Arginine is a semi-essential amino acid. It is involved in the production of nitric oxide (NO), which acts as a messenger that relaxes and widens blood vessels. This improves blood circulation, including the transport of oxygen and nutrients to various organs and tissues.
In its bioactive form, arginine helps in the urea cycle, converting ammonia (a byproduct of protein metabolism) into less harmful compounds and eliminating them from the body. This protects the body from the harmful effects of ammonia.
Another important role of arginine is its involvement in regulating and activating the immune system. The amino acid is involved in the production and function of certain immune cells such as lymphocytes and macrophages.
Arginine can be synthesized by the human body itself from glutamine, glutamate, and proline (source). However, it is still important to have a diet rich in arginine-rich foods, as indicated in the table above.
Difference between L-arginine and arginine?
L-arginine and arginine refer to the same amino acid. The designation for the bioactive form of arginine is L-arginine, which is used in proteins and metabolic processes in the body. The letter L represents the configuration of the molecule, specifically left-handed (short: L). There is also a mirror-image form called D-arginine, but it does not play an active role.
Arginine and muscle building
Due to its ability to increase NO production in the body, arginine promotes blood flow to the muscles. This leads to improved nutrient, hormone, and oxygen supply to the muscles, supporting their recovery and growth. Better blood circulation can also enhance the removal of metabolic waste products from the muscles.
In addition, L-arginine can stimulate the release of growth hormones like HGH and IGF. Growth hormones are crucial for growth, cell repair, and tissue regeneration. When taken before training, it can enhance endurance and muscle building.
A varied and balanced vegan diet usually provides enough arginine, as long as it includes a variety of protein-rich plant-based foods.
The arginine requirement depends heavily on individual circumstances and health condition. Certain groups may have a potentially higher need for arginine:
- Intense physical activities and regular training increase the arginine requirement in athletes, as the amino acid is necessary for muscle blood flow and oxygen supply.
- Wound healing disorders, vascular diseases, high blood pressure, sexual dysfunction, and certain immune system disorders can also increase the requirement. Affected individuals should look for arginine-rich foods.
- Although the body is capable of synthesizing arginine itself, certain genetic disorders or diseases can impair the ability for endogenous arginine production. Additional intake of arginine through diet or dietary supplements is advisable.
Plant-based foods offer numerous options to supply the body with arginine. The following list reveals arginine-rich foods based on food groups:
- Legumes such as chickpeas, peanuts, kidney beans, green peas, red lentils, white beans, lima beans, soybeans, and chickpeas are excellent plant-based sources of arginine. In addition to arginine, they contain other valuable nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, iron, and plant-based protein. Soy products like tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy milk, soy yogurt, soy flour, soy protein isolate, and soy meat substitutes are also very good sources of arginine. You can find more examples of arginine-rich legumes in the table.
- Nuts and seeds are also among the arginine-rich foods. According to the table, almonds, walnuts, cashews, pine nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds are excellent vegan sources of arginine. Additionally, they provide healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. You can access the arginine table with nuts and seeds here.
- Many types of grains and pseudocereals are also rich in arginine. Examples include oats, quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, brown rice, spelt, and whole wheat. These foods are also high in fiber (⇒ high-fiber foods) and energy-rich carbohydrates (⇒ carbohydrate-rich foods). You can find the arginine table for grain products here.
- Vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale, Swiss chard, parsley root, beets, asparagus, Romanesco broccoli, onions, garlic, and zucchini have low levels of arginine according to the table, but they are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. You can find the arginine vegetable table on this page.
- In general, fruits are not particularly rich in arginine. Avocados, watermelons, persimmons, pomegranates, bananas, oranges, kiwis, blueberries, and figs contain some amount of arginine. Use this table if you are interested in arginine levels in fruits.
- Seaweeds and sea vegetables are an excellent source of various nutrients, including arginine. Nori, wakame, dulse, spirulina, chlorella, kombu, hijiki, and arame are examples of arginine-rich seaweeds and sea vegetables. They are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids (⇒ omega-3 foods).
- Mushrooms can also be a source of arginine and can be integrated into a vegan diet. Examples of arginine-rich mushrooms include shiitake, champignon, chanterelle, maitake, portobello, oyster mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, and oyster mushrooms. Mushrooms are also a good source of fiber, vitamin D, and minerals such as potassium and selenium.
Competition between Arginine and Lysine
Arginine and lysine compete for absorption in the body. Excessive arginine intake relative to lysine can reduce the availability of lysine. Lysine is an essential amino acid that can sometimes be scarce in a vegan diet. Therefore, also make use of our table of lysine-rich foods to ensure sufficient amounts of both amino acids.
You can incorporate arginine-rich foods into your diet in various ways. The following list reveals how:
- Quinoa salad with arugula and avocado
- Lentil soup with spinach
- Beetroot hummus
- Quinoa burger
- Tofu scrambled eggs
- Veggie stir-fry with cashews
- Chickpea curry
- Green leafy salad with edamame
- Whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce and smoked tofu
- Avocado toast with chickpeas
- Veggie quinoa skillet
- Chia pudding with berries
- Broccoli avocado salad
- Spinach chickpea salad
- Zucchini noodles with pesto
- Vegan protein pancakes with berries
- Mushroom risotto with cashews
- Kale smoothie with banana and almond milk