A Guide To Plant-Protein & Amino Acids

Protein intake is crucial for repairing the muscle tissue that is worked during training sessions. Working the muscles creates micro-tears in the muscle tissue that need to heal before muscles can continue to grow. Proteins are necessary for the latter, as they are essentially building blocks for body tissues.

By eating the right amount of protein, your muscles will be able to recover and improve. Consuming enough calories and protein daily is crucial for hypertrophy, the increase of strength and size of muscles. Simply put, recovery and repair help your body adapt to an exercise.

Protein, depending on the source, is made up from different amino acid profiles. Amino acids compose many of the body’s structures including nails, muscle, skin, and hair. 11 of the total 20 amino acids can be synthesized by the body and don’t have to be obtained from food. The other 9, however, need to be present in your diet. All of these amino acids play a different role inside the body and even though only 9 are essential, a complete diet that includes all the 20 amino acids can enhance both your workout performance and recovery. Amino acids are also required for the production and availability of hormones in the body, which facilitate a number of vital functions in the body.

All 20 amino acids can be obtained from plant-based ingredients. Every ingredient that can supply the body with protein has a different amino acid profile. The nine essential amino acids are leucine, lysine, tryptophan, isoleucine, histidine, valine, methionine, phenylalanine, and threonine.

Beans and legumes contain high levels of lysine but are lacking in methionine. Examples include kidney beans, peanuts, peas, black beans, lentils, and garbanzo beans. These sources can therefore be combined with grains such as rice that are high in methionine. Leafy greens like spinach, kale, broccoli, and romaine lettuce are high in leucine, valine, phenylalanine, and lysine.

A couple of exceptional plant foods are soy and quinoa. Both contain a great balance of amino acids. Soy even contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source. And unlike many internet articles claim, soy is a perfectly responsible ingredient on a plant-based diet (soy allergy excluded). Daily requirements for amino acids are not extremely strict, since it’s easy to get enough of every essential amino acid on a varied plant-based diet.

The following list is a breakdown of the nine essential amino acids, their functions, sources, and daily requirements:

Lysine

Function: tissue growth, carnitine production

Daily requirements: 2000 – 3500 mg

Sources: beans, hemp, legumes (chickpeas and lentils), almonds, watercress, parsley, chia seeds, avocados, cashews, and spirulina

Leucine (branched-chain amino acid or BCAA)

Functions: muscle growth and maintenance, blood sugar regulation

Daily requirements: 2000 – 3000 mg

Sources:  peas, avocados, raisins, seaweed, pumpkin, whole grain rice, watercress, sesame seeds, turnip greens, kidney beans, figs, dates, blueberries, soy, apples, sunflower seeds, olives, and bananas

Isoleucine

Functions: production of hemoglobin, energy production, muscle tissue repair

Daily requirements: 2000 – 3200 mg

Sources: brown rice, lentils, cabbage, rye, cashews, almonds, soy, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, oats, beans, chia seeds, spinach, hemp seeds, pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, blueberries, apples, quinoa, and kiwi fruit

Methionine

Functions: cartilage formation

Daily requirements: 1050 – 1500 mg

Sources: whole grain rice, seaweed, beans, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, Brazil nuts, hemp seeds, oats, wheat, figs, onions, cacao, legumes, and raisins

Phenylalanine (converted to tyrosine by the body)

Requirements: up to 8g (phenylalanine in supplement form should be avoided by pregnant women)

Daily requirements: hormone production precursor

Sources: quinoa, almonds, figs, leafy greens, spirulina, beans, rice, pumpkin, avocados, peanuts, most berries, raisins, and olives

Threonine

Functions: immunity, nervous system maintenance

Daily requirements: 1050-1500 mg

Sources: soybeans, sesame seeds, chia seeds, watercress, pumpkin, leafy greens, spirulina, hemp seeds, raisins, sunflower seeds, almonds, avocados, figs, quinoa, and wheat

Tryptophan

Functions: mood regulation, sleep cycle regulation, circulation support, enzyme production, metabolism, and central nervous system regulation

