The Top 30 Vegan Food Sources of Isoleucine


Isoleucine is one of the most important amino acids for athletes, along with leucine and valine.

Those 3 amino acids combined make up about 70% of your body’s total proteins.

Isoleucine in particular is a branched chain amino acid that helps with your energy levels, endurance, and muscle tissue recovery.

If you’re an athlete, you need to be getting a decent amount of isoleucine, either from your diet or through supplements.

Like other amino acids, it’s trickier to get on a vegan diet, although it can still be done if you eat the right foods.

That’s why I looked up the nutritional data of 120+ vegan whole foods in the USDA database. The lists below are the top vegan sources of isoleucine, and it’s a pretty exhaustive list.

How Much Isoleucine Should You Aim For?

Before you look at the charts, keep in mind that the minimum amount of isoleucine recommended per day is 19 mg per kg of bodyweight.

So for a 77kg (170 lb) adult, that’s 1463 mg, or 1.463 grams.

That’s the minimum for an average person, but if you’re an athlete you’ll want to try and get more.

The Best Vegan Isoleucine Sources Per Serving

This first table is in order of how much isoleucine is in a serving of each food. This is independent of calories.

The table lower down on the page takes into account calories, rather than serving size. Use that one if you’re on a cut and are restricting calories.

Food Serving Energy (kcal) Isoleucine (g)
Oats 1 cup 607 1.083
Soybeans 1 cup 254 0.977
Sunflower seeds 0.5 cup 409 0.797
Lentils 1 cup 230 0.772
Lima beans 1 cup 209 0.745
Buckwheat groats 1 cup 567 0.723
Swiss chard 10 leafs 91 0.706
Navy beans 1 cup 255 0.704
Adzuki beans 1 cup 294 0.69
Kidney beans 1 cup 225 0.678
Black beans 1 cup 227 0.673
Peanuts 0.5 cup 414 0.662
Chickpeas 1 cup 269 0.623
Pumpkin seeds 1 cup 285 0.612
Mung bean 1 cup 212 0.6
Pistachio nuts 0.5 cup 344 0.564
Sesame seeds 0.5 cup 413 0.549
Fava bean 1 cup 187 0.52
Cashew 0.5 cup 393 0.501
Spinach 1 bunch 78 0.5
Almonds 1/2 cup 313 0.406
Hemp seeds 3 tbsp 166 0.386
Hazelnut 0.5 cup 424 0.368
Pine nuts 0.5 cup 454 0.366
Walnut 0.5 cup 383 0.366
Rye grain 1 cup 571 0.352
Brazil nut 0.5 cup 438 0.344
Quinoa 1 cup 222 0.29
Peas 1 cup 117 0.283
Cowpeas 1 cup 160 0.281
Eggplant 1 eggplant 137 0.247

For the most part, the top results here shouldn’t be too surprising.

Most of the top results are legumes (beans, lentils, peas, peanuts), which also have a lot of protein. Beans have a well-rounded amino acid profile as well.

What may be a little surprising is that there are a few grains near the top as well. Oats and buckwheat groats are both in the top 5, even though that grains have small amounts of protein in the first place.

The Top Vegan Isoleucine Sources Per 100 Calories

The second way to look at the data is by ordering the foods in terms of how much isoleucine they contain per 100 calories of the food. This could be more than one serving, or less.

Food Serving Energy (kcal)
Isoleucine (g) per 100 calories
Seaweed (dried) 1 tbsp 20 1.13
Swiss chard 10 leafs 91 0.78
Watercress 10 sprigs 3 0.77
Bok choy 1 cup 9 0.67
Spinach 1 bunch 78 0.64
Water spinach 1 cup 11 0.53
Kale 2 cup 15 0.49
Rapini 5 stalks 21 0.47
Bamboo shoot 1 shoot 17 0.43
Soybeans 1 cup 254 0.38
Asparagus 4 spears 13 0.38
Lima beans 1 cup 209 0.36
Lentils 1 cup 230 0.34
Kidney beans 1 cup 225 0.30
Black beans 1 cup 227 0.30
Lettuce (red leaf) 0.5 head 20 0.30
Mung bean 1 cup 212 0.28
Cauliflower 1 cup 27 0.28
Brussels sprouts 1 cup 56 0.28
Fava bean 1 cup 187 0.28
Navy beans 1 cup 255 0.28
Squash 1 large 52 0.26
Zucchini 1 large 55 0.26
Peas 1 cup 117 0.24
Turnip greens 1 cup 18 0.24
Adzuki beans 1 cup 294 0.23
Hemp seeds 3 tbsp 166 0.23
Broccoli 1 cup 31 0.23
Chickpeas 1 cup 269 0.23
Pumpkin seeds 1 cup 285 0.21

Legumes still do well on this list, but the top 10 spots or so are taken by vegetables.

Most of these are leafy greens like swiss chard, watercress, bok choy, spinach, kale, etc.

Obviously they don’t have a ton of protein in them, but they have a relatively high amount of isoleucine, and a low amount of calories. You would have to eat several servings to meet your RDA, but it’s an option to help you get there.

The Most Isoleucine Dense Vegan Foods

What if we combine all the data in the 2 tables above?

We can create a bubble chart, plotting the isoleucine content per serving against the content per 100 calories.

This will let us find foods that have the most isoleucine overall in a practical sense.

I created the chart below by doing this, click it to enlarge.

isoleucine bubble chart

The most efficient foods to get isoleucine from are the ones that have a good balance between the amount they have per serving and per 100 calories.

In other words, they should along a diagonal line from the origin to the top-right corner of the chart.

There aren’t too many in the case of isoleucine, but 2 stand out as being the best:

  • Swiss chard
  • Spinach

Realistically, you should eat as much of those as you can if you’re trying to get isoleucine without consuming too many calories or servings.

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.