The 30 Best Vegan Food Sources of Leucine

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Refresher/Summary:

  • Leucine is an essential amino acid, meaning that we can only get it from food.
  • It’s also one of the 3 branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), important for building muscle proteins. The other 2 are isoleucine and the valine.
  • You should aim for at least 42 mg of leucine per kg of bodyweight (19 mg per lb).
  • The best vegan sources of leucine are mainly legumes, plus vital wheat gluten (seitan).

Like all amino acids, it’s tougher to get enough of leucine on a vegan diet than one that includes animal products (e.g. chicken, beef, fish).

But 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.

How Much Leucine Do You Need Per Day

The minimum target for leucine 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, which isn’t that difficult to get.

If you’re an athlete, you’re probably going to want to aim for even more. Leucine is often mentioned on fitness forums because it helps prevent muscle loss.

leucine deficiency could lead to the following issues:

  • Poor muscle growth
  • Difficulty controlling blood sugar levels (which can affect mood, energy levels, and more)

It’s not the most serious deficiency compared to some other nutrients, but it will have an effect.

If you’re not sure if you’re getting enough, track what you eat for a few days using a detailed food tracker like Cronometer.

The Best Overall Vegan Sources of Leucine

 I’ve created full lists of leucine sources per serving and per 100 calories later down on the page.

For now, I’d like to start by looking at the best of the best sources of leucine.

The absolute best sources should have a lot of leucine per 100 grams, and also per calorie. A bubble chart lets us understand this pretty easily.

 The top sources should tend towards the top-right corner. Click the chart below to expand it.

vegan leucine source bubble chart

Two foods clearly stand out:

  • Vital wheat gluten (used to make seitan)
  • Dried seaweed

Dried seaweed isn’t too useful because it’s really hard to eat 100 grams of it.

Unfortunately, those 2 foods perform so well on the chart that it’s hard to see the rest of the foods. Here’s a new chart with vital wheat gluten and dried seaweed removed.

That’s a lot clearer. In terms of leucine efficiency, it’s clear that certain foods stand out:

  • Soybeans
  • Legumes in general (adzuki beans, lentils, mung beans, kidney beans, black beans)
  • Leafy greens like watercress and spinach

The Top Vegan Leucine Food Sources Per Serving and Calorie

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. I’ve also included the amount per calorie if you’re watching your overall calorie intake.

Food Serving Energy (kcal) Leucine (g) per serving Leucine (g) per 100 calories
Vital wheat gluten 100 g 370 5.40 1.46
Oats 1 cup 607 2.00 0.33
Soybeans 1 cup 254 1.59 0.63
Adzuki beans 1 cup 294 1.45 0.49
Lentils 1 cup 230 1.30 0.56
Navy beans 1 cup 255 1.27 0.50
Kidney beans 1 cup 225 1.23 0.55
Peanuts 0.5 cup 414 1.22 0.29
Black beans 1 cup 227 1.22 0.54
Buckwheat groats 1 cup 567 1.21 0.21
Mung bean 1 cup 212 1.10 0.52
Chickpeas 1 cup 269 1.04 0.38
Pumpkin seeds 1 cup 285 1.01 0.35
Pistachio nuts 0.5 cup 344 0.99 0.29
Sesame seeds 0.5 cup 413 0.98 0.24
Fava bean 1 cup 187 0.97 0.52
Rye grain 1 cup 571 0.95 0.17
Lima beans 1 cup 209 0.91 0.43
Cashew 0.5 cup 393 0.88 0.22
Almonds 1/2 cup 313 0.80 0.25
Brazil nut 0.5 cup 438 0.79 0.18
Spinach 1 bunch 78 0.76 0.97
Hazelnut 0.5 cup 424 0.72 0.17
Walnut 0.5 cup 383 0.68 0.18
Pine nuts 0.5 cup 454 0.67 0.15
Hemp seeds 3 tbsp 166 0.65 0.39
Swiss chard 10 leafs 91 0.62 0.69
Corn 1 ear 123 0.50 0.40
Quinoa 1 cup 222 0.48 0.22
Peas 1 cup 117 0.47 0.40

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

Other than oats and vital wheat gluten, 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 any of them per day.

The Best Vegan Foods for Leucine Per 100 Grams

Another useful way to look at leucine sources is per 100 grams.

Here’s a list of the top 30 plant-based foods by weight:

Food Leucine per 100 g
Vital wheat gluten 5.40
Seaweed (dried) 4.94
Hemp seeds 2.16
Peanuts 1.67
Pistachio nuts 1.60
Pumpkin seeds 1.57
Almonds 1.47
Chia seeds 1.37
Sesame seeds 1.36
Cashew 1.28
Oats 1.28
Flaxseed 1.23
Brazil nut 1.19
Walnut 1.17
Hazelnut 1.06
Pine nuts 0.99
Soybeans 0.88
Buckwheat groats 0.74
Black beans 0.71
Navy beans 0.70
Kidney beans 0.69
Lentils 0.65
Adzuki beans 0.63
Chickpeas 0.63
Macadamia nut 0.60
Pecans 0.60
Fava bean 0.57
Rye grain 0.56
Mung bean 0.54
Lima beans 0.53

Vital wheat gluten and dried seaweed (kind of cheating because it’s dried) top the list.

Seeds and nuts round out most of the top 10 sources, suggesting that they’re a dense source of leucine if you’re not too concerned about calories.

Finally, beans still rank pretty well on this list.

Another Way to Get Leucine: Vegan Leucine Supplements

Some people hate eating beans of any kind.

If that’s you, 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 contains a high amount of 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 vegan protein packaging

Why is PlantFusion the best here? Many reasons:

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

Vegan Recipes High in Leucine

The foods you should mainly focus on are:

  • Soybeans (or tofu and tempeh)
  • Oats
  • Spinach
  • Legumes in general (adzuki beans, lentils, mung beans, kidney beans, black beans)
  • Peanuts

To help you get started with these if you’re not used to cooking and eating them, I’ve compiled 5 recipes that are high in leucine that contain these ingredients.

If you need more ideas, see my page of over 150 high protein vegan recipes.

1. Curried Tofu Scramble

curried tofu scramble

Tofu scramble is a great way to get protein in the morning while also filling any cravings for eggs.

This curried tofu recipe has both tofu and spinach, which gives it quite a bit of leucine and lysine. It’s one of the few tofu scrambles that I make on a regular basis.

2. Veggie and Tofu Stir Fry with Peanut Sauce

This is a relatively simple stir fry that’s packed with leucine. Like any stir fry, you can switch up the vegetables based on what you have available.

The most important ingredients are the tofu and peanut powder (you could substitute in peanut butter instead), which both have quite a bit of protein and leucine.

3. Apple Cranberry Oatmeal

If you’re the type who finds oatmeal plain and boring, I’d suggest this recipe to spice things up.

Oats are a good source of leucine and lysine, so if you can find a way to enjoy them, it makes getting more of it into your diet a lot easier.

4. Garlic Spinach Lentils

I realize it doesn’t look great from the picture, but I’ve made this myself and it tastes quite good.

More importantly, because of the lentils and spinach in it, it’s got a lot of leucine.

5. Crispy Peanut Tofu Cauliflower Rice Stir Fry

Since tofu and peanuts are both excellent sources of leucine, here’s another way you can combine them.

It’s high protein while being relatively low in carbohydrates since it swaps out rice for cauliflower.

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance nutrition writer. I've been vegan for years and try to make life easier for others by sharing what I've learned.