Sports nutrition is often designed without the vegan lifestyle in mind. To be honest, many sports nutrition diets are designed without long term health in mind. That is the difference between a diet and a lifestyle, the latter is sustainable while the former is a temporary approach. That doesn’t mean temporary dieting is bad, done with periodization of training, it is very effective for competitive athletes. The lifestyle approach to food is what is done the rest of the time. For a vegan athlete, there are some concerns when attempting to maintain a high level of activity with a healthy diet. Some are more common misconceptions, while others are valid concerns. The following are 5 of the most common issues a vegan athlete may come across.

Vegetarian Trap- The dietary issue with the vegan lifestyle I come across as a health care practitioner is, what I refer to as, the vegetarian trap. It is similar to that of the omnivore’s great failing… too much processed high sodium foods. Many vegans ‘go vegan’ and think that means frozen readymade meals and pasta at every meal. This equates to excess salt, hydrogenated fats and way too many carbohydrates. It will undoubtedly offset the vegan athlete’s dietary goals. Vegans turn vegan for different reasons. Sometimes the reason is about animal rights or a personal belief and other times it is to become “healthier”. The best way to be a vegan athlete is to truly embrace a plant based diet. This should mean fresh, organic, unprocessed foods.

 B12 Deficiency– This is definitely a valid concern. The highest sources of B12 come in the form of meat products. If a person chooses to not eat meat they can usually be health conscious enough to get adequate B12 via fortified foods and not become ill from a deficiency. Just because you are achieving the bare minimum, does not mean you are achieving enough. As an athlete you are striving to be at your best, not to scrape by. This means the Vegan athlete will most likely need to supplement B12 to become as efficient as possible. There are many products on the market that claim to provide B12. If oral B12 is being taken it is often best absorbed in a sublingual form rather than a pressed pill. More often than not we would recommend an intramuscular injection of B12 to maintain a high performance level for an athlete. B12 shots are inexpensive, sustainable and easily put the vegan athlete on par with if not above the omnivore athlete in regards to B12. Intramuscular B12 injections are the number one method of absorbing this vitamin. To learn about B12 shots, contact your friendly neighborhood Naturopath (like the one at Pins and Needles!)

Vegan Athlete

The best way to be a vegan athlete is to truly embrace a plant based diet.

Protein Insufficiency– I personally believe this is more of a mythical threat as long as you don’t fall into the Vegetarian trap. There is more than enough protein available in a plant based diet to achieve optimal amounts. The trick is to not rely on one source of protein. As discussed in our last blog (check it out here), protein powders are wonderful for athletes. The problem with protein powders and the Vegan Athlete is finding a source that provides a balances complete protein. Our tip is to mix up the sources of protein in protein powders. This is the same tip we have for gaining protein through foods, be sure to mix it up! Examples of high protein vegan foods are tofu, seitan, tempeh, dark leafy greens (kale, spinach), almonds, and beans.

Calcium– We are more or less bred in North America to think dairy is how we get calcium. In fact I would give major kudos to the dairy marketing industry for having the capability to practically brainwash an entire population into thinking this is a legitimate fact. It isn’t true. The next big lie marketing campaigns came up with was, you need to get extra calcium via “calcium chews”. Again amazing campaign with a heavy impact to create desire for a product, that is usually junk. In fact, many Calcium products use Calcium Carbonate which has potential for worsening bone health by creating osteophytes. Attaining calcium without calcium chews or a cows milk product is actually pretty easy!  While we often recommend a calcium/magnesium supplement to patients, we always strongly encourage the majority of calcium to be obtained via food sources. Oddly enough, this is almost always accomplished from non dairy sources! Did you know that 1cup of cows milk contains 305 mg of calcium and 1 cup of collard greens has 357mg? Nice!

Iron– Along with B12 deficiency, Iron deficiency can be common in vegans. However, with a strong focus on incorporating dark leafy greens, it is less of a concern. There was a reason Popeye ate his spinach! If the vegan athlete embraces a plant based diet and avoids the vegetarian trap, iron deficiency would be less likely than that of a lacto/ova vegetarian. Some of our favorite vegan Iron sources include spinach, quinoa and lentils.

