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09.01.2023, FORA

Advantages and disadvantages of vegan supplements in sports

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Food supplements are pills, capsules, powder, drops, or gels that contain certain nutrients in a highly concentrated form. Vegan variants forego any ingredients of animal origin. Food additives cannot replace a healthy nutrition, but in certain cases they can be a useful supplement. But beware: the health boost can also be damaging if taken uninformed. This also applies to the vegan products. Let's have a look at the advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of vegan food supplements

  • Certain nutrient deficiencies can be specifically compensated for with food supplements.
  • Competitive athletes with increased nutrient requirements can ensure a sufficient supply of certain nutrients if they take them wisely.
  • For vegans, among others, carefully selected and dosed supplements can be an important dietary supplement.
  • Vegan food supplements are cruelty-free. They contain no ingredients of animal origin.
  • Conventional pills often contain lactose as a carrier, so vegan supplements offer lactose-intolerant people a more tolerable alternative.

Tip: Nutrient deficiencies or increased nutrient requirements should be determined by a doctor to avoid mistakes when supplementing. It is important to know the correct dosage for each individual case.

Disadvantages of vegan food supplements:

  • Some conventional and vegan supplements may have side effects.
  • Interactions with medications are possible under certain circumstances.
  • In case of overdose, supplements can endanger health.
  • Since food supplements are considered food, they do not need to be approved as medication and are not required to undergo the rigorous testing that comes with it.

Tip: In the past, food supplements containing doping-relevant substances have been discovered in competitive sports. Athletes can use the Kölner Liste® to make sure that a product is "clean". The list was compiled by the Olympic Training Centre Cologne/Rhineland in cooperation with the National Anti Doping Agency Germany (NADA), among others, and is updated regularly.

What do vegan food supplements consist of?

Of course, supplements contain the respective nutrients in the specified dose. Vitamins, both conventional and vegan, are mostly produced synthetically, i.e., in the laboratory. Vitamins for food supplements are rarely obtained directly from plants or animals (vitamin D3 can be an exception, see below). But what is the rest of the pill or capsule made of? And how does it differ in the vegan option?

While conventional capsules of food supplements are mainly made of bovine gelatine, vegan capsules are made of vegetable components. Vegetable cellulose or pellulan can be used for this purpose. The former consists of plant fibres, the latter of fermented starch.

Capsules and pills also include carriers and fillers. Conventional pills traditionally contain lactose (milk sugar). In vegan food supplements, manufacturers use starch or glucose (dextrose) instead. If you are lactose intolerant and have to take certain food supplements, vegan products are a possible alternative. Various forms of vegetable cellulose (plant fibres) are often found as fillers.

Note: With a few exceptions, genetic engineering processes used in the production of conventional and vegan food supplements do not have to be declared. However, if products are labelled with the organic or non-GMO seal, they do not contain any genetically engineered vitamins or carriers.

Five commonly used vegan supplements in sports

  1. Protein: Protein shakes are the classic dietary supplement for sports. Vegan protein powders may be based on pea protein, rice protein, potato, hemp, or lupine. However, according to the recommendation of the working group on sports nutrition of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung (DGE), amateur athletes generally have no need for protein supplements in a balanced and varied diet, since they take in enough protein with their food. Nevertheless, they can be a useful supplement and help build muscle, especially for competitive athletes who have a higher protein requirement.

  2. Creatine: The body produces as well as absorbs creatine, mainly through meat and fish. Adults who do intensive sports can increase their physical performance with the intake of creatine in food supplements during high-speed strength training in the context of short-term intensive physical activity. Especially for vegetarian and vegan athletes, creatine supplementation can therefore be helpful under certain circumstances. However, if it is taken improperly or overdosed, creatine as a supplement can also be harmful. Possible side effects are water retention and weight gain. Vegan creatine products are synthetically produced.

  3. B12:  Irrespective of sport, the DGE recommends that vegans take B12 because this vitamin group is mainly found in animal products. As a vegan food supplement, B12 is biochemically produced by microorganisms. According to the D-A-CH reference values for nutrient intake, the recommendation for the daily dose is four micrograms for people aged 15 and older. B12 contributes to a normal energy supply and function of the nervous system.

  4. Omega-3 fatty acids: These essential fatty acids promote, among other things, normal blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, help maintain normal blood pressure and regulate inflammatory reactions. They can be found in linseed and hemp oil, chia seeds, nuts, salmon, or mackerel. Fish oil capsules, for example, are offered as conventional food supplements. Algae oil capsules are vegan options.

  5. Vitamin combination D3/K2: Vitamin D contributes to the maintenance of normal bones and muscle function. The good news is that the body produces it itself through sunlight. However, deficiencies can occur, especially during the winter and in certain cases, all year round. A blood test provides information. Conventional vitamin D3 products are made from lanolin from the sebaceous glands of sheep, while vegan alternatives are made from lichen.

Sources

Verbraucherzentrale: Natürlich, synthetisch oder gentechnisch - so werden Vitamine produziert | Klartext Nahrungsergänzung (klartext-nahrungsergaenzung.de)

Verbraucherzentrale NRW: Empfehlungen für die Vitamin-Versorgung - 2018-2 (verbraucherzentrale.de) (PDF)

Deutscher Olympischer Sportbund (DOSB): Nahrungsergänzungsmittel im Leistungssport (PDF)

NADA: Doping durch Nahrungsergänzungsmittel | GEMEINSAM GEGEN DOPING (gemeinsam-gegen-doping.de)