If you’re a vegetarian yourself, you’ve probably already been told at least once that you won’t be successful at sports, or that you won’t be able to put on any muscle mass. If you are a well-informed vegetarian and you did your homework, you probably already know that that is merely a myth. Still, it’s good to understand where such statements come from.
The Biological Value of food
The protein sources belonging to the diet of a vegetarian usually have a lower Biological Value (BV) than those in the diet of an omnivore.
The BV scale categorizes different foods according to how much of the protein is absorbed in the human body. The more amino acids are absorbed by the body for protein synthesis, the higher is the biological value of the food in question.
Human beings are unable to produce 9 out of the 20 amino acids that are required for a proper functioning of the organism. These nine are called “essential amino acids”, and must be obtained from nutrition.
This is basically the factor that determines a food’s BV. Foods that are rich in essential amino acids are attributed a higher BV value, as this means that the body will utilize the amino acids present in the protein source better.
Biological Value and Vegetarianism
As was already implied earlier, animal food sources have a higher BV compared to vegetable food sources. In order for a vegetarian to succeed at obtaining all essential amino acids from vegetable food sources, the followed diet will have to be very varied and balanced.
In that sense it can indeed be said that it is more difficult for a vegetarian than for an omnivore to gain muscle mass. There are definitely ways, however they require dedication, a diversified diet, a good supplementation strategy, and intensive training./
The following table indicates the Biological Value of various different food sources.