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A vegan’s guide to weightlifting gear: shoes, belts, grips, protein, etc.

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A vegan’s guide to weightlifting gear: shoes, belts, grips, protein, etc.

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Are you a vegan weightlifter looking to take your game to the next level?

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie to the sport, choosing the right gear can make all the difference to your performance. But finding weightlifting gear that aligns with your vegan values can be a challenge.

That’s why, as a seasoned amateur weightlifter, I thought I’d share my knowledge to help you navigate the world of predominantly leather kits and animal-derived supplements to find the perfect plant-based gear for you!

From belts and grips to protein powders and lifting shoes, I’ve got you covered.

So get ready to lift, sweat, and crush your goals with the ultimate guide to the best vegan weightlifting gear.

Let’s get built like a brick shithouse and show the world that plant-based power is here to stay 💪🏋️‍♀️

Vegan weightlifting gear

Wait…why wouldn’t weightlifting gear be vegan?

Leather is widely associated with traditional weightlifting culture and has become a part of the sport’s identity. Therefore, many of the items you’ll come across, such as weightlifting belts, shoes and wrist wraps, will be made of leather.

Historically, this is because it was seen as a symbol of strength and toughness. But it’s also popular due to its durability, comfort and malleability. The latter reason is particularly important since weightlifting gear should be able to withstand heavy use and provide the necessary support and protection.

Supplements and protein powders are also frequently derived from animals; we won’t get into the reasons behind this because it will take an entire blog post but the good news is, vegan-friendly alternatives are just as effective (if not better) than their animal-derived counterparts and are now widely available.

The same goes for wearable gear; neoprene, bamboo, recycled polyester and other vegan materials are becoming increasingly popular.

Don’t forget to check out our vegan fashion guide for more information about plant-based materials and sustainable clothing

Weightlifting shoes

Weightlifting shoes are designed to provide weightlifters with the support, stability and mobility they need to perform heavy lifts safely and effectively. They’re characterised by a raised heel, a stiff sole, and a secure and snug fit (the raised heel is designed to improve ankle mobility and squat depth, although you’ll want to opt for a flat shoe when deadlifting or go barefoot like me!)

A woman wearing a white vest top and bright red leggings is squatting with a barbell on her back. You can see she is in a gym with black and orange bars and equipment. The woman is wearing vegan weightlifting shoes and you can see that they have a raised heel, which are helping with her squat depth. She is squatting below parallel.
Raised heels can improve your squat depth, helping you to break parallel and really work those glutes!

Since leather is both durable and moulds itself snugly around the feet, it’s common to find weightlifting shoes made using this material.

As someone with club feet, I understand the hardships of trying to find comfortable, well-fitting shoes that are NOT made of leather or suede only too well. But it has equipped me with plenty of research experience when it comes to finding vegan speciality shoes.

So I put it to good use! Below are some of the best vegan weightlifting shoes:

Best multipurpose weightlifting shoes

Pros

Cons

Reebok Nano X1 Cross Trainer

I know what you’re thinking…but these trainers aren’t just for CrossFit!

These are actually the exact pair of trainers that I have and their raised heel is great for improving my squat depth.

The vegan versions of the Nano X1 are made from Floatride Energy Foam, derived from castor beans. They’re super comfortable, provide plenty of support, the fabric is breathable and the grip is fantastic. They also come in a few funky colour combos or you could opt for more plain, if that’s your kind of thing 🙂

Whilst they are supportive, however, I would say that if you’re lifting really really heavy, you may want to look for some high-intensity lifting shoes. If you find some that are vegan-friendly, please let me know in the comments below!

Best shoes for deadlifts

Pros

Cons

VIVOBAREFOOT Geo Racer Knit, Womens Vegan Ultra-Light Trainers with Barefoot Sole

If you’d rather not go barefoot in the gym, you want a bit more support or your ankle mobility is excellent and you don’t need a raised heel, then the Vivobarefoot Geos are the weightlifting shoes for you.

They’re made from recycled materials and they’re actually pretty breathable! I love them because I have problem feet and they really accommodate the width.

The fact that you can spread your toes properly means that you can create a stable foundation with which to lift.

I also love that these are 100% recyclable and Vivo offer a fantastic repair service.

