The Top Vegan BCAA Sources [Data-Based List]


Using the USDA Food Composition Databases, I’ve put together a complete list of the best vegan BCAA sources for you.

Getting enough BCAAs is primarily important for vegan athletes because of the benefits they can have, including (source):

  • Promoting muscle synthesis (i.e. growth)
  • Reducing fatigue

If you’d like to read more, has a great summary and detailed analysis of the research.

Vegan BCAA Foods List

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.

If you prefer to look at each BCAA one at a time, I’ve created more detailed pages for each individual amino acid:

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
Spirulina seaweed 3.512 4.947 3.209
Dried-frozen tofu 2.418 3.644 2.376
Soybeans 2.029 3.309 1.971
Hemp seeds 1.777 2.163 1.286
Pumpkin and squash seeds 1.559 2.388 1.265
Butternuts 1.541 2.199 1.179
Mung beans 1.416 2.089 1.287
Red lentils 1.238 1.809 1.078
Sunflower seeds 1.158 1.461 1.003
Cashews 1.094 1.472 0.789
Sesame seeds 0.99 1.358 0.763
Almond butter 0.937 1.483 0.813
Firm tofu 0.87 1.392 0.849
Chickpeas 0.865 1.465 0.882
Almonds 0.855 1.473 0.751
Peanuts 0.566 0.875 0.475
Navy beans 0.504 0.7 0.387
Kidney beans 0.5 0.736 0.41
White rice 0.497 0.691 0.359
Lima beans 0.484 0.694 0.423
Brown rice 0.466 0.657 0.336
Black beans 0.464 0.708 0.391
Great northern beans 0.436 0.665 0.368
Lentils 0.399 0.628 0.326
Tempeh 0.92 1.43 0.88
Spinach (cooked) 0.168 0.231 0.152

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 have the least BCAAs of any food group here. I included spinach for reference, and it’s at the bottom of the list. With that being said, vegetables are vital on any vegan diet due to all their nutritional benefits, so it’s good if you can pair any of the above sources together with vegetables.

So you really want to stick to those 4 main groups:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Vegan Recipes That Are High in BCAAs

Many of the vegan recipes high in protein that I’ve curated legumes, nuts, and seeds, and therefore have a lot of these amino acids.

In general, look for recipes like:

  • Soups and stews – Legumes go great in a variety of stews and soups (e.g. lentil soups), and even chili.
  • Bean salads – On top of beans, you can easily add nuts or seeds to any bean salads.
  • Tofu and noodles – One of my favorite simple recipes is to fry up some tofu, add some leafy greens, and then toss on some noodles with a nut-based sauce.

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.

FAQs About Vegan BCAAs

How important are BCAAs compared to other nutrients for vegans?

While athletes should try to get some extra BCAAs from eating extra legumes or protein powder, BCAAs are not considered a nutrient that most people need to give special attention to. For most vegans, focusing on just getting more protein is more important than BCAAs in particular.

Are there any risks to consuming plant-based foods that are high in BCAAs?

One risk is focusing too much on BCAAs is that you may neglect getting enough vitamins or minerals from the rest of your diet. In addition, consuming too much protein can lead to liver damage. WebMD recommends a limit of 20 grams of BCAAs per day, which is equivalent to about a block of tofu.

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. I've spent over 6 years as a freelance nutrition writer and researcher. During this time, I've tested over 50 vegan protein powders, and over 100 other types of vegan supplements.

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