Vegan Wonder

Unleash Your Muscle Potential: Vegan Sources of BCAAs for Optimal Growth

If you’re a plant-powered athlete or just someone who eats a vegan diet and wants to build muscle, you might be wondering, “What are the best sources of BCAAs on a vegan diet?” Well, you’re in luck because we’ve got the answers you’re looking for.

The Importance of BCAAs for Muscle Growth

BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids) are essential amino acids that can’t be produced by the body, so they must be obtained through food. BCAAs include the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine, in particular, is the most important amino acid when it comes to muscle protein synthesis and muscle recovery.

“BCAAs are the most abundant amino acids in your muscles, and they play a key role in muscle protein synthesis and muscle recovery,” says Jaclyn Drummer, MS, RD, CSSD, a sports dietitian and founder of Jaclyn Drummer Nutrition based in St. Louis, Missouri.

Animal products like meat, milk, and eggs are often higher in BCAAs than plant foods, but there are still plenty of plant-based foods that contain high amounts of BCAAs. Let’s take a look at some of the top vegan sources of BCAAs.

Top Vegan Sources of BCAAs

While many plant-based foods contain BCAAs, the following foods are particularly high in BCAAs and can help support muscle growth in a vegan diet.

  1. Soy protein: “Soy protein is one of the most complete sources of plant-based protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids, including a good amount of BCAAs,” says Drummer. Soy foods like tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy milk are all good options. Drummer recommends drinking soy milk plain or unsweetened to get the most out of the BCAA content. She says that adding sweeteners or flavors can decrease the amount of BCAAs you get.
  2. Pea protein: Pea protein is another plant-based protein that is high in BCAAs. “Pea protein is also easily digestible and absorbable, making it a good option for muscle recovery,” says Drummer. You can find pea protein powder at most health food stores and online. Drummer recommends looking for a pea protein powder that is unflavored or naturally flavored to get the most BCAAs out of it.
  3. Hemp protein: Hemp protein is another plant-based protein that is high in BCAAs. Bonus: It’s also high in fiber and contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Drummer says that hemp protein is also easy to digest and absorb.
  4. Quinoa: Quinoa is often called a superfood, and it’s high in BCAAs, too. “Quinoa is a complete protein and contains all nine essential amino acids, including BCAAs,” says Drummer. She recommends using quinoa in savory dishes and adding it to salads, bowls, and veggie burgers to help build muscle.

All of these plant-based foods are high in BCAAs and can help support muscle growth in a vegan diet, but Drummer says that it’s best to get your BCAAs from whole foods like the ones listed above instead of relying on supplements. “You can’t go wrong with eating whole foods,” she says.

That being said, there are some situations where a BCAA supplement might be helpful, such as if you’re doing intense workouts or if you’re recovering from an injury. In those cases, Drummer says that a vegan BCAA supplement made from whole foods can be beneficial. She recommends looking for a supplement that is certified by a third-party testing organization like NSF International to ensure purity and quality.

Optimizing BCAA Intake for Muscle Growth

If you want to make sure you’re getting enough BCAAs to support muscle growth, Drummer recommends the following:

  • Aim for at least 25 grams of BCAAs per day.
  • Eat a variety of plant-based protein sources throughout the day to get all of the essential amino acids your body needs.

Drummer says that you don’t necessarily need to eat or drink all of your BCAAs at once, but rather spread them out throughout the day. She also recommends eating some plant-based protein before and after workouts to help with muscle recovery.

Recipes and Meal Ideas Featuring Vegan BCAAs

Here are some recipes and meal ideas that can help you get more plant-based BCAAs into your diet:

  • Make a smoothie using unsweetened soy milk, frozen fruits, and a scoop of pea protein powder.
  • Top a vegan protein bowl with cooked quinoa, sliced avocado, black beans, and hemp seeds.
  • Make a savory bowl with cooked quinoa, chickpeas, spinach, sliced cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and pumpkin seeds.
  • Add tofu or tempeh to a stir-fry made with bell peppers, onions, carrots, and snap peas.

Enjoy your muscle-building journey, and remember that it’s not just about what you eat, but also about finding joy in the process.

Now that you know how to get enough BCAAs to support muscle growth on a vegan diet, you can feel confident in your ability to fuel your body and build muscle with plant-based foods.