan (which is excellent) recommends against most supplements. I respect all these professionals, but am still confused about supplements. Dr. Fuhrman sells his brand of supplements, so to some degree, he has a conflict of interest. To me, this is all further confused by the recent publications, such as Vitamania by Catherine Price, which cast serious doubts about the integrity of the supplement industry, and the fact that the industry is mostly unregulated. All that having been said, I still hang on to my supplements because I am not sure. I take Dr. Fuhrman’s multivitamin and a DHA/EPA supplement in my daily smoothie. I am very sure about the wonderful health benefits of a whole foods plant-based diet. I am less sure about the wisdom of taking any supplement, except possibly for B12.

  4. Looks like John Lennon…….

  5. Thank you Matt. I have been searching for a trusted, high quality vegan multi vitamin for a very long time. I am going to look further into both supplements you suggetst and use. Thanks again for the helpful information. I realy enjoy listening to your podcasts!

  6. Yeah, this is one of those “charged” topics… pretty strong advocates on both sides, for (pro) and against (con) supplements.

    In last week’s blog post, I wrote:

    “Generally speaking, it could be that most of your supplements are unnecessary and thus are a waste of time and money, if the following conditions apply:

    – You’re young and healthy.
    – You eat only real food (aka, right off the farm) that has been organically grown in pristine environments without any degradation of soil or air, and is consumed within a day of harvest.
    – You breath air unsullied from any vehicle exhaust pipes or factory belching.
    – You spend most of your time in a parallel universe circa 1889.

    If you meet those conditions, you go write a book, and I’ll rip mine apart.”
    (source: http://www.garmaonhealth.com/do-you-need-antioxidant-supplements/)

    (That last reference was to “12 Ageproof Biohacks”, a book I’m currently writing.)

    So, you see my point: None of us get what we need from sensible eating, particularly if we put extra demands on our body, such as the extra oxidative stress caused by vigorous exercise.

    And, if like me, you’re committed to living as long and strong as possible, you get a bit mesmerized by the long list of very tailored supplements in terms of what they do to address specific aging factors.

    It’s true that many of the supplements are hogwash, but as long as serious scientists like Drs. Sinclair and Pierpaoli tout supplements like , respectively, Niagen and Melatonin, I’ll consider my supplement habit an insurance policy.

    -jg

  7. Thanks Matt.
    This post was very timely for me. I was out riding this morning and thinking about supplements for vegan endurance athletes and whether I should take (more) supplements. At the moment I take B12 and use a scoop of protein powder in my morning smoothie.

    This was just the reassurance I needed to remember that I don’t need supplements, I just need real food.

    • Carnosine is a supplement that I have been taking lately, it has helped my endurance a ton, and its frustrating because nobody has mentioned it thus far. I take a zinc carnitine to cut down on supplements.

      Here’s the deal though. I have done a lot of reading in actual books about this stuff and I would highly recommend the read Healthy at 100, which amazingly talks in depth about the cultures who live to be the longest, all of which have 99% vegan diets, and grow their own food (so their food is definitely fresh!)

      After reading up a bit and using myself for a bit of trial and error I have established that indeed there are supplements are a good idea when eating a whole foods plant based diet, protein is not one of them.

      1. Omega 3s , preferably from algae as dha omegas do not need to be converted to be utilized by the body. This is important! The body functions optimally when there is an equal balance of omega 3s, 6s, and 9s. MOST nuts and grains and oils are high in omega 6s and especially when eating meat and dairy free it ish ash to go overboard, setting your whole body’s ratio of omegas off balance. This can lead to eczema, lack of concentration, all sorts of bad shit so trust me when I say this is important!
      2. Probiotics, high quality that promotes intestinal health and improves elimination of waste.
      3. Iron supplement, plant iron (non-heme) is not utilized by the human body as easily as heme iron, so in order to be sure you are getting enough I would recommend supplementing.
      4. Zinc, not easily found in plant foods
      5. Carnosine, helps with endurance and muscle building, I take a zinc carnosine so I am getting two of these nutrients in one supplement! I swear by carnosine. I have never! Ever! Wanted to exercise my whole life. I would exercise because I felt like I should, but not because I actually wanted to… Carnosine completely changed that. I have much better endurance now than I ever have my whole life thanks to carnosine.