A vegan lifestyle will require frequent shopping to assure fresh foods. Below is an example of a vegan menu for a day that contains balanced nutrients to fit an athlete training for one to two hours a day:

Breakfast: (Steel cut)Oatmeal with ground flax

Snack: Trail mix/ nuts and fruit

Lunch: Salad including a Spinach and Kale base, garbanzo beans, shredded carrots, broccoli, oil and vinegar

Snack: Homemade granola bar

Dinner: Tempeh “steak” on a bed of lentils with edamame and chard

Pre Training- Apple with almond butter 30 minutes before workout

Post Training- Protein shake (pea and rice protein mix) and a banana within 30 minutes after exercise

                Of course this only an example and it can easily be modified to suit individual tastes. The vegan athlete definitely needs to do a great deal of research or seek out a health care practitioner that can help to provide a diet that helps achieve an optimal diet. The above only briefly covers some of the considerations for a sports diet.

If you have any questions please feel free to post in the comment section or contact us. Thank you for reading!


If you are an athlete of any kind then you have probably been inundated with suggestions on what supplements will get you to become the best athlete you can. From claims of magical pills to drinks containing vitamins (that you will never absorb), the market is full of options. A very large portion of them are unnecessary and essentially junk. In fact, one of the first things I like to do with my athlete patients is have them bring in supplements to the clinic. In doing so, we can go over all of the ingredients and figure out what is working for them and what they should add into their regimen. While everybody is different here are  a few items that should grace the cabinet of every athlete whether professional, amateur, or weekend warrior.

Weight lifters often treat this like it is a precious as gold, which to the body it can be.

1)      Protein Powder- Weight lifters often treat this like it is a precious as gold, which to the body it can be. Protein isn’t just for people trying to bulk up. Whenever we perform athletic activities we are breaking down muscle to some degree. Protein is what helps build that muscle back up. From a nutritional standpoint, protein is also great to have before a work out to assure adequate nourishment. The question is what kind of protein powder is best.

  • Whey Protein Isolate- Definitely one of the most popular. Whey is a milk based protein and is considered a complete protein (contains all the necessary amino acids). The thing to watch for is what other junk have they put with it and is if it is truly a Whey protein isolate. Quick tip to avoid junk: always read “extra ingredients” and look at the carb/protein/fat content. You don’t want a protein packed with carbs or fats. The only aspect where whey protein fails is that it is obviously not a vegan product and not so friendly to those that are lactose intolerant. Also, milk is very mucous producing so congestion/phlegm may be an undesirable side effect.
  • Pea Protein- An excellent option for those sensitive to dairy or concerned about welfare of animals. Pea protein is considered a hypoallergenic, vegan protein that is easily digested. The con of Pea Protein is that a Vegan athlete would need to consider integrating other sources of protein as well to assure an adequate balance of amino acids is achieved.
  • Hemp/Soy/Rice- Other powdered proteins include Hemp, Soy, and Rice. The most common complaint I hear about hemp is the flavor and that it is more limited at stores than Soy, Pea, or Whey. Soy protein is an acceptable option in moderation, although it is becoming a very common food allergy for people because it is quietly added in many of our foods. Also, finding an organic source may be more difficult and most Soy is not GMO free. Rice protein is a great option and is also easily digestible.

Whenever looking for a protein powder, stay away from ones that add sugar.

2) Daily Multiple- If you are an athlete you are using up more nutrients than an average person and you need to replenish these. Choosing a daily vitamin can be tricky. Check out our previous blog article about choosing a proper daily vitamin here.

3) Ca+Mg- Calcium and Magnesium in combination is an excellent step in recovery. While it is important for an athlete to consider products that will improve athletic ability, the ability to recover is just as important. Calcium and magnesium need each other in the body, so it is great to take them together. Ca+Mg taken in small doses at night can act like an all natural muscle relaxer due to the magnesium content.

