The Incredible Egg

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How many of you make yourself some form of an egg dish first thing in the morning? I know I do, I will usually scramble 4-6 eggs to go along with my breakfast and can’t imagine not having them. Well today’s article is brought to you by our newest guest writer, Greg Nuckols. Greg is a record setting powerlifter from North Carolina and a great writer.

Back to the topic at hand, Greg’s first addition to The Strength Agenda talks about the egg and all it’s benefits. Read up on why making eggs a staple in your diet can not only benefit your healthy but can also benefit your training.

Eggs are, without a doubt, one of the most useful and underappreciated weapons in a lifter’s dietary arsenal.  For starters, though, I want to make it clear that this is an article about the effects eggs can have on training, not health and disease.  Don’t construe anything I’m saying as medical advice.  Now that we have that out of the way…

The 3 Cs – Carnitine, Choline, and Cholesterol

L-Carnitine is an oft-misunderstood molecule.  It was originally put in a bunch of fat loss supplements because it aids in the transport of long chain fatty acids into the mitochondria.  However, it was found to not work particularly well for that purpose, so many people gave up on it.

However, it has several other effects that are worth keeping in mind:

1.  Decreased muscle damage:  L-carnitine supplementation has been shown to decrease muscle damage, as assessed both via biomarkers (such as creatine kinase), and subjective reports of decreased muscle soreness.

2.  Improved blood glucose metabolism:  L-carnitine aids in essentially every facet of glucose metabolism.  It improves glucose uptake into the tissues, improves insulin sensitivity, and decreases blood glucose levels.

3.  Increased androgen receptor density:  Testosterone helps build muscle, but to do so it has to bind to a receptor in the cell before it can have an effect.  WJ Kraemer conducted another study which showed that L-carnitine supplementation increased androgen receptor density in muscles.  The increase observed was notable:  approximately 15%.  More receptors for androgens to bind to should mean you’re more sensitive to the effects of the testosterone in your system.

4.  Decreased fat gain from overfeeding:  Although the original marketing of L-carnitine as a fat burner may be off base, it DOES appear to decrease fat gain that results from overfeeding.  Especially for people trying to move up a weight class without getting sloppy, or people who sometimes err on the side of excess when eating to recover, this is a definite benefit.

So, eggs are chock full of L-Carntine, right?

Well, not exactly.  In fact, eggs hardly have any.  So why am I wasting your time talking about L-carnitine in an article about eggs?

Because eggs have plenty of choline, which improves L-carnitine retention in your body.

Unless you want to take a choline supplement (which anecdotal evidence suggests will make you smell like raw fish), or unless you enjoy drinking lecithin syrup, eating several pounds of broccoli a day, or consuming multiple pounds of chicken breast, eggs are your best bet for getting dietary choline.  And, even if you aren’t interested in consuming the high amounts necessary to serve as an ergogenic aid, keep in mind that only about 10% of people consume an adequate amount of choline in their current diet, according to the NHANES study.

Cholesterol:  potentially a potent anabolic

In a study that doesn’t get nearly the press it deserves, cholesterol intake was shown to substantially enhance the effects of weight training:

In a nutshell, the researchers recruited people aged 60-69, trained them for 12 weeks, and then examined changes in lean mass based on cholesterol consumption and blood cholesterol levels.  What they found was that the more cholesterol the subjects consumed, the more muscle their gained.  Additionally, the higher blood cholesterol levels they had, the more muscle they gained.  The people consuming the least cholesterol gained no muscle at all, and the people consuming the most (7.2-10.2 mg of cholesterol per kg of body mass) gained about 5 pounds of muscle on average over 12 weeks!  Five pounds of muscle in 12 weeks is good for a teenager, but it’s amazing for a senior citizen!  Additionally, the hypertrophy gains in this study were shown to be associated with cholesterol consumption, but NOT differences in protein or total caloric intake.

So, how might cholesterol aid in hypertrophy?  To quote the authors:

“Cholesterol is an essential component of biological membranes. It increases membrane viscosity, which increase the exposure of membrane proteins to extracellular fluids.  Cholesterol is also essential to the formation of lipid rafts, which function as platforms for the assembly of components of signaling pathways through protein sorting and construction of signaling complexes…These signaling pathways have been identified as contributors to skeletal muscle adaptation to exercise training.  Thus, one possible explanation for greater skeletal muscle hypertrophy in persons with higher dietary and serum cholesterol is improved cellular signaling as a result of greater membrane cholesterol and signaling assembly through lipid rafts.”

“The direct association between dietary cholesterol and changes in strength further supports the potential anabolic role of cholesterol. Moreover, the significant indirect association of HDL cholesterol with absolute strength both before and after training highlights the potential role of subfractions in the physiology of this response. Whereas the LDL subfraction delivers cholesterol to tissues and is strongly associated with muscle gain, the HDL subfraction delivers cholesterol away from tissues to be metabolized. Previous studies on cholesterol and muscle characteristics are quite limited; however, Kohl and colleagues reported a strong inverse association, consistent with our findings, between HDL and 1 RM strength for chest and leg press (same as in the present report) in 5460 men.”

In short, dietary cholesterol helps muscle cells better receive signals in response to training stimuli, and LDL is necessary for delivering that cholesterol to the muscle.  I don’t think I have to tell you this, but egg yolks are full of cholesterol.  Obviously I’d like to see this study repeated on young, weight training people, but unfortunately in the scientific literature, you can’t always get what you want.

However, the same authors followed up with another study, this time using 50-59 year olds and controlling the dietary variables more tightly and altering cholesterol consumption by feeding participants with whole eggs or egg whites.  The results were similar.  Although huge hypertrophy benefits weren’t observed this time, the group consuming the most cholesterol via egg yolks gained the most strength (as assessed by the chest press and the leg press –  a 52±8% increase in the highest cholesterol group vs. only a 21±8% increase in the lowest cholesterol group) over the 12 week study.

So, the question becomes: how many eggs should you eat per day?  To get the amount of choline researchers used to significantly increase L-carnitine retention, you’d need to eat about 18 per day (although I’m sure the benefits would accrue gradually. It wouldn’t be a matter of having to consume THAT much or seeing no benefit).  To hit the top bracket of cholesterol consumption in the hypertrophy and strength studies, you’d need between 3-5 eggs per day if you’re 150 pounds, and between 4-8 eggs per day if you’re 250 pounds.

If science isn’t enough, let me throw an anecdote at you:  Vasiliy Alexeev – Olympic champion weightlifter and owner of a 500 pound clean and press (not jerk, press.) is reported to have started every day with a 36 egg omelet.  I personally eat about 6 eggs per day and I’m roughly 1/6 as strong as the old Soviet giant.

The takeaway:  eat some eggs.  Strictly for performance, muscle gain, and body composition, this seems to be an instance where more is better.

If you have an interest for well researched strength articles check out Greg’s blog here. We are very picky about who we select for guest posts and Greg fits what we are looking for in our guest writers. Stay tuned for more excellent articles from Greg in the future.

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