The 30 Best Vegan Food Sources of Leucine

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Leucine is an essential amino acid, meaning that we can only get it from food.

Like all amino acids, it’s tougher to get enough of it on a vegan diet than one that includes animal products.

But of course it can be done, especially if you know which vegan foods contain the most of it.

That’s why I put together a collection of the 30 best vegan leucine-rich whole foods.

One thing before we get to that, is how much should you eat per day?

The minimum target is 42 mg per kg of bodyweight.

For example, I’m 170 lbs (77kg), so that’s 3234 mg, or 3.234 g per day.

If you’re an athlete, you’re going to want to aim for even more.

The Top Vegan Leucine Food Sources

I came up with this list by using the food database that the USDA provides, and extracting the nutritional information for over 120 vegan whole foods.

The table below is the result when I sort by amount of leucine per typical serving.

If you want to know which sources are the most calorie-efficient sources of leucine, go the the second table lower down on the page.

Food Serving Energy (kcal) Leucine (g)
Oats 1 cup 607 2.003
Soybeans 1 cup 254 1.589
Adzuki beans 1 cup 294 1.454
Lentils 1 cup 230 1.295
Navy beans 1 cup 255 1.274
Kidney beans 1 cup 225 1.227
Peanuts 0.5 cup 414 1.221
Black beans 1 cup 227 1.218
Buckwheat groats 1 cup 567 1.207
Mung bean 1 cup 212 1.099
Chickpeas 1 cup 269 1.035
Pumpkin seeds 1 cup 285 1.006
Pistachio nuts 0.5 cup 344 0.986
Sesame seeds 0.5 cup 413 0.978
Fava bean 1 cup 187 0.972
Rye grain 1 cup 571 0.951
Lima beans 1 cup 209 0.909
Cashew 0.5 cup 393 0.88
Almonds 1/2 cup 313 0.795
Brazil nut 0.5 cup 438 0.791
Spinach 1 bunch 78 0.758
Hazelnut 0.5 cup 424 0.718
Walnut 0.5 cup 383 0.684
Pine nuts 0.5 cup 454 0.669
Hemp seeds 3 tbsp 166 0.649
Swiss chard 10 leafs 91 0.624
Corn 1 ear 123 0.498
Quinoa 1 cup 222 0.483
Peas 1 cup 117 0.468
Chia seeds 3 tbsp 146 0.411

If one thing is clear, it’s that legumes are by far the best way to get leucine on a vegan diet.

Other than oats, every other food in the top 10 is a legume. Several types of beans, along with lentils and peanuts.

Most people, depending on their size, should aim to have at least one serving of each per day.

The Best Vegan Foods for Leucine if You’re Counting Calories

If you don’t mind eating a larger volume of food, you can get your lysine through vegetable sources. This will keep your overall calorie-intake down.

The issue is, you’ll have to eat a lot of them.

The following table has an additional column that shows you the amount of leucine per 100 calories of each food. This is often more than one serving of a food.

Food Serving Energy (kcal) Leucine (g) Leucine (g) per 100 calories
Seaweed (dried) 1 tbsp 20 0.346 1.73
Watercress 10 sprigs 3 0.042 1.4
Spinach 1 bunch 78 0.758 0.9717948718
Rapini 5 stalks 21 0.162 0.7714285714
Water spinach 1 cup 11 0.082 0.7454545455
Bamboo shoot 1 shoot 17 0.118 0.6941176471
Bok choy 1 cup 9 0.062 0.6888888889
Swiss chard 10 leafs 91 0.624 0.6857142857
Asparagus 4 spears 13 0.084 0.6461538462
Soybeans 1 cup 254 1.589 0.6255905512
Kale 2 cup 15 0.086 0.5733333333
Lentils 1 cup 230 1.295 0.5630434783
Kidney beans 1 cup 225 1.227 0.5453333333
Lettuce (red leaf) 0.5 head 20 0.108 0.54
Black beans 1 cup 227 1.218 0.5365638767
Fava bean 1 cup 187 0.972 0.5197860963
Mung bean 1 cup 212 1.099 0.5183962264
Navy beans 1 cup 255 1.274 0.4996078431
Adzuki beans 1 cup 294 1.454 0.4945578231
Lima beans 1 cup 209 0.909 0.4349282297
Squash 1 large 52 0.223 0.4288461538
Cauliflower 1 cup 27 0.113 0.4185185185
Turnip greens 1 cup 18 0.075 0.4166666667
Zucchini 1 large 55 0.229 0.4163636364
Corn 1 ear 123 0.498 0.4048780488
Peas 1 cup 117 0.468 0.4
Hemp seeds 3 tbsp 166 0.649 0.3909638554
Chickpeas 1 cup 269 1.035 0.3847583643
Broccoli 1 cup 31 0.117 0.3774193548
Green bean 10 beans 17 0.062 0.3647058824

The fact that most of the legumes still show up near the top means that they provide a lot of leucine for the calories that they contain.

But if you really don’t like legumes, you can stick to the other foods that have risen to the top of the list.

In particular, dark leafy greens. Watercress, spinach, bok choy, and kale all provide a good amount of leucine, plus a ton of other nutrients. You’ll have to eat several servings a day to hit the RDA, but it’s possible.

The Easiest Way to Get Leucine: Vegan Leucine Supplements

There are 2 options if you’re okay with getting leucine through supplements.

First, you can buy an l-leucine powder, but it’s hard to find a vegan version of these. There are some, but many are derived from duck feathers.

The best one I’ve found that is definitely vegan is NutraBio’s 100 percent Pure L Leucine Vegetable Capsules.

nutrabio leucine

Another option is to find a good vegan protein powder that is high in leucine. That means a powder that is primarily made from soy, hemp, or peas, which are all relatively high in leucine as we saw above.

I’ve tried many vegan protein powders, but one is clearly the best in this case: PlantFusion.

Plantfusion

Why is PlantFusion the best here? Many reasons:

  • It’s mainly made from pea protein.
  • It has 4,500 mg of added BCAAs per serving.
  • It tastes amazing (seriously, it’s the best tasting of 20+ that I’ve tried).
  • It’s not too pricey either.

Why Do We Need Leucine?

Like any amino acid, leucine is involved in protein synthesis.

Beyond that, leucine is also involved in controlling blood sugar levels, and in making growth hormone (important for athletes).

Leucine is often mentioned on fitness forums because it does a few things that other amino acids don’t. It helps prevent muscle loss, which makes it especially useful during diets.

About the author

Dale C.

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance writer. Trying to do my small part in making the world better by writing about the wonderful world of veganism.

4 comments

    • Don’t appreciate the snark Faith, but to answer your question…(I assume you’re referencing the protein powder recommendation, you weren’t very clear).

      Peas were low on the list of the best vegan foods for Leucine. They certainly aren’t a bad source of it, and you’re likely going to get leucine from a few sources on this list. Pea protein is a widely available source of protein, and contains a solid serving of peas.

      In addition, the main reason I like PlantFusion is that there are 4,500 mg of added BCAAs, as I stated above. If these are evenly distributed across the different BCAAs, most people will get about 1/2 their RDA just from the added BCAAs in a scoop of protein powder. Put that together with the pea protein, and it should be really clear why it’s a good vegan choice for a leucine supplement.

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