The Best Sources of Leucine for Vegans | Guide to Foods Rich in Leucine

Amino acids are considered essential for proper and healthy bodily functioning. In case of their absence, it will be impossible for our body to function as it is, resulting in severe health and growth problems. Although our body does produce some of them internally, there are certain essential amino acids that our body is unable to produce by itself. Leucine, one of the three important amino acids in BCAAs, is one of them.

Along with Valine and Isoleucine, Leucine is essential for building and repairing muscle cells. Therefore, let’s find out how it’s beneficial to vegans. 

Understanding Protein and Amino Acids

Well, protein is usually obtained in high amounts from animal products, and therefore, we often find ourselves asking this obvious question, “How can we source protein from plant-based diets for vegans?” To answer that, let me tell you that vegans can obtain their fair share of protein from a number of sources such as legumes, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, tofu, and many more. Protein-rich foods help the body to regenerate new cells and are essential for growth and development in children as well as adults. Protein also usually provides the body with high energy and plenty of other nutritional benefits as well. 

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins that help in the growth and development of the cells in bodies. Although each amino acid has its unique function, they all do share similar qualities and responsibilities. The number of amino acids consumed by vegans on a daily basis can be doubtable in regards to their plant-based diets, which are often considered insufficient. However, one can easily overcome the problem by simply researching about it and opting for food items that are rich in amino acids, such as soybeans, peanuts, kidney beans , lentils, etc. Additionally, you should also keep an eye on what you are consuming in the name of the food in a day to monitor your regular dose of amino acids intake.

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What are Essential and Non-essential Amino Acids?

Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids

Protein food is broken down into amino acids during the process of digestion as our body requires a large amount of amino acids to maintain excellent health and proper bodily functioning. Amino acids are categorized into two types- Essential and Non-essential amino acids. There are 20 amino acids used to break down proteins into our body, and among them, only 9 are considered as essential amino acids. Further, only three among these 9 are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

Essential amino acids are generally those that the body cannot produce by itself and has to be supplemented from outside. They are essential for a variety of important body functions and hence, cannot be neglected. The body produces Non-essential amino acids through the essential amino acids or in the general process of protein breakdown. Another type of amino acid, known as the Conditional amino acids, is usually needed in times of stress and illness.

Leucine – What is it, and Why is it Important?

Benefits of Leucine

Leucine is one of the three combined branched-chain essential amino acids, along with Valine and Isoleucine. Together they are referred to as BCAAs. BCAAs crucially participate in processes like the storing and transportation of nutrients, along with repairing injuries quickly. They are significantly different from the non-essential amino acids since liver enzymes cannot break them down during digestion. The BCAAs also help to reduce blood sugar levels and increase hormone production.

Therefore, Leucine individually can impact muscle growth, produce a catabolic effect to burn more fat and regulate sensitivity to insulin. Some studies also suggest that Leucine can help to promote lean muscle development and help in quicker muscle recovery after a rigid exercise routine. Hence, Leucine is very popular among fitness enthusiasts and athletes.

Thus, it is important to ensure your body doesn’t lack Leucine and make sure you obtain a good amount of it from either food or proper supplements.

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How Much Leucine Do You Need A Day?

To say the least, the minimum amount of Leucine that a person must consume in a day should be 42 mg per kg of body weight. It means, for a person of 170 lbs, 3.23 g (3232 mg) per day will be perfect. To be fair, it is not that difficult to achieve the goal, trust me. However, if someone’s into regular fitness regimes, bodybuilding, or an athlete, needless to say, the doses will be higher up the range. It is also considered a fitness favorite since Leucine visibly helps to prevent muscle loss.

Best Sources of Leucine for Vegans

Vegan Sources of Leucine

1. Vital Wheat Gluten

Vital wheat gluten tops the list because of its excellent source of Leucine amino acid. Although it is challenging to include wheat gluten in your diet specifically, you can easily give it a shot. Vital wheat gluten is usually used to make seitan.

2. Dried Seaweed

Dried Seaweed is rich in both Leucine and Valine. It is a perfect example of a good source of BCAAs amino acids. However, it is usually proved not too useful due to the fact that it is difficult for anybody to eat at least 100 grams of dried seaweed. Lessen the quantity, and it won’t be of any use anymore.

3. Vegan Protein Powder

Vegan protein powder is one of the best ways to supplement Leucine and is also readily available in the markets and online stores. The best protein powder contain hemp, which is a good source of Leucine and is easily digestible. It is usually advised to stay away from vegan protein powders that contain high sugar levels (or sugar at all).

4. Quinoa

Quinoa actually contains a lot of healthy nutrients that are highly beneficial for the body. It is a good source of iron, magnesium, Vitamin B, etc. Quinoa also happens to be an excellent source of amino acids and can be included in your daily diet to extract good Leucine form. 

5. Soybeans

Soybeans are another great source of lean vegan protein and Leucine. It is usually considered an excellent substitute for vegans and offers a number of health benefits. It is suggested that dry roasted beans tend to have higher protein value and lower sugar levels in them.

6. Oats

Oats are extremely popular as a staple all over the world. It can be enjoyed as it or with a cereal meal or in order special dishes. Often bodybuilders opt for oatmeals in their diets due to its numerous health benefits. It has a positive impact on blood sugar levels and releases energy at a gradual pace for the rest of the day; it is also a great source of Leucine.

7. BCAAs Supplements

Vegan BCAA supplements provide the essential Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine amino acids to the body. They come in both vegan and non-vegan options and can be of both good and bad quality, respectively. They help to optimize muscle growth, strength capacity, cardiovascular health, etc. BCAAs supplement also has a reputation as a bodybuilder supplement since they are consumed mainly by fitness enthusiasts to build big and bulky muscle mass.

Comparing the Top Vegan Leucine Rich Foods Per 100 Calories

FoodServingEnergy (kcal)Leucine (g) per servingLeucine (g) per 100 calories
Vital wheat gluten100 g3705.401.46
Oats1 cup6072.000.33
Soybeans1 cup2541.590.63
Lentils1 cup2301.300.56
Kidney beans1 cup2251.230.55
Peanuts0.5 cup4141.220.29
Pumpkin seeds1 cup2851.010.35
Lima beans1 cup2090.910.43
Spinach1 bunch780.760.97
Hemp seeds3 tbsp1660.650.39
Swiss chard10 leafs910.620.69
Corn1 ear1230.500.40
Quinoa1 cup2220.480.22
Peas1 cup1170.470.40

Verdict | Can Vegans Get Enough Leucine on a Plant-based Diet?

Leucine deficiencies can easily lead to poor muscle growth, uncontrolled blood sugar levels, mood changes, etc. Thus, to conclude, there are plenty of vegan options to prevent Leucine deficiency, provided you are careful about what you’re putting in your body.

Further Read: Vegan Lifestyle and Nutrient Deficiencies – Myth or Reality?

My life literally revolves around optimum health and sustainable living by being a devotional vegan. My mission is to create a community of like minded vegans to go forth in creating a better and brighter world for humans, animals and the planet. Just like Gandhi once said: “The greatness of a nation and it’s moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Gandhi

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