      • I am surprised to see that you (Tessa) are the only person on this string to mention Iron. I took a college Nutrition class last semester. We learned that Americans consume more than enough protein and do not need to supplement it in most cases, athlete or not. However, Iron is globally the most common deficiency, including in the US. We had a former Olympic athlete, who is now a sports nutritionist, come speak to our class. She stressed how very important it is for female athletes to get enough iron, especially since it can take 6 weeks or more to build up enough iron in your system if you are deficient. I have been active all of my life, but have always tended to get really tired and quit workout regimens as a result. Now, at 44 years old, I am in the best shape of my life and I attribute it to the fact that I make sure I get plenty of iron.

    • Oh yeah and I forgot to add, b12 is important!

      I would recommend going off wheat and most grains if going vegan. Veganism is what first opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn’t properly absorbing b12. The moons in my nails have been going away with time which is an indicator or low b12. Since I was vegan and supplemented with it, I found it odd that I wasn’t getting enough.

      This pointed to a problem with absorption. I researched problems with absorbing b12 and found that a wheat or gluten intolerance can lead to that. I looked t my family history since these problems can be hereditary and realized that my father’s thyroid problems and my grandma’s gallbladder problems could both be related to wheat intolerance.

      Honestly though many health advocates agree that wheat should be cut out of the diet as most people are intolerant of it to some extent.

      Since cutting wheat and most grains out ( save quinoa and raw soaked oats) I feel much better, though I’m sure I till have much to learn…

      Have a lovely day, and a healthy, alive life!

      • You can get sublingual B12 which is held in the mouth and absorbed there rather than having to go through the gut which is a bit more hit and miss, so this could be a solution. In the UK, Solgar do both cyanocobalamin (which is cheaper) and methylcobalamin – more expensive but supposed to be better utilised, both in a vegan pellet form and also a liquid with other B vitamins. Not sure if they are available in the US but they must be available somewhere. I’ve been using the liquid and a recent blood test showed a good medium range level.

  8. Peter Powers says:

    Thanks for the excellent article. It is easy to read someone who has done a hundred-miler, who is still learning, experimenting and shares in a humble, open-minded way.
    I’m an avid student of T.Colin Campbell (and others referred to above) and love his book: Whole.
    Apart from a daily struggle to reduce oil intake (a reoccurring weakness), I only supplement with B12 injections, monthly, and blindly trust that I am receiving all other necessary nutrients from a wide variety of whole, plant-based foods, primarily raw. Some testing is imminent.

  9. This just in: Muscle-Building Supplements Linked to Testicular Cancer. “Further analyses suggested that using MBSs containing creatine and proteins significantly increased the risk for TGCC (OR = 2.55; 95% CI; 1.05 – 6.15).”

    http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/843199?nlid=79803_2863&src=wnl_edit_dail&uac=236436SV (requires free registration)

    Yes, these data are by no means a final answer, but since creatine supplements are not necessary for robust health I would err on the side of avoiding them.

  10. Power Foods for the Brain, Neal Barnard, M.D. – vegan eating book, of course, and limited oil, as Campbell, Essyelstein, etc. recommend – but Dr. Barnard has a great chapter on supplements – and since he is a researcher I give him lots of credence. Folks may want to check out the book and see what you think.

  11. John Parkin says:

    Thanks for the article, I like reading things that reinforce what i am already doing 🙂
    I followed the link to the impact of creotine, interesting read. I follow a mainly vegan diet – that is vegan for 99% of the time but after a long event I add a little meat (by long I mean longer than 50 miles or so). Also in the run up I introduce small amounts of meat in case that is all that is available at the aid stations. My theory (and it is only my theory!) is that this is the equivalent, in terms of evolutionary process, of running down an animal and then feeding off the catch immediately until it runs out for the group then resorting to eating fruits and vegetables again until another catch can be run down. Using this approach I have successfully completed many long distance endurance events:AlpeD’Huez long tri, Bob Graham, Fellsman, UTMB, Tour De Helvellyn etc and I am getting faster and stronger each year. I am 41, have been exercising for 5 years, mainly vegan for 3 years and am just getting, stronger, healthier and fitter year on year. I am aiming to peak when I’m fifty and seem to be eating myself younger every day 🙂
    Keep up the good work.