Weightlifting belt

A weightlifting belt is somewhat contested in the fitness community, and there are differing opinions on when and how it should be used. Whilst some say that it can be used throughout a workout to reduce the risk of injury, whilst others argue that we should be lifting without a belt to strengthen our core muscles and stabilise the spine.

Research has revealed that athletes can lift heavier weights with more explosive power when wearing a belt correctly

It is generally agreed, however, that a weightlifting belt can be used during heavy lifts or when lifting at or near maximum capacity. Ultimately, it’s down to an individual’s specific needs and goals. If you’re going to wear one, I suggest watching Squat University’s video on how to wear a weightlifting belt properly:

Personally, I don’t use a belt yet but, when I eventually get enough time to train more and lift heavier, I plan on buying one of the following vegan weightlifting belts:

Best all-round weightlifting belt

Pros

Cons

BEAR GRIP Weight Lifting Neoprene Curved Gym Belt

I’m a big fan of Bear Grip’s weightlifting gear and, the great news is, their neoprene range is suitable for vegans!

What I love about this belt is its curved shape, which is designed to support your back and core without digging into your waist. The belt also has an auto-locking system to ensure that it stays secure.

Every Bear Grip product I’ve ever owned has been solidly made and extremely durable. The fact that it’s leather-free has the added advantage that it costs less!

Best belt for colour choice

Pros

Cons

RDX Nylon & Polyester Weight Lifting Belt

RDX is a well-known, reputable brand and their belts are used by pro-bodybuilders and lifting champions worldwide. Whilst many of their belts are made from leather, they do offer this fantastic vegan version made from a blend of nylon and polyester.

At a decent 4 inches width, this RDX weightlifting belt is wide enough to provide plenty of lumbar support whilst still allowing for maneuverability.

The tension-based auto lock system is also a great feature and ensures that the belt will stay securely in place when lifting. Some reviewers mention that the velcro can snag on the buckle but this does not affect performance.

If you want to look extra vegan, opt for the green!

Lifting grips and straps

Buying vegan weightlifting grips significantly transformed my deadlifting game! They’ve also been very helpful since I started bodybuilding as they help me to focus on isolating muscles and continue to lift heavy when my grip starts to fail.

Play Video about Alice deadlifting. She's in the crouched down position holding onto the barbell with the help of vegan-friendly nylon Bear Grip figure of 8 grips. She's wearing Reebok's Vegan Nano X1s and a Huel tshirt. You can see that she's in a gym with free weights in the background and a few machines.

Deadlifting with figure of 8 grips during my early days of weightlifting as a vegan. (BTW I now deadlift barefoot.)

Designed to improve grip strength, wrist support, and overall lifting performance, grips and straps are often made of leather, particularly grips since these are heavier-duty than lightweight straps. Luckily, there are plenty of durable, supportive, and effective vegan versions made from materials such as rubber and neoprene.

Here are some of my faves:

Best grips ever

Pros

Cons

BEAR GRIP rubber heavy duty Multi Grips

These are the best vegan grips I’ve ever bought! Not only are they extremely well-made and durable, but they also provide phenomenal grip and they’re super easy to use.

Labelled left and right, these grips are simple to strap on and off. The flaps of rubber can make it difficult to drink water between sets, so being able to easily remove them is very handy!

I’ve found these to completely eliminate grip fatigue and the setup is so much faster and more secure than using other types of straps. They can be used for all sorts of exercises, including deadlifts, lat pulldowns, cable rows, dumbbell rows, etc.

These really are gamechangers when you want to focus on the muscles you’re directly training.

Best value for money straps

Pros

Cons

BEAR GRIP - Premium Figure 8 weight lifting straps

Bear Grip again, I know…sorry! But they’re just such a great brand and they have so many fantastic options that are vegan-friendly.

Now, whether you prefer the figure of 8 straps or the conventional loose straps is a very personal choice. I have used both on many occasions but the figure of 8s are a great choice for beginners (they were the first grips I owned).

They’re fantastic value for money and they are not overly complicated to use. You simply slip one loop on over your wrists, wrap the other loop under the bar, slip that loop over your wrist and then grip the bar to lift!

They even come in a few different colour options. The only problem is that they can be a little less effective for those with smaller wrists.