4) Fish Oil- Continuing along the lines of recovery, fish oil is anti-inflammatory. Like all supplements, all fish oils are not created equal. There are also many ‘types’ of fish oil, depending on the content and ratios of the ingredients. One fish oil recommended for an athlete would be different than one recommended for cognitive health or during maternity. For pain, choose a high grade, pure triglyceride form fish oil with high grade eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) over a high level of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Ratios of EPA and DHA can important in tailoring the treatment for different conditions. The benefit of supplementing with Fish oil over just eating fish is twofold. Often, people cannot eat enough fish to attain a therapeutic dose and there is also concern of mercury content, especially if certain fish are eaten. The downside of fish oil is obvious; it is not for the vegan athlete. Vegans often utilize flax seed instead, but this provides ALA (Alpha-lionlenic Acid) which may not provide the same therapeutic effect.  As a vegan athlete it is difficult to attain the benefits of EPA directly leaving ALA as main option. Other considerations before starting a fish oil would be to consider current medications and avoid with some medical procedures. As with everything in this article, it is best to discuss individual needs with a medical professional before starting supplementation.

5) Chinese Herbs- This is a very broad statement. Chinese herbal medicine has an apothecary of hundreds of herbs. Almost always, herbs are combined together rather than used alone because TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is all about balance. It would be necessary to see an East Asian Medicine Practitioner to find out what herbs would be best for each athlete. For an example however, one commonly used formula for athletes is Yu Peng Feng San Wan. Because training can be very draining and tax the immune system, supplementing short term with this formula can be very beneficial to help burn out or prevent what is called a “Wind Invasion” in TCM. While this is only one example, there are many other uses for a patient to take Chinese herbs such as pain, digestive upset, or even fatigue.

For athletes, considering any or all of these products is a great idea. Whether a weekend warrior or a serious competitor, every athlete deserves to get the best performance they can.  If you enjoyed this information please subscribe to our blog and for more great tips follow us on Facebook!

*The preceding is not intended to diagnose or treat and is for informational purposes only.

February is American Heart Health month and it is a great month to focus on becoming aware of heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and has been for years. The best way to prevent heart disease is applying early detection methods and treating them accordingly. I would challenge everyone to make it a priority in the month of February to consider the following methods for detecting heart disease and taking the appropriate steps to identifying your heart health.

  1. Blood Pressure– Considered a basic vital test, blood pressure identifies the amount of pressure pushing against the walls of vessels as it circulates through the body. Testing blood pressure is a quick and simple procedure that everyone should take advantage of knowing. A healthy blood pressure is important as it relates to how hard your heart is working. While it is expected to work harder during exercise (which is healthy) it should remain at a rate of 120/80 or less at rest. For American Heart Month our office is offering complimentary blood pressure screenings!
  2. Pulse– Another basic vital sign, measuring a pulse is a simple procedure that literally takes a minute! By feeling the inside of the wrist on the thumb side you can palpate the radial pulse. By simply counting how many beats you feel for 1 minute (or multiply it by 2 after 30 seconds) you can assess your pulse. A resting pulse for a normal adult can range between 60-100, and is another indicator of how hard you heart is working. If the pulse is consistently high or low it is something to discuss with a doctor. There are many other aspects to a pulse to consider but as a baseline the number of beats per minute is “vital” to know. If you are interested in the many other aspects of the pulse, ask your local acupuncturist!
  3. Total Cholesterol– Cholesterol is an important part of building healthy cells and is found within the blood stream. A normal amount is great! However an increased amount of cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease. High cholesterol, unlike the previous two markers, does not have any associated symptoms when it is present. The only way to accurately assess cholesterol is through a blood lipid panel. This is a simple test and depending on the patient’s age and previous test results is recommended at different intervals. One standard acceptance is that a total cholesterol over 200 should be addressed. Do you know your current cholesterol level?
  4. Other blood tests– Cholesterol is a common test taken that most people are at least familiar with. In fac,t it is so well known that there is constant conflicting opinions on what aspects are important and how best to treat it among many health care practitioners. There are also other blood tests that work to assess cardiac health that should be considered during American Heart Month. Another example of a  blood test that can be used to consider cardiac risks are CRP and Homocysteine.  A C-Reactive Protein test isn’t a specific heart test. It is actually a test to measure inflammatory markers in the body. Elevated levels simply tell us there is inflammation…somewhere. That being said when taken into consideration with other factors (age, health history, lifestyle habits, family history). CRP isn’t done as commonly as Cholesterol screening however it can help with a better overall picture. There are also other blood tests such as homocysteine and fibrinogen that can be utilized to assess cardiovascular risks. It is important to discuss what tests are best suited to discover your heart health!