  12. I disagree with the notion that these “are several nutrients that are commonly deficient in 100% plant-based diets”. Where I live every diet is deficient in iodine, that’s why we add it to salt. Since most people eat bread here bread is commonly made with high iodine salt and that’s the source of iodine in most people’s diet. Most bread here is vegan. People who do not eat a lot of bread are at risk for iodine deficiency, but that’s the same for both vegans and die-hard meat-eating paleo people. So why make it look like this is an issue specific to vegans, since everyone gets the iodine from a kind of supplementation anyway? (If you’re getting it from milk, you’re also getting it through supplementation of the cow or because some of the cleaning product that contains iodine ends up in the milk – either way, that’s also supplementation, just with a middle-cow)

    Vitamin D possibly also depends on where you live, but there are very very few foods that are rich in it. Basically you’d have to eat a lot of fatty fish to get your needs from food.More fish than most health organizations recommend. Eggs and butter etc. do contain some vitamin D, but it’s by far not enough. We are made to get it from the sun, but since that’s not always safe anymore, a supplement may be a wise choice (though ideally I would still get a blood test first – and there are also other options like special lamps that help your skin make vitamin D). But again, this is not specific to vegans. And vegan foods that contain D do actually exist (sun-exposed mushrooms) so just like it is technically possible but unlikely for most people to get enough D from food on an omni diet it is technically possible but unlikely for most people to get enough D from a vegan diet.

    Zinc is strange too. In Super Immunity Fuhrman says: “Those on vegetarian-style diets that are not ideally designed to include sufficient seeds and beans, and those on diets with low calorie intake, should consider taking a zinc supplement on a regular basis”. I am on a vegetarian diet that includes seeds and beans, and it’s not particularly low-calorie, so based on the book I should be fine. I don’t understand why elsewhere he recommends that everyone supplements with zinc. Fuhrman often says that studies “show” that vegetarians had deficient zinc levels, but I find it strange that he would refer to studies like that to prove anything because he (rightly) dismisses them when the conclusion is that vegetarian diets do not have much benefits. A generic vegetarian diet could not be more different from the diet that he prescribes, and it’s not surprising that a junk-food-vegan diet will result in deficiencies.

    I think the jury is still out on DHA, but it’s probably prudent to take at this point. I still think the argument that vegans who eat a healthy whole foods diet are better in converting ALA to DHA and therefore may get an adequate DHA level by taking flax-seeds, chia-seeds and hemp seeds makes sense too, but I’m not sure. Regardless, Fuhrman recommends DHA for both vegans and non-vegans because in order to get enough DHA from food you would have to eat a lot of (again) fatty fish, which is problematic for other reasons (like mercury) so it is strange again to point this out as an issue specific for vegans.

    I agree with the necessity for B12 supplementation. I will note though that the IOM recommends that every American aged 50 or over gets B12 from fortified foods or supplements because many older adults do not absorb B12 well anymore.

    To make it look like healthy whole food plant-based diets are deficient in quite a few essential nutrients makes veganism look less attractive because it seems like it would cause many deficiencies and that can’t be good. And as I have said: it is simply not true.

  13. Ashley P says:

    I take a daily DHA/EPA supplement and vitamin D, weekly I take B12, and sometimes I’ll add a scoop of protein powder when I feel like I didn’t get enough from whole foods.

  14. Jon Niehof says:

    This is a doozy of a topic. Howard’s point is really important: the supplement industry is largely unregulated and risk of contamination, including with banned performance enhancing or masking substances, is substantial. Potential medicine interactions are another big concern, since they’re not generally investigated. If anybody here has a good resource on what brands deliver the effective ingredient advertised without adulteration, that would be useful.

    All the vitamin research that’s been making the news is about megadoses in the “regular” (i.e., largely sedentary) population. I haven’t seen anything negative about modest doses (~100% of RDA) in endurance athletes, who put substantially greater stress on their bodies and blow through more calories (not always high quality). Nor have I seen anything positive! On balance, I seem to do better with a supplement. Placebo’s always a possibility, but everybody’s body is different, too.

    I take glucosamine since, again, it seems to help. The evidence is very fuzzy, although most studies are based on relief of osteoarthritis pain in the short term. I’ve seen suggestions that Glucosamine Sulfate is more likely to be effective than Glucosamine HCl. It may take some looking to find a source that meets one’s ethical considerations. (I know Matt was commenting on avoiding chalk awhile back, but he doesn’t seem to avoid coal and oil…gotta draw the line of practicality somewhere.)

    Creatine’s a really tough one. It’s probably safe, definitely ergogenic, and minimal in animal-free diets. Since as far as I can tell the only natural sources are animal, the vegan supplements have some serious chemistry going on and, for my preferences, are getting pretty far from real food even for a supplement. As a low-meat omnivore, I’ve concluded it’s probably best for me to continue to get my creatine from appropriate doses of as ethically-sourced meat as I can. The essential amino acid involved in self-synthesis of creatine is methionine, so I have thought about trying to increase dietary methionine intake. Good sources are eggs and fish (drat), also supposedly brazil nuts, sesame seeds, spirulina, soy.

