Vegan Amino Acids – Most Important and Best Food Sources

V

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:

  1. Lysine
  2. Tryptophan
  3. Methionine
  4. Phenylalanine

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

lysine molecular structure

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.

FoodServingEnergy (kcal)Lysine (g)
Soybeans1 cup2541.33
Adzuki beans1 cup2941.304
Lentils1 cup2301.247
Oats1 cup6071.094
Kidney beans1 cup2251.053
Black beans1 cup2271.046
Mung bean1 cup2120.99
Buckwheat groats1 cup5670.976
Chickpeas1 cup2690.973
Navy beans1 cup2550.946
Pumpkin seeds1 cup2850.887
Fava bean1 cup1870.826
Lima beans1 cup2090.765
Pistachio nuts0.5 cup3440.7
Peanuts0.5 cup4140.676
Spinach1 bunch780.592
Cashew0.5 cup3930.56
Rye grain1 cup5710.483
Swiss chard10 leafs910.475
Peas1 cup1170.46
Quinoa1 cup2220.442
Sesame seeds0.5 cup4130.41
Hemp seeds3 tbsp1660.383
Pine nuts0.5 cup4540.365
Cowpeas1 cup1600.345
Brazil nut0.5 cup4380.326
White potato1 large2550.321
Almonds1/2 cup3130.307
Chia seeds3 tbsp1460.291
Hazelnut0.5 cup4240.283
Eggplant1 eggplant1370.258

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

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.

FoodServingEnergy (kcal)Methionine (g)
Brazil nut0.5 cup4380.747
Oats1 cup6070.487
Sesame seeds0.5 cup4130.422
Hemp seeds3 tbsp1660.28
Soybeans1 cup2540.27
Pumpkin seeds1 cup2850.267
Rye grain1 cup5710.259
Buckwheat groats1 cup5670.251
Peanuts0.5 cup4140.231
Kidney beans1 cup2250.23
Black beans1 cup2270.229
Pistachio nuts0.5 cup3440.221
Navy beans1 cup2550.202
Chickpeas1 cup2690.19
Cashew0.5 cup3930.188
Adzuki beans1 cup2940.182
Spinach1 bunch780.18
Quinoa1 cup2220.178
Chia seeds3 tbsp1460.176
Pine nuts0.5 cup4540.175
Mung bean1 cup2120.17
Lentils1 cup2300.152
Hazelnut0.5 cup4240.149
Walnut0.5 cup3830.138
Peas1 cup1170.119
Lima beans1 cup2090.116
Fava bean1 cup1870.105
Rice1 cup2050.1
Corn1 ear1230.096
White potato1 large2550.096

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

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:

FoodServingEnergy (kcal)Tryptophan (g)
Oats1 cup6070.365
Buckwheat groats1 cup5670.279
Sesame seeds0.5 cup4130.279
Soybeans1 cup2540.27
Pumpkin seeds1 cup2850.209
Rye grain1 cup5710.183
Kidney beans1 cup2250.182
Navy beans1 cup2550.182
Peanuts0.5 cup4140.182
Black beans1 cup2270.181
Adzuki beans1 cup2940.166
Cashew0.5 cup3930.162
Lentils1 cup2300.16
Mung bean1 cup2120.154
Pistachio nuts0.5 cup3440.154
Lima beans1 cup2090.151
Chickpeas1 cup2690.139
Spinach1 bunch780.133
Chia seeds3 tbsp1460.131
Hazelnut0.5 cup4240.13
Fava bean1 cup1870.122
Almonds1/2 cup3130.114
Hemp seeds3 tbsp1660.111
Walnut0.5 cup3830.099
Quinoa1 cup2220.096
Brazil nut0.5 cup4380.09
Swiss chard10 leafs910.082
Pine nuts0.5 cup4540.072
Seaweed (dried)1 tbsp200.065
White potato1 large2550.063
Cowpeas1 cup1600.061
Flaxseed2 tbsp1100.061

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

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.

FoodServingEnergy (kcal)Phenylalanine (g)
Oats1 cup6071.396
Soybeans1 cup2541.006
Peanuts0.5 cup4141.005
Adzuki beans1 cup2940.915
Lentils1 cup2300.881
Mung bean1 cup2120.858
Navy beans1 cup2550.857
Kidney beans1 cup2250.83
Black beans1 cup2270.824
Chickpeas1 cup2690.779
Buckwheat groats1 cup5670.756
Rye grain1 cup5710.735
Sesame seeds0.5 cup4130.677
Pistachio nuts0.5 cup3440.672
Almonds1/2 cup3130.611
Pumpkin seeds1 cup2850.591
Lima beans1 cup2090.571
Fava bean1 cup1870.546
Cashew0.5 cup3930.542
Swiss chard10 leafs910.528
Hazelnut0.5 cup4240.448
Macadamia nut0.5 cup4810.446
Spinach1 bunch780.439
Hemp seeds3 tbsp1660.434
Brazil nut0.5 cup4380.425
Walnut0.5 cup3830.416
Pine nuts0.5 cup4540.354
Quinoa1 cup2220.342
Chia seeds3 tbsp1460.305
Peas1 cup1170.29

The magical grain oats again tops this list.

That’s followed by all the legumes, ranging from beans to peanuts to lentils.

Summary

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.

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.

8 comments

  • Hi. I really appreciate all the advice and effort that was taken to make the above information happen. I just discovered this site. I have been a vegan for less then a year. I need specific help. I am a 5 ft tall and 120-125 lbs female. The suggestions above are for a 170 lbs guy. So what would they be for me per serving? And I know cooked quinoa is a complete protein. But does that mean half a cup cooked quinoa or one cup cooked? I looked at few sites and the data varies.
    I would be grateful for any help.
    Bina

    • Hi Bina,

      Let’s see if I can’t clear some things up.

      All of the amino acid recommended amounts are in mg of each amino acid per kg of bodyweight, it doesn’t matter what gender you are.

      So while the examples were given for a 170 lb person, you can just multiply that by 0.7 (120/170) and find the RDA for someone your size.

      Regarding quinoa, all the data on this page is in terms of cooked foods. So 1 cup of cooked quinoa in this case, which is probably around 0.5 cups dry.

      Hopefully that helps!

  • Please include Poppy Seed in the list. It contains pretty good amount of Methionine. If You let Poppy Seed soak in water for about 12 hours You can eat it straightforward and it tastes well.