Wrist wraps, knee sleeves, ankle supports

For those of us with dodgy joints, wrist wraps, ankle supports and knee sleeves are recommended when performing Olympic lifts (although wrist wraps aren’t allowed in many competitions)!

The bottom half of a man's torso. He's sat on a bench in a gym and he's pulling knee sleeves onto his legs.

I often use ankle supports when I squat because of my club feet! Wrist wraps are also great for lifts such as the bench press or other heavy-pressing movements.

Here are some of the best animal-free supports to buy:

Best knee supports

I bought these for my partner, who often works on his feet for 18-hour days. They can slip down after a while but he has found them incredibly useful for preventing swelling in his knees.

This is a really reliable brand and the adjustable straps prevent any slippage.

A pair of neoprene black knee sleeves with the Akatsuki pattern. They're in front of a plain black background
Image courtesy: Tetsugakure.market

If you’re an anime fan, then check out Village Hidden in the Iron’s awesome knee sleeves! Great for if you live in the US…not so great if you’re not because of the shipping fees. I’m saving up! Vegan-friendly since they’re made of neoprene just disappointing that their belts are made from leather 🙁

Best ankle supports

I wear these ankle supports during my squats and when I go running. The adjustable straps are great since I have extra wide feet and the slip-ons can be too tight for me.

I love that these ankle supports have straps that allow you to adjust the compression in three different areas, ensuring you get the support in the right places.

Best wrist wraps

The ambidextrous rubber and elasticated fabric wrist wraps are designed for fast-wrapping straps. They’re also extremely durable and the name is a reminder of one’s ambition to be as strong as our plant-powered cousins!

Made from a blend of cotton and elastic, the Beast Gear wrist wraps are great for preventing injury whilst performing super heavy lifts! Heavy duty and well-made, yet they’re so cheap.

Other important pieces of kit

Like any sport or hobby, you could go down the rabbit hole with gear and equipment to buy for weightlifting.

I really recommend trying weightlifting with no gear for a few months to determine what it is that you really need (if anything) before making any purchases. Everyone’s goals and requirements will be different so not everyone is going to need the same stuff!

Nevertheless, here are a few other pieces of kit that I’ve found valuable during my years of amateur weightlifting:

Best chalk

For those who get sweaty palms, chalk can really help you to get a better grip on the bar; I use it for my pull-ups! I find liquid chalk the most convenient and it creates the least amount of mess. You can also clip a bottle to your gym bag!

Best barbell pad

I spent hours and hours and hours researching vegan barbell pads! I lift my heaviest weights for the hip thrust exercise and I needed something that was padded enough to stop the barbell from bruising my hips. Bear Grip’s pad certainly cuts the mustard! And it’s super cheap (although they used to do this in other colours…)

Best barbell clips/clamps

Because I can’t be dealing with those fiddly metal butterfly clips! These come in black or smoking hot red. Simply clip on and clip off!

Best heel lift inserts

These are perfect for when you need that little bit of extra lift to help with ankle mobility during squats. They’re comfortable enough to forget you’re wearing them whilst being durable enough to withstand heavy loads.

Best resistance bands

As a digital nomad, I often end up in places where there’s no gym. To continue building my strength, I travel with my resistance bands so I can do resistance training! These ones are fantastic quality (I’ve had mine for years and they’re still going strong, despite having my full weight stretch them down from a pull up bar).

Best glute loops

Glutes are such a neglected muscle group and yet they are super important!

These vegan glute loops are made from rubber and cotton. They vary in resistance so you can work your way up for the ultimate booty burn.

I use mine to activate my glutes before a bum and leg session!

Vegan weightlifting protein

Protein is essential for muscle gain. Amongst many other functions, protein fuels muscles and repairs them, increasing muscle mass over time (when paired with regular resistance training, proper nutrition and adequate recovery, of course!)

Vegan weightlifters can meet their protein needs through plant-based sources such as tofu, tempeh, other soy-based products, peas, lentils, beans, quinoa, lean faux meat, and seitan. These sources can provide all of the essential amino acids necessary for muscle building.

Whilst nuts are also a great source of protein, they’re also high in healthy fats like omega-3. Fats are important but you may wish to limit your intake of nuts depending on your goals (e.g. if you’re shredding for a bodybuilding show).

