- 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.
Table of Contents
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.
A 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.
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:
- 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|
|Adzuki beans||1 cup||294||1.45||0.49|
|Navy beans||1 cup||255||1.27||0.50|
|Kidney beans||1 cup||225||1.23||0.55|
|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|
|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|
|Brazil nut||0.5 cup||438||0.79||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|
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|
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.
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.
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
I’ve already started a small collection of vegan recipes high in leucine (that also happen to be high in lysine).
Typically, you’re looking for recipes like:
- Bean salads
- Stir frys with beans and nut sauces
- Salads with seeds or nuts
If you can find recipes that have 1 or more of the top foods we looked at, you can usually get more than the RDA of leucine in a single meal.