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.
Vegan BCAA Foods List
If you prefer to look at each BCAA one at a time, I’ve created more detailed pages for each individual amino acid:
- The Best Vegan Sources of Valine
- The Best Vegan Sources of Leucine
- The Best Vegan Sources of Isoluecine
Otherwise, 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|
|Great northern beans||0.436||0.665||0.368|
Types of Vegan Foods high in BCAAs
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 4 main groups:
- Legumes – Soy (and soy products like tofu/tempeh), mung, navy and kidney (to a lesser extent). If you’re not eating legumes on a regular basis as a vegan, you can’t really have a high protein diet.
- Nuts – Butternuts, cashews, almonds all have decent amounts of protein in general and BCAAs. You probably won’t want to base your diet around them as nuts have a bad omega 3 to 6 fat ratio and a ton of calories, but they can make up a small amount of your protein intake.
- Seeds – Hemp, pumpkin, and sesame seeds all have a good amount of protein and other nutrients. But on the other hand it’s hard to eat a lot of them, so this is another food group that will make up a relatively small portion of your protein intake.
It’s clear why beans are so important for vegans.
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.
One Other Way to Get BCAAs
If you’re trying to achieve a relatively high protein (and BCAA) intake without eating too many calories, you have 2 options: soy or protein powder.
Soy has a uniquely high protein content, and vegan protein powders are obviously just extract protein (usually from sources like pea and hemp). Many plant protein powder blends also have added BCAAs.