While perusing a bookstore recently, I found Vegan For Her, by Virginia Messina. It’s a very good reference book for women who are interested in a vegan lifestyle.
I was especially impressed with Chapter 8, which has 7 pages dedicated to “Powered by Plants: The Female Vegan Athlete”.
In particular, I learned something important I didn’t know. Vegetarians and Vegans are low in Creatine, and should consider supplementation, particularly for athletes who are weight lifting, like me.
Creatine is a substance that naturally occurs in the body, and supports the body’s ability to build muscle. For women who are afraid of “getting big” that is NOT what happens when a woman does weight lifting. Instead, a woman builds bone density, and builds a lean, muscular form and as a result your resting metabolic rate rises, and voila… you burn more calories even when at rest. That also means it will be more likely that you’d be able to reduce overall levels of body fat.
Needless to say, weight lifting means doing the work and I’m not talking about lifting a 5 pound dumb bell once a week! My routine is a minimum of 4 weight lifting days per week, with 2 dedicated to upper body and 2 dedicated to lower body. I’m working on 5-7 weight lifting machines per workout, and continuing to increase the amount of weight resistance I use over time.
Back to Creatine.
Here’s what VeganHealth.Org says about it (http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/weightlifting):
Creatine (also known as creatine monohydrate) is the only nutritional supplement that has been consistently shown to improve strength and muscle mass. The main benefit of creatine is thought to be due to its effect on reducing fatigue during repeated, short bursts of intense exercise (such as weightlifting, sprinting, soccer, rugby, and hockey . Lower fatigue during sprinting and weightlifting means increased training and greater results.
Creatine is a component of phosphocreatine (PCr). PCr provides energy during short bursts of powerful exercise, by providing a phosphate for the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the quickest source of energy in skeletal muscle. Depletion of PCr in muscle is associated with fatigue during such exercise.
Creatine can be synthesized in the body. It is also supplied in the diet by meat and fish. Supplementing with creatine has been shown to increase performance especially in people whose creatine levels in muscle were initially on the lower side of normal.
Guess whose creatine levels are typically on the lower side of normal because we don’t eat meat or fish? Yeah, you guessed it: Vegans and Vegetarians.
There are vegetarian/vegan sources of Creatine, and a company called Now Sports makes one variety of Creatine Monohydrate that I’m using right now which is vegan, based on the label. There may be others, but my local health food store stocks this one – so it’s the one I got.
If you are interested in creatine, and read about it, you’ll read about “Creatine Loading.” For athletes looking to rapidly increase the amount of creatine in their bodies, there is a process whereby you take higher doses of the supplement during the “loading phase” which usually lasts 5-6 days. After that, you would return to the normal daily dose.
Since I have never taken creatine before, I decided to play it much more conservatively. There are potential side effects to taking creatine, including retaining water, and before you decide to take ANY supplement, you should do the research to determine whether or not it’s right for you.
So, I began taking only 2.5 milligrams (mg) of creatine per day, mixed with fruit juice since creatine is more readily absorbed in the body when coupled with carbohydrates. In most reading I’ve done, 5mg per day is the recommended daily dose, with perhaps a 10mg (min) per day during a loading phase. You can see, I’m below even the daily recommended dose because I wanted to try it without overloading my system right away. I am fine taking a more gradual approach.
After only 4 days of supplementation, I can already see the difference in my weight lifting routines. I have more power and explosive energy when I begin doing my repetitions, and I do not feel as tired at the end of my four sets as I had previously.
Of course, creatine is part of a larger picture equation.
I have purposefully increased the amount of protein I eat every day, while still keeping an eye on my calories. An adult woman needs 46 grams of protein a day, but a vegan weight lifter needs more than that, and the amount of protein you eat should be calculated based on your body weight. And of course you still need carbohydrates to fuel your workout, while your protein intake (especially immediately after your lifts) will help with recovery.
I’d love to hear from other vegan athletes, especially weight lifters, to see if creatine has been helpful to you too?
Filed under: exercise, healthy habits, vegan, vegetarian | Tagged: athlete, creatine, female vegan athlete, Vegan, vegan athlete, Vegan For Her, vegetarian athlete, weight lifting | Leave a comment »