    Everything here IMO, from reading news reports and trying to poke through the actual studies they’re based on. My only medical training is backcountry emergency; my education is physics.

  15. This is purely coincidental that I was just listening to a podcast of yours from quite a while back with Matt R where you were talking about how you thought people cutting oil or sugar out of their diets entirely were doing more harm to veganism than good and that you thought such a decision would be unsustainable, including for yourself. I really enjoyed and related to what you and Matt were saying in that podcast! Then just literally after listening to the podcast, I happened to check my email and read this post. I’m totally not meaning to critisize or anything and I know people can change, but am just honestly curious to hear what caused your shift in thinking about oil and decided to restrict it to such an extent as opposed to just limiting it a bit more?

    • Hi Rob, great question. I think if you look back far enough on my blog, in the comments section of one of the posts from when I was vegetarian, I wrote something like “I could never be vegan; I don’t even know if it’s healthy.” 🙂 That’s pretty much how every step of this journey has been for me, starting even with going vegetarian (I thought it would never work for marathon training, and would be too hard to do anyway).

      I don’t know for sure that “no oil at home” is a permanent decision for me. Right now, it’s something I’m trying, and finding very easy to do. But the reason I decided to give it a try was really because of the all the speakers I heard on the vegan cruise (Holistic Holiday at Sea) we went on a few months ago — Campbell, Esselstyn, Greger … they all advocate not eating junk food. The main reason seems to be its caloric density — at 4000 calories per pound, it’s totally unlike any whole food, even the fattiest of them. So to me, in a diet based on whole foods, it seems no longer to fit.

      Limiting it, rather than eliminating it, is better than nothing. I’m still eating it at restaurants, so in that way, I’m limiting it. But I found that without a rule like “no oil at home,” I’m not very good at NOT using it in every meal I cook. For me, personally, hard lines are easier to follow than blurry ones, but that’s not true for everyone.

      Hope that clears it up a bit!

  16. Hi Matt! Thanks for this post, as supplementation is always a nebulous area. I am curious, if your wife Erin is willing to share, whether she takes Dr Fuhrman’s women’s multivitamin? Thanks!

  17. Thanks Matt. I always wonder what others do. I have a friend who is part of a family that owns one of the largest vitamin companies. She takes 1/2c of various vitamins 2x/day. Her family looks super healthy. (Granted there could be any reason for looking healthy.) Personally, I take a modest multi, iodine, vit D, and Magnesium. Magnesium is the only one I notice if I skip. I’ll get leg cramps, irregular heartbeat, and random ear ringing. If I’m up on it, that stuff doesn’t happen. I went to someone who practices Nutritional Response Testing to have that figured out. I felt like Magnesium saved my life! BTW, I’ve been 95%plant based for 6 years. I think I had those symptoms even before going plant based.

    • Julie T. says:

      Same here! I would go out on a limb to say that most people are magnesium deficient. Had to go to the ER recently because of severe stomach pain and cramps. I was having heart palpitations and random muscle spasms. I learned that I was deficient in iron (common for menstruating women) and vitamin D. If your vitamin D is low, most likely your magnesium is too. Hard to test for it since it is stored in the organs, but noticed that the muscle spasms and other symptoms went away after taking magnesium citrate. I’ve been mostly vegan for the more than five years, and just started eating some shellfish and organic grass-fed meat to increase my zinc and iron levels naturally. It’s like my body wasn’t absorbing the iron in the multivitamin, because ferritin stores were low. I’m feeling much better, but would like transition back to vegan again. The biggest thing I noticed from eating meat was my hair got softer and shinier. Not sure if it’s from the creatine or extra protein!

  18. I’m actually quite surprised that you take little or no nutritional supplements. Those discrediting the natural supplement industry are its main competitors, namely Big Pharma. One cannot get all the nutrients a no meat athlete needs by food alone. The quality of our soil has been so depleted over the decades that foods have lost a lot of their nutritional value. I doubt that I could be running 70+ miles a week at 50 years of age without the quality supplements I take daily.

    Anyway, keep on running Matt. Peace and good health.

    • I think you’re spot on, larryz.

      It could be that if a person is meticulous about diet/nutrition and sources the great bulk of his/her food from fresh, organic sources, and puts little stress on his/her body, then not supplementing may be OK.

      But for most of us, and those of us who stress our bodies w/ lots of exercise (it does increase cellular oxidative stress) and/or the general stress from living a hectic life, then smart supplementation is key, IMHO.