Daily requirements: 280 – 350 mg

Sources: leafy greens, mushrooms, beans, figs, winter squash, oats, hemp seeds, chia seeds, seaweed, beans, beets, parsley, asparagus, all lettuces, avocados, celery, carrots, chickpeas, peppers, lentils, onions, oranges, bananas, apples, spinach, soybeans, pumpkin, watercress, sweet potatoes, quinoa, and peas

Valine

Functions: growth and repair of muscles

Daily requirements: 1600-2800 mg

Sources: soy, peanuts, chia seeds, whole grains, beans, legumes, broccoli, sesame seeds, spinach, cranberries, oranges, hemp seeds, avocados, apples, figs, blueberries, apricots, and sprouted grains

Histidine

Functions: transportation of neurotransmitters

Daily requirements: 650 – 800 mg

Sources: wheat, beans, cantaloupe, hemp seeds, legumes, rice, rye, seaweed, chia seeds, potatoes, cauliflower, buckwheat, and corn

Plant-Protein Sources

Some great sources of plant-protein include tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils, and quinoa. The chart below shows some of the better plant-based (whole food) protein sources that are easy to store and their macronutrient breakdowns:

NAME SERVING PROTEIN FAT CARBS FIBER
Hemp seeds, raw 100 g 33.3 g 46.6 g 6.7 g 3.3 g
Pumpkin seeds, roasted 100 g 32.1 g 46.4 g 14.3 g 10.7 g
Peanuts, roasted 100 g 26.7 g 50 g 16.7 g 10 g
Peanuts, raw 100 g 26.7 g 50 g 26.7 g 10 g
Split peas, dry 100 g 25.5 g 1 g 60.8 g 25.5 g
Pumpkin seeds, raw 100 g 25 g 46.4 g 17.85 g 3.6 g
Cranberry beans, dry 100 g 25 g 1 g 60.7 g 25 g
Seitan 100 g 24.6 g 3.5 g 7 g 1.75 g
Green lentils, dry 100 g 24.4 g 0 g 60 g 15.55 g
Sunflower seeds, raw 100 g 23.3 g 50 g 20 g 10 g
Kidney beans, dry 100 g 22.9 g 0 g 58.3 g 22.9 g
Lima beans, dry 100 g 21.6 g 0 g 62.7 g 21.6 g
Chickpeas, dry 100 g 21 g 13.15 g 60.5 g 18.4 g
Navy beans, dry 100 g 20.8 g 1 g 58.3 g 14.6 g
Pinto beans, dry 100 g 20.8 g 1 g 58.3 g 14.6 g
Sunflower seeds, roasted 100 g 20 g 50 g 20 g 10 g
Pistachio nuts, raw 100 g 20 g 46.7 g 30 g 10 g
Pistachio nuts, roasted 100 g 20 g 46.7 g 26.7 g 10 g
Tempeh 100 g 19 g 5.35 g 11.9 g 8.3 g
Pine nuts, raw 100 g 15.4 g 65.4 g 11.5 g 3.8 g
Kamut 100 g 15 g 2.3 g 60.9 g 9.7 g
Oatmeal 100 g 14.3 g 7.1 g 67.85 g 10.7 g
Yellow corn sweet, dry 100 g 14.3 g 3.6 g 67.85 g 21.4 g
Quinoa, dry 100 g 13.3 g 5.1 g 60 g 6.7 g
Buckwheat groats, dry 100 g 13 g 2.2 g 69.6 g 2.2 g
Soybean sprouts 100 g 12.9 g 7 g 9.4 g 2.35 g
Teff 100 g 12.2 g 3.65 g 70.7 g 12.2 g
Millet, raw 100 g 10.9 g 3.6 g 72.7 g 9.1 g
Edamame, raw 100 g 10.7 g 4 g 13.3 g 6.7 g

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This information originates from a chapter found in “Plant-Based High-Protein Cookbook: Nutrition Guide With 90+ Delicious Recipes (Including 30-Day Meal Plan)“.

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