Creatine is an incredibly popular sports nutrition supplement among all types of fitness enthusiasts, but you may be wondering if supplementation is the only way to go as a vegan. Are there any plant-based foods that contain creatine?
If this question has you stumped, I’ve got you covered!
As a vegan registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, I’ll discuss vegan sources of creatine and explain how fitness-minded vegans can benefit from this unique compound.
What is creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid-like compound produced in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It’s synthesized from the amino acids arginine, glycine, and methionine and is stored primarily in the skeletal muscles.
Creatine is a popular sports nutrition supplement taken by bodybuilders, powerlifters, and even novice gym-goers. Unlike other questionable supplements, creatine monohydrate is an extremely effective1 supplement for improving performance during high-intensity exercises like weight-lifting and sprinting.
By helping you put more effort into your workouts, creatine can help you build more lean muscle mass over time.
Creatine supplementation maximizes the amount of creatine stored in your muscles. Creatine works by helping to regenerate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a form of energy that the body relies on during short, high-intensity exercises (also known as “anaerobic” exercises) for fuel.
By having more creatine available to assist in energy production, you can expect to be able to lift a few more reps during each resistance training set or complete multiple sprints more efficiently.
Vegan creatine sources
Vegans can obtain creatine in two ways:
1. Creatine supplements
The only direct source of creatine for vegans is creatine supplements. These supplements are produced synthetically in a lab from chemical precursors and are vegan-friendly. Supplemental creatine is not obtained from animal tissues.
For vegans, creatine supplements are the only significant way to boost muscle creatine levels beyond what your muscles already contain.
2. Endogenous production
Humans produce their own creatine from specific amino acids obtained through food. These amino acids are easily obtained from protein-rich plant-based foods, so vegans can support the natural production of creatine in their bodies by eating plenty of protein-rich foods throughout the day, such as:
- Tempeh, tofu, and edamame
- Whole grains
- Protein powders
- Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
- High-protein plant-based milks
You may have heard that beans lack methionine, one of the amino acids required for creatine synthesis. This isn’t exactly true; beans and legumes are slightly lower in methionine than meat or soy, but they still contain this amino acid. Eating a variety of plant-based foods throughout the day can provide optimal amounts of methionine.
That said, research has shown that vegans have significantly lower muscle creatine stores than omnivores since they get additional creatine from animal-based foods.
Are there any plant-based foods with creatine?
There are no plant-based foods that contain creatine. Animal-based foods like red meat and poultry contain creatine because animals produce it themselves and store it in their muscle tissue.
You may see people claiming that plant-based foods like quinoa contain creatine, but this is incorrect. Plants do contain the amino acids required by the body to produce its own creatine, but they don’t contain creatine itself.
Should vegans take creatine?
Eating plenty of protein-rich foods like tempeh, tofu, beans, lentils, and nuts is a good way to support your body’s endogenous production of creatine on a vegan diet. Since our bodies produce creatine from amino acids, vegans don’t need to supplement unless they want to optimize their gains in the gym by boosting their muscle creatine stores.
Since vegans have lower levels of creatine2 stored in their muscles, they can benefit significantly from creatine monohydrate supplementation. Creatine supplements aren’t necessary for all vegans but are a good idea for those looking specifically to build muscle and improve their exercise performance.
How to take creatine
Creatine is most often taken in two phases: a loading phase and a maintenance phase.
During the loading phase, 20-25 grams of creatine monohydrate are taken in 4-5 doses every day for 7 days to maximally saturate the muscles with creatine. More specifically, 0.3 grams of creatine monohydrate are taken for every kilogram of body weight. For example, a 68.2 kilogram (150 pounds) person would need 20 grams per day.
Helpful tip: To get your weight in kilograms, simply divide your weight in pounds by 2.2.
Next is the maintenance phase, during which you’ll take a smaller dose of 3-5 grams of creatine monohydrate per day to maintain your elevated muscle creatine levels. This lasts for as long as you want your creatine levels to stay elevated.
Of note, you don’t have to do the loading and maintenance phases if you don’t want to. Some studies have shown that taking 3 grams of creatine monohydrate daily for 28 days can increase muscle creatine stores. Keep in mind, however, that it will take longer (about 3-4 weeks) to see an increase in muscle strength and size.
Consistency with creatine supplementation is key since you’ll get the most benefits when your muscle creatine stores remain elevated over time. You’ll also need to be consistent with a resistance training program that increases in intensity in addition to eating enough protein to support the muscle-building process.
There are no plant-based foods that contain creatine, so the only way for vegans to get this compound is through creatine supplements and from the body’s natural creatine production.
If you’re interested in creatine for boosting your athletic performance in the gym and building muscle, taking a creatine monohydrate supplement is the most effective way to do this.
You can support your body’s production of creatine by eating plenty of protein-rich plant foods, but creatine supplements are the only way to significantly raise your muscle creatine stores.
For more information on optimizing exercise performance as a vegan, check out Hemp Protein vs. Whey Protein: Is Hemp Effective?
The scientific information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing but may change over time as new research becomes available.
- Buford TW, Kreider RB, Stout JR, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007;4:6. Published 2007 Aug 30. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-6
- Kaviani M, Shaw K, Chilibeck PD. Benefits of Creatine Supplementation for Vegetarians Compared to Omnivorous Athletes: A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(9):3041. Published 2020 Apr 27. doi:10.3390/ijerph17093041