Blood Pressure is one of the easiest and vital signs to help assess the health of the heart.

This is the first blog in an upcoming series for American Heart Month. Please be sure to subscribe or check back for more useful heart related information throughout the month. Comments and suggestions are always welcome!

Supplement Review:KirklandSignature™ Daily Multiple


KirklandSignature™ Daily Multiple

Cost 14.99 (plus tax)

Amount of pills 500

Found At: Costco


The Short Of It

Pros: Affordable

Cons: You get what you pay for, Poorly made, many fillers, coatings decreasing absorption, low dose of nutrients, contains Iron, uses very poor nutrients that have limited bioavailability.

Common Patient Comments: Notice no change versus not using any supplementation.

Overall: I would never recommend this supplement to any patient. Specifically I would encourage patients not to take it, especially those who are pregnant, nursing, taking blood thinners, or have nickel allergies. In my opinion, athletic patients would not receive any benefit what-so-ever from this product.


What’s in it?

Serving Size: 1 Tablet

Each Tablet Contains – % Daily Value:


Vitamin A 3500 IU (29% as Beta Carotene) – 70% Vitamin C 90 mg  – 150% Vitamin D 400 IU – 100% Vitamin E 30 IU – 100%
Vitamin K 25 mcg – 31% Thiamin (Vit. B1) 1.5 mg – 100% Riboflavin (Vit. B2) 1.7 mg – 100% Niacin 20 mg – 100%
Vitamin B6 2 mg – 100%  Folic Acid 400 mcg – 100% Vitamin B12 6 mcg – 100% Biotin 30 mcg – 10%
Pantothenic Acid 10 mg – 100% Calcium 200 mg – 20% Iron 18 mg – 100% Phosphorus 109 mg – 11%
Iodine 150 mcg – 100% Magnesium 100 mg – 25% Zinc 11 mg – 73% Selenium 55 mcg – 79%
Copper 0.9 mg – 45% Manganese 2.3 mg 115% Chromium 35 mcg – 29% Molybdenum 45 mcg – 60%
Chloride 72 mg – 2% Potassium 80 mg – 2% Boron 150 mcg – * Nickel 5 mcg – *
Tin 10 mcg – * Silicon 2 mg – * Vanadium 10 mcg – * Lutein 250 mcg – *
Lycopene 300 mcg – *      


*Daily Value not established.







Dibasic Calcium Phosphate, Magnesium Oxide, Potassium Chloride, Cellulose Gel, Calcium Carbonate, Ascorbic Acid, Ferrous Fumarate, Starch (Corn and Tapioca),dl-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide, Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose, Gelatin, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Croscarmellose Sodium, Magnesium Sulfate, Magnesium Stearate, Silicon Dioxide, Copper Sulfate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Vitamin A Acetate, Polyethylene Glycol, Boric Acid, Beta Carotene, Folic Acid, Lycopene, Chromium Picolinate, Lutein, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Selenate, Sodium Molybdate, Biotin, Phylloquinone, Nickel Sulfate, Sodium Metavanadate, Stannous Chloride, Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol), Cyanocobalamin.


No Artificial Colors. No Artificial Flavors. No Preservatives. No Yeast or Gluten.


