Back in the '90s, whole eggs were a post-workout staple for bodybuilders. And while the old school bros were wrong about a lot of things, they were also right about many others. A new set of studies confirms how important yolks are for getting yoked (1,2).
Researchers took strength-trained young men and had them lift for 12 weeks. One group ate three whole eggs post-workout while the other group ate a protein-matched meal of about six egg whites. After 12 weeks, they measured muscle-regulating markers, strength, and body composition.
The findings? Many of the muscle-regulatory markers were statistically similar between groups, but these markers are extremely difficult to change especially in trained lifters in only 12 weeks.
If you take a closer look, which is what everybody should do when they hear about a new study, you'll see every marker favored the whole egg group, some by a decent effect size.
Fibroblast growth factor-2 was quite a bit higher. Follistatin was also higher. Myostatin, a muscle growth inhibitor, also dropped more in the whole-egg group, which is a good thing. The less myostatin you have, the more muscle growth potential there is.
Beyond the cellular level, there were even clearer trends that the whole-egg group gained more muscle. They had better leg extension strength, grip strength, anaerobic power, testosterone levels, and lower body fat.
All these benefits came from eating whole eggs.
The yolk is where lots of key muscle-building and health-enhancing nutrients are. The primary reason behind these anabolic effects? Dietary cholesterol. A whole egg has a high disproportionate amount of cholesterol relative to its caloric content.
Dietary cholesterol is also one of the most misunderstood substances. People mistake it for blood cholesterol, which has no correlation with the cholesterol you're consuming (3). Your body regulates blood cholesterol adequately based on dietary intake of the nutrient.
So the purpose of loading up on cholesterol is not trying to clog your blood. The mechanism is within the muscles cells.
As Dr. Andy Galpin, one of the authors of the study, puts it: "Lipid cholesterol is irrelevant here. You're playing a signaling game."
Dietary cholesterol along with other micronutrients like folate within egg yolks are signaling for muscle growth (4,5). More is generally better.
This means vegan diets will always be slightly inferior for hypertrophy compared to a diet allowing for animal products. While you can match for protein and amino acids with plant sources, only animal sources contain dietary cholesterol.
Of the animal sources at the grocery store, some seafood like shrimp and sardines have a decent amount of cholesterol, but still don't rival whole eggs. Eggs are also cheap and convenient.
I recommend women eat at least two and men four daily, but you can adjust based on preference and caloric needs. If you're extra adventurous, you can eat organ meat, which is even more nutrient-dense and full of cholesterol.
But ultimately, the main takeaway is this: Don't ditch the yolks and don't fear dietary cholesterol if you want to maximize your gains.
- Bagheri. "Comparison of Whole Egg v. Egg White Ingestion during 12 Weeks of Resistance Training on Skeletal Muscle Regulatory Markers in Resistance-Trained Men." The British Journal of Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Pubmed.
- PMC, Europe. Europe PMC, europepmc.org/article/med/33306586.
- M;, Lecerf. "Dietary Cholesterol: from Physiology to Cardiovascular Risk." The British Journal of Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Pubmed.
- Lee, Chang Woock, et al. "Dietary Cholesterol Affects Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis Following Acute Resistance Exercise." Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 1 Apr. 2011.
- SD. Anker, JE. Morley, et al. "Roles of Folate in Skeletal Muscle Cell Development and Functions." Archives of Pharmacal Research, Pharmaceutical Society of Korea, 1 Jan. 1970.