Using the USDA Food Composition Databases, I’ve put together a complete list of the best vegan BCAA sources for you.
I’m going to assume that you already know why BCAAs (valine, leucine, and isoleucine) can be useful (promote muscle synthesis, reduce fatigue). If not, Examine.com has a great summary and detailed analysis of the research.
The best foods for BCAAs are almost all animal products. Milk, eggs, pork, and beef products top the list.
But there are still quite a few options for us vegans, although in lower amounts.
Let’s take a look at the list. Note that all the protein values are in grams of BCAA per 100 grams of food.
|Food||Valine(g) per 100 g||Leucine(g) per 100 g||Isoleucine(g) per 100 g|
|Soy protein isolate||4.098||6.783||4.253|
|Pumpkin and squash seeds||1.559||2.388||1.265|
|Lima beans, thin seeded (baby), mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt||0.484||0.694||0.423|
|Great northern beans||0.436||0.665||0.368|
A few types of food really stand out:
Grains (like rice) have a decent amount of BCAAs, but not enough that you’d specifically go out of your way to have them.
Vegetables are even worse. I included spinach for reference, and it’s at the bottom of the list. It’s also hard to eat a large weight of vegetables like spinach.
So you really want to stick to those 3 main groups:
- Beans – Soy (and soy products like tofu/tempeh), mung, navy and kidney (to a lesser extent)
- Nuts – Butternuts, cashews, almonds
- Seeds – Hemp, pumpkin, sesame
- Legumes – Lentils, peanuts
One final note that I would like to make is that butternuts are a solid source of BCAAs, but also a great vegan source of omega 3 fatty acids.
Hopefully this was a useful and clear list of the best vegan BCAA sources.