A selection of plant-based protein sources suitable for building muscle and weightlifting.. There are bowls of legumes (lentils and beans), broccoli, protein powder, and nuts. There's a wooden chopping board with a block of tofu on top and a glass of soy milk.

I’ve also recently discovered sunflower mince, which is super high in protein and low in both fat and carbs!

Whilst it is possible to make serious gains without it, vegan protein powder can really help to increase your intake, which may be necessary depending on your goals.

Not all plant-based protein supplements were created equal though (believe me, I’ve tried many) and some might give you more gas than others 💨 obviously, everyone’s gut will react to protein powders differently but based on my own experience, here are my favourite (and least farty) vegan weightlifting protein powders:

Best overall protein

Hands down the best vegan protein powder available! Form’ Performance Protein has a complete amino acid profile with BCAAs and digestive enzymes. It’s easy on the gut, tastes frickin’ amazing (they have multiple tasty flavours), blends up really well (even after stirring with just a spoon) and it’s got a fantastic macro split. Oh, the packaging is home compostable and they don’t include a plastic scoop!

Best value for money

Lower in protein and higher in carbs than Form but still packing a punch with 23g of plant-based protein per 35g serving. Plus, for a 1kg bag, it’s super good value for money.

There are a few flavours available, some better than others (I seem to remember thinking the chocolate peanut was decent), but obviously not as nice as Form!

For a more detailed and informative comparison, make sure you check out our full guide to the best vegan protein powders.

Other supplements for weightlifting

In addition to prioritising vegan foods that will provide you with all the right nutrients on a plant-based diet and ensuring you are taking any necessary vegan supplements, you may wish to take additional weightlifting supplements.

While these are optional, research has demonstrated that a well-timed supplement stack can improve your performance and boost your recovery process. Just watch out for non-vegan ingredients, since they can contain anything from animal fur to gelatine.

Personally, I only use creatine since there’s heaps of research on it and I wouldn’t feel comfortable suggesting other supplements until I’ve looked into them further. I’ll recommend some of my favourite creatine brands below that are budget-friendly and suitable for vegans. But for any other weightlifting supplements, please do your research to ensure that they are both ethical and right for you!

Creatine

Don’t believe your friendly supplement shop assistant (like I did) when they tell you that all creatine is good for is water retention for temporary vanity bulking.

Creatine helps your muscles produce more ATP so that you can exercise at a higher intensity for a longer period of time. Studies have also shown that it can improve cognition and reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression!

Training and support

In my experience, training with someone else is the best way to push yourself to failure. This person can be your friend, your partner or a family member (maybe not the cat) but it’s important to communicate to them your goals and objectives, particularly when you want them to spot you for your final set.

For example, tell them how many reps you are aiming to get, how much you want to suffer or show them the facial expression you’re likely to make when you’re about to get yourself pinned during bench press.

If you can’t get someone to train with, ask a stranger at the gym to spot you during your final set or pay a personal trainer to really push you to achieve your goals!

There are plenty of vegan trainers about nowadays but it’s obviously better if you search for those who are local to you.

In-person is always better (I learnt so much from mine, including how to perfect my form to lift as safely as possible), particularly when it comes to powerlifting but, if this is not possible, here’s a tried and tested online vegan bodybuilding programme that you may wish to consider:

Sculpted Vegan's vegan bodybuilding competitions

Fancy a $100,000 prize to motivate you to bodybuild? Then I thoroughly recommend Kim Constable’s Sculpted Vegan competitions!

I’ve taken part in two now and they’re a fantastic way to stay accountable whilst following a professional and guided plan that’s proven to get results.

You don’t have to stand up on stage at the end of it and you’re not compared with other contestants. It’s all about personal growth; before and after.

Alice Johnson

Alice Johnson

Writer, scientist, amateur mycologist | I write stuff for a living. Mainly about vegan things, science, fungi, and travel. Find out more at Alice's Cerebrum

A penny for your thoughts

I may receive a commission if you make a purchase through some of the links on this page (see full disclaimer here). But don’t worry, I’ll use the money to fund more useful articles and resources, and of course, to buy more vegan snacks to keep me fueled up. I promise not to blow it all on vegan ice cream…I’ll save some for a cocktail or two. A girl’s gotta eat (and drink)!

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