Detailed Review


First and foremost, the fillers in this product decrease the bioavailability of the product and render it close to useless. It is not highly recommended on that fact alone. Of course the choices of nutrients that are used in it are also low quality in comparison to a nutriceutical product as well, but we will get to that later. An example of a “filler” is Magnesium Stearate (octadecanoic acid, magnesium salt), which is non H20 soluble substance that is commonly used as a dilutent, which has been shown to slow the breakdown of the pill. Some health care professionals will also argue that those with decreased digestive health will not be able to absorb the nutrients within the pill. This is only one argument of how Magnesium Stearate decreases bioavilibility. There is much controversy on the topic and studies that show Magnesium Stearate has no negative effects to bioavailability.  Personally, I find it not so coincidental that products considered to be of strong nutriceutical value do not usually contain Magnesium Stearate in their products. On the contrary, companies attempting to produce mass quantities of inexpensive supplements almost always use it along with other fillers. Another “filler” in Kirkland’s Daily is Cornstarch. Why cornstarch is put into a supplement is beyond my comprehension. With many patients having sensitivities to corn, putting corn of any sort into a standard product is an obvious money saver with no therapeutic value. In a study[1]  attempting to decipher a therapeutic value of cornstarch found that it was effective in treating glycogen storage disease but, had side effects of diarrhea, flatulence, and weight gain. Way to go Kirkland Signature, take consumer health to the next level. Keeping up with lots of fillers is Methylcellulose, an emulsifier that can be used to treat constipation. It is non toxic and also not digestible… so why put it a pill that should aim for maximum absorption? You could argue it for the use of vegetarian capsules if there was not already gelatin (an animal byproduct) as an ingredient.


This lovely supplement also has Stannous Chloride, most likely used to coat the pill. It is probably decreasing absorption and break down of the supplement. As a fun side note, industrial companies like to use this as an oxidizing agent to make things like mirrors. Regardless, it is an unnecessary ingredient. The expected defense is the presence of Croscarmellose, which is used essentially to increase bioavailability. The issue associated with this is the common belief that it decreases the intestinal flora. In short, the product combines hard to break down pills with something that may harm the intestinal balance on top of it. No need to stop here though. Moving along the ingredient list, Nickel Sulfate is in this “health supplement”. Long term exposure to nickel has been tied to lung disorders and cancer. It is also not something known for humans to be deficient in. In fact about 10% of the female population has an allergy to it (cheap jewelry anyone). The only positive is the very low dose contained in the formula. Sodium Molybdate is another ingredient that makes little sense, as very few humans are found to be deficient in this area. It is commonly found in many foods (especially if the consumer has a healthy diet), so it is not usually put in quality supplements. Arguably for Kirkland Signature, it is considered to have some antioxidant qualities which may be beneficial.


Finally, after we finish off the list of useless ingredients, we can look at the benefits people are hoping to get out of it. Many consumers see Magnesium and think “oh I need that”. I couldn’t agree more but, this lovely little pill has two types. One of them is magnesium sulfate (Epsom Salt). I regularly recommend patients to soak in Epsom salt however, I do not tell them to ingest it. Do not get me wrong, it is safe to ingest, it is used to treat constipation. Wait didn’t we  already have a few ingredients that flush through the system with no therapeutic use? The other type is Magnesium Oxide. Of the types of Magnesium beneficial to supplement with, this one is at the bottom. Magnesium Citrate should be considered the gold standard for supplements. The same can be said of the products Calcium content. The ingredients list; Calcium Carbonate and Dibasic Calcium Phosphate. Calcium Carbonate is the number one ingredient in antacids such as, “Tums” and is also great for Gym Chalk but, when ingested, actually leads to calcium deposit build up versus healthy bones. In other words, rather than being helpful it can be harmful. With Dibasic Calcium Phosphate you are once again looking at the bottom of the line Calcium. My preferred Calcium is Citrate Malate. At this point picking on the ingredients is probably redundant so I will leave it at this; don’t waste your money on this product. Save yourself the fifteen dollars and put it to use on a quality product.


I am not affiliated with any nutrition company, nor does any company provide me with free products outside of standard company policies. That being said, the world of supplements can be a confusing one. With the large scale availability to purchase supplements almost anywhere customers are overloaded with options. Many will purchase supplements from their local drug store or wholesale company, while others will go to one of the many “Supplement Stores”. I highly recommend a third option, purchase supplements from a qualified health care provider. The primary reason, there is a reason they carry lines of supplements customers cannot readily purchase at their local drug store, quality being the number one factor. In fact some lines (for example Nordic Naturals) provides to product lines, a customer direct line and a health care practitioner line. The practitioner line has almost double the amount of EFA’s in it. The second reason is supervision. Would you manage your pharmaceutical prescriptions on your own? Why would you with nutriceuticals? The purpose of this blog is to review both commonly found supplements such as Kirkland Signature or Centrum as well as professional lines such as Thorne and Pure Encapsulations. The reviews are based on personal opinions of professional health care 

practitioners utilizing information found on the label and clinical use. Any endorsements are based solely on professional opinion.

