The Top 30 Vegan Food Sources of Isoleucine

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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.

FoodServingEnergy (kcal)Isoleucine (g)
Oats1 cup6071.083
Soybeans1 cup2540.977
Sunflower seeds0.5 cup4090.797
Lentils1 cup2300.772
Lima beans1 cup2090.745
Buckwheat groats1 cup5670.723
Swiss chard10 leafs910.706
Navy beans1 cup2550.704
Adzuki beans1 cup2940.69
Kidney beans1 cup2250.678
Black beans1 cup2270.673
Peanuts0.5 cup4140.662
Chickpeas1 cup2690.623
Pumpkin seeds1 cup2850.612
Mung bean1 cup2120.6
Pistachio nuts0.5 cup3440.564
Sesame seeds0.5 cup4130.549
Fava bean1 cup1870.52
Cashew0.5 cup3930.501
Spinach1 bunch780.5
Almonds1/2 cup3130.406
Hemp seeds3 tbsp1660.386
Hazelnut0.5 cup4240.368
Pine nuts0.5 cup4540.366
Walnut0.5 cup3830.366
Rye grain1 cup5710.352
Brazil nut0.5 cup4380.344
Quinoa1 cup2220.29
Peas1 cup1170.283
Cowpeas1 cup1600.281
Eggplant1 eggplant1370.247

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.

FoodServingEnergy (kcal)
Isoleucine (g) per 100 calories
Seaweed (dried)1 tbsp201.13
Swiss chard10 leafs910.78
Watercress10 sprigs30.77
Bok choy1 cup90.67
Spinach1 bunch780.64
Water spinach1 cup110.53
Kale2 cup150.49
Rapini5 stalks210.47
Bamboo shoot1 shoot170.43
Soybeans1 cup2540.38
Asparagus4 spears130.38
Lima beans1 cup2090.36
Lentils1 cup2300.34
Kidney beans1 cup2250.30
Black beans1 cup2270.30
Lettuce (red leaf)0.5 head200.30
Mung bean1 cup2120.28
Cauliflower1 cup270.28
Brussels sprouts1 cup560.28
Fava bean1 cup1870.28
Navy beans1 cup2550.28
Squash1 large520.26
Zucchini1 large550.26
Peas1 cup1170.24
Turnip greens1 cup180.24
Adzuki beans1 cup2940.23
Hemp seeds3 tbsp1660.23
Broccoli1 cup310.23
Chickpeas1 cup2690.23
Pumpkin seeds1 cup2850.21

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.

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