Many people believe that you can’t be a vegan athlete because a vegan diet lacks nutrients like specific amino acids.
If you were under that impression, it’s false.
But there is a grain of truth to it. If you don’t vary your protein sources, you’ll likely end up with a suboptimal amount of certain amino acids.
In particular, many vegan protein sources (but not all) have a relatively low amount of these 4 essential amino acids:
For example, grains are low in lysine, while legumes tend to be low in methionine.
I’m going to go through each of those amino acids, one-by-one, and go over the top 30 vegan foods that contain them.
The Best Vegan Food Sources of Lysine
There’s no official RDA for lysine, but according to research, you typically want to aim for about 12 mg per kg of bodyweight.
For example, a 170 lb person needs 924 mg per day, or more.
Here are the top 30 vegan foods for lysine.
|Food||Serving||Energy (kcal)||Lysine (g)|
|Adzuki beans||1 cup||294||1.304|
|Kidney beans||1 cup||225||1.053|
|Black beans||1 cup||227||1.046|
|Mung bean||1 cup||212||0.99|
|Buckwheat groats||1 cup||567||0.976|
|Navy beans||1 cup||255||0.946|
|Pumpkin seeds||1 cup||285||0.887|
|Fava bean||1 cup||187||0.826|
|Lima beans||1 cup||209||0.765|
|Pistachio nuts||0.5 cup||344||0.7|
|Rye grain||1 cup||571||0.483|
|Swiss chard||10 leafs||91||0.475|
|Sesame seeds||0.5 cup||413||0.41|
|Hemp seeds||3 tbsp||166||0.383|
|Pine nuts||0.5 cup||454||0.365|
|Brazil nut||0.5 cup||438||0.326|
|White potato||1 large||255||0.321|
|Chia seeds||3 tbsp||146||0.291|
Legumes are great sources of protein, and great sources of many amino acids. Lysine is one of them. Here’s a detailed breakdown of beans amino acids.
Almost all the top results are a bean, and lentils are right up there as well.
Most grains are relatively low in lysine (as are nuts), but oats have a fair amount. This is part of the reason why it can be troubling to say that “grains have a low amount of lysine” when not every single one does. Each food has its own amino acid profile.
The Best Vegan Food Sources of Methionine
Next up is methionine, where you should be aiming for at least 14 mg per kg of bodyweight.
For a 170 lb (77 kg) person, that’s about 1.1 grams per day.
Now let’s look at the top 30 vegan foods for methionine.
|Food||Serving||Energy (kcal)||Methionine (g)|
|Brazil nut||0.5 cup||438||0.747|
|Sesame seeds||0.5 cup||413||0.422|
|Hemp seeds||3 tbsp||166||0.28|
|Pumpkin seeds||1 cup||285||0.267|
|Rye grain||1 cup||571||0.259|
|Buckwheat groats||1 cup||567||0.251|
|Kidney beans||1 cup||225||0.23|
|Black beans||1 cup||227||0.229|
|Pistachio nuts||0.5 cup||344||0.221|
|Navy beans||1 cup||255||0.202|
|Adzuki beans||1 cup||294||0.182|
|Chia seeds||3 tbsp||146||0.176|
|Pine nuts||0.5 cup||454||0.175|
|Mung bean||1 cup||212||0.17|
|Lima beans||1 cup||209||0.116|
|Fava bean||1 cup||187||0.105|
|White potato||1 large||255||0.096|
Legumes still do alright, but the top results are dominated by nuts, seeds, and grains.
Seeds have fairly conformed amino acid profiles, so it’s not surprising to see sesame, hemp, and pumpkin seeds all in the top 10.
Grains like oats, rye, and buckwheat also rank very high for methionine.
Finally, a few types of nuts, like the brazil nut, and pistachios also have a good amount of methionine.
You’ll need around 2 servings of any of the top 10 foods to meet your RDA.
The Best Vegan Food Sources of Tryptophan
The RDA for tryptophan is 5 mg per kg of bodyweight, much lower than the 2 amino acids above.
For a 77 kg (170 lb) person, that’s just 385 mg per day, which is easy to get if you eat the right foods.
Those “right foods” include any on this list of the best vegan tryptophan sources:
|Food||Serving||Energy (kcal)||Tryptophan (g)|
|Buckwheat groats||1 cup||567||0.279|
|Sesame seeds||0.5 cup||413||0.279|
|Pumpkin seeds||1 cup||285||0.209|
|Rye grain||1 cup||571||0.183|
|Kidney beans||1 cup||225||0.182|
|Navy beans||1 cup||255||0.182|
|Black beans||1 cup||227||0.181|
|Adzuki beans||1 cup||294||0.166|
|Mung bean||1 cup||212||0.154|
|Pistachio nuts||0.5 cup||344||0.154|
|Lima beans||1 cup||209||0.151|
|Chia seeds||3 tbsp||146||0.131|
|Fava bean||1 cup||187||0.122|
|Hemp seeds||3 tbsp||166||0.111|
|Brazil nut||0.5 cup||438||0.09|
|Swiss chard||10 leafs||91||0.082|
|Pine nuts||0.5 cup||454||0.072|
|Seaweed (dried)||1 tbsp||20||0.065|
|White potato||1 large||255||0.063|
Oats are again near the top, which was surprising to me. They may not have a ton of protein overall, but they have a relatively high amount of some important vegan amino acids. Buckwheat and rye grain are also high in tryptophan.
On top of grains, seeds and legumes are both good sources of tryptophans, in particular sesame and pumpkin seeds.
The Best Vegan Food Sources of Phenylalanine
Finally, phenylalanine has an RDA of 33 mg per kg of bodyweight.
Again, for a 170 lb (77 kg) person, this is 2541 mg (2.541 g) per day.
Here are the top 30 vegan sources of phenylalanine.
|Food||Serving||Energy (kcal)||Phenylalanine (g)|
|Adzuki beans||1 cup||294||0.915|
|Mung bean||1 cup||212||0.858|
|Navy beans||1 cup||255||0.857|
|Kidney beans||1 cup||225||0.83|
|Black beans||1 cup||227||0.824|
|Buckwheat groats||1 cup||567||0.756|
|Rye grain||1 cup||571||0.735|
|Sesame seeds||0.5 cup||413||0.677|
|Pistachio nuts||0.5 cup||344||0.672|
|Pumpkin seeds||1 cup||285||0.591|
|Lima beans||1 cup||209||0.571|
|Fava bean||1 cup||187||0.546|
|Swiss chard||10 leafs||91||0.528|
|Macadamia nut||0.5 cup||481||0.446|
|Hemp seeds||3 tbsp||166||0.434|
|Brazil nut||0.5 cup||438||0.425|
|Pine nuts||0.5 cup||454||0.354|
|Chia seeds||3 tbsp||146||0.305|
The magical grain oats again tops this list.
That’s followed by all the legumes, ranging from beans to peanuts to lentils.
Legumes in general are great or at least decent sources of all the most important vegan amino acids.
Surprisingly, oats are also a fantastic source of all 4 hard to get amino acids on a vegan diet, so don’t be afraid to eat more oatmeal.
Finally, seeds are a nice way to get a good amount of methionine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine.