Arginine is an indispensable amino acid for humans. It is called non-essential or semi-essential, because humans, except infants, can synthesize it from the amino acids aspartate and citrulline. Healthy adults are able to meet their physiological needs for arginine with the amount of arginine produced in the body, as long as their diet has sufficient protein content.

However, endogenous arginine is not sufficient to meet physiological needs in humans with certain conditions such as severe burns, sepsis and HIV/AIDS or in adults growing fast and in high performance sports.

Adults consuming the recommended daily 0.8 g of protein/kg body weight consume 0.25mmol of arginine per kg of body weight. On average, Western diet provides 3 – 6 grams of arginine per day.

Research suggests that high arginine intake benefits adults wanting to improve physical performance. Arginine improves exercise capacity due to increased synthesis of nitric oxide, growth hormone and protein, which in turn improve muscle protein synthesis. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels and thus, increases blood flow in the body.

Arginine supplement intake is a common practice in the Western world. According to a review of several studies on the toxicity effect of varying arginine dosages, 20 grams per day of arginine supplement intake is considered to be safe (Observed Safe Level) to adults.

Arginine is naturally found in a variety of common foods. The 5 tables below show the content of arginine in a variety of food categories.

Table 1: Top 20 food items highest in arginine content.

Food itemsArginine content (g/100 g edible portion)
Seeds, sesame flour, low-fat 7.44
Seeds, cottonseed flour, low fat (glandless) 6.73
Soy protein isolate, potassium type 6.67
Soy protein isolate, potassium type, crude protein basis 6.67
Soy protein isolate 6.67
Seeds, cottonseed meal, partially defatted (glandless) 6.63
Gelatins, dry powder, unsweetened 6.62
Peanut flour, defatted 6.24
Seeds, sesame flour, partially defatted 5.98
Seeds, cottonseed flour, partially defatted (glandless) 5.53
Seeds, pumpkin and squash seed kernels, roasted, without salt 5.42
Seeds, pumpkin and squash seed kernels, roasted, with salt added 5.42
Seeds, sunflower seed flour, partially defatted 5.07
Mollusks, whelk, unspecified, cooked, moist heat 4.94
Seeds, watermelon seed kernels, dried 4.90
Nuts, butternuts, dried/td> 4.86
Snacks, pork skins, plain 4.84
Egg, white, dried, powder, glucose reduced 4.81