      Don’t take my word for it… some real smart integrative/functional doctors such as Drs. Weil, Hyman and Mercola advocate supplements.

      As someone who seeks to push the envelope on widening the delta between biological and chronological aging (which is what my blog is about), I know that certain supplements that address the biochemical/physiological deterioration of the body/mind that constitutes aging are very important.

      Anyway, this is a BIG topic. Suffice to say that if you do some Internet searching you can get a sense of what’s useful or not. Examine.com is a good place to start.

      jg

  19. Hi Matt, just found out about your blog (i know i’m late lol) and as a “new” vegan, i gotta say i’m impressed.
    Awesome stuff you have in here 🙂

    Love the supplements talk, i’m probably going to take your advice and start with those 2 as well!

    thanks 🙂

  20. Loved this post. Recently became a vegan from Paleo. Supplemeting is something I have been searching 1. because while I feel great, not weak, I do sort of feel dizzy or woozy. 2. Because there is no one not even the drs could answer the supplement question. Would you recommend I run lab work to find my deficits?
    I do strength train Monday through Friday and CrossFit a few times a week and while in the morning when I awake I feel great, towards the late afternoons and nights I begin to feel it in my head and body.

  21. Taking supplements is obviously very personal. I’ve been vegan for a decade, do high intensity short duration exercising every other day along with light weight lifting and supplements greatly improved energy. It sounds like “Supplement Goals Reference Guide” by Dr. Bryan Chung (examine.com) might be a good, objective resource to research the effectiveness of supplements..

  22. Hello Matt,

    I am newly vegan and have been researching like crazy to find the best multi and/or supplements for my new lifestyle. I’ve been researching B12 supplements for weeks and I cannot seem to make a decision. It is very important and I do not want to make a poor choice. There are so many opinions out there (methyl or cyno, dosage for methyl vs. dosage for cyno, dosage in general, brands, fillers in B12 supplements, sublinguals, sprays, injections, I could go on and on.) I was interested in Dr. Furrman’s multivitamin (even more so after I read that is what you take), but I was wondering if you still feel that 200mcg of methylcobalamin is sufficient for B12 needs?

    Thank you!
    Elle

  23. not a vegan says:

    why not taurine and retinol?!!

  24. Consider Choline too. It is challenging on a vegan diet too.

  25. Ruth Lindeman says:

    Interesting post. Dr. Fuhrman does not agree that soil is depleted. I like his supplements because they don’t have folate added. Folate outside of food can encourage tumors to grow. Dr.Furhman’s multi contains taurine I believe. I am not a member of Dr. Fuhrman’s anymore but I like his vitamins.

  26. Thanks for the post – I have been a no-meat – whole food athlete for 8 months. At 45, I lost 15 pounds without any effort and I feel muscle mass is hard to keep on. I was happy to read everyone’s responses and yours too. After about 300 hours of research, I have landed on the same multi, fish-oil (but prefer ground flax seed), and B-12. I am going to try liquid B-12. My journey has lead me to creatine supplements being something to consider.

    I came to this creatine point when I was researching Dr. Michael Greger’s Daily Dozen, and found where in an interview he suggested vegans take B-12 & creatine… I was surprised he recommended this as so much research on creatine is undecided… and like you, I prefer not to take anything un-natural therefore, because protein levels seem to be hard achieve and creatine is good for you, I am planning to experiment with the 95% vegan route and consume 3 – 6 oz a day to get my creatine and greater ease for protein levels. In summary, this would be 95% whole plant based diet, with 5% meat sources with 100% organic sources, and 0% dairy of any form. Please note my motivations with this choice of lifestyle is to live a long life and keep my LDL 70 or below.

    I am open to feedback..and I sure I can get some here. Feel free to provide input.

    Thanks,

  27. Hello,

    Is there anywhere in the U.K. I can get the Dr Fuhrman multivitamin tablets from?

    Shipping from US is $25 for just that one item which is very expensive.

    Many thanks

  28. Hi Matt,

    Any advices on vitamin K2? Recently my cavities got worse since I mostly eat plant based and run a lot. I read one article that one should take this vitamin too when taking D3. I take regulary vitamin A&D3 supps and magnesium, sometimes B12.

    Best regards,
    Leila

  29. Yes, MK7 is worth looking into. Jarrow is the brand.

  30. Can I ask how you give dha/EPA to kids? I’ve been having a hard time finding a good quality one to give to kids (and me; for that matter!)

Leave a Comment

*