There are many common tips everyone hears that improve digestion. Switching to all organic food is an obvious one. Or perhaps increasing the dreaded “F” word (fiber). These are all wonderful ideas. In fact Chinese Medicine would definitely encourage the an organic diet and a healthy amount of fiber. Traditional Chinese Medicine has a much different approach to digestion as the physiology within it’s practice is very different. Below are 7 tips with a brief explanation of why these can improve digestive health.

1. Avoid cold and raw foods- In Chinese Medicine the nature (theoretical temperature) of the food is very important. If the food is considered in the cold category it taxes the Spleen/Stomach (two major organs of digestion in Chinese Medicine) complex. With this in mind it is better to steam veggies over eating them raw.

2. Introduce congee into your diet- Congee is a rice porridge that is made with a 1 cup rice to approximately 5 cup water ratio. It is considered neutral and sweet and therefore nourishing to the Spleen. Congee recipes can be specifically constructed by your local Acupuncturist.

3. Adequate exercise: Exercise such as Tai Qi or Yoga can have a very positive impact on your digestive health. For example, in Yoga there are many postures that help gently compress and relax the intestines to improve the Spleen/Stomach complex. Two to three classes per week can make a very significant impact.

4. Breathe: We all lead very busy lives and all too often forget to take time just to breathe. Digestion relies heavily on the sympathetic nervous system. This occurs best when you are relaxed. So take 10 minutes!

5. Switch to tea- Coffee has a good amount of antioxidants, but can lead to dampness especially with added sugar and milk. Switching to a variety of teas can be highly beneficial. For example, both black and green tea contain L-Theanine, which can be great for decreasing stress. Lowering stress helps keep your parasympathetic nervous system in check, allowing for better digestion.

6. Eat a variety- Not only does eating the same thing get boring but, it can lead to poor digestion. Try to create colorful plates and switch things up. Eating a variety of food provides different nutrients keeping your whole body better nourished!

7. Cut back on the dairy and wheat- in Chinese Medicine balance is everything. It is not uncommon for a large staple in North American diets too be wheat and dairy. Too much wheat and dairy can lead to a weak Spleen and cause dampness within the body. With dampness, people will have a more bogged down feeling amongst many other things. Also with a weak Spleen and dampness one will not be functioning optimally leaving the immune system weakened and open to a variety of undesirables.

Introducing these 7 easy tips into day to day diets is easy, not too restricting, and manageable to create permanent healthy life changes. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below.


Adrian Hillyer, LAc, LMP

Pins & Needles Acupuncture LLC

Sources: Yoga and Ayurveda (David Frawley), Book of Jook (Bob Flaws),

5 Quick tips for shopping healthier:

1. Shop the perimeter of the store- If you avoid the middle aisles you are more likely to be purchasing fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, rather than frozen meals or sugary cereals and snacks.

2. Read the label- There is a great deal of important information that can be attained on a label. To keep it easy avoid added sugars and ingredients you can’t pronounce.

3. Eat a variety- In order to get a balanced amount of nutrients it is important to eat different meals. This concept is also important to avoid acquiring food allergies. Eating the same thing everyday is not only boring but, also not the best choice for eating healthy. Remember, make your plate colorful.

4. Switch to tea- If you are drinking a “cup of joe” every day try switching to green tea, as it has a higher antioxidant content and less caffeine. There are also many other great ways to get off coffee like “Teeccino”. Your insides will appreciate it.

5. Going Organic- While this is obvious, you don’t need to go all out everytime you see the big “O”. Store brands organic is still organic. Also foods such as Bananas, Watermelons, and Avocados that have thicker outer shells are a topic of debate. If you can’t buy all organic stick to purchasing the “dirty dozen”  organic to avoid strong amounts of pesticides. These consist of strawberries, apples, grapes, potatoes, peaches, nectarines, cherries, raspberries, bell peppers, celery, broccoli, blueberries and spinach.

Want more free health tips? Subscribe to this blog 🙂 Comments welcome!

This information is not intended to treat or diagnose any disease. It is solely the opinion of the author and should be interpreted as such.

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