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Are Whole Eggs Steroid-Like?

Vince Gironda, the legendary old-school bodybuilder and curmudgeon, once said that eating three dozen viable chicken eggs a day is "as effective as anabolic steroids."

Frank Zane had faith in him. Bill Grant had faith in him. Arnold Schwarzenegger was among many who believed him. The rest of our forefathers' bodybuilders and weight lifters performed as well, but then came the great cholesterol scare.

When they had to pick between having large biceps and having a heart that operated better than the congealed pumps on their Coppertone bottles, they chose healthy hearts.

(It's not that they didn't want large biceps; they just took different nutritional/pharmaceutical routes to get there.)

Bodybuilders and the general population began to reduce their egg consumption, or at least their YOLK consumption, over time. In eateries across the country, pale, joyless egg-white omelets became typical morning food. Millions of rats channeled their inner Ratatouille to manufacture elegant custards and pound cakes in the sewers under restaurants, which ran yellow with abandoned yolks.

Then came scientific evidence that egg yolks weren't the devil's food, and that the risks of eating cholesterol weren't as clear-cut as previously believed. People, at least ordinary people, started eating whole eggs again — not three dozen a day, but regular amounts.

Despite this, many bodybuilders continued to vilify yolks for the fat they carried, rather than the cholesterol they contained. They were concerned that the high-calorie yolks might dilute the definition of their abs, regardless of the nutritional benefits of whole eggs.

Despite research showing that eating whole eggs improves mTOR and muscle protein synthesis compared to only eating egg whites, many of them continued with their pasty egg-white omelets to this day. If that wasn't enough to persuade them of their folly, perhaps the findings of a new study, which indicated that eating whole eggs raises testosterone levels and strength while decreasing body fat percentage, will.

What They Have Done

One of two groups of 30 resistance-trained adolescent males was randomly assigned.

Following training, one group consumed three whole eggs, whereas the other consumed six egg whites (to ensure both groups got the same amount of protein).

For 12 weeks, both groups conducted three weight-training sessions (undulating periodized).

They Discovered

In comparison to the egg-white group, the whole-egg group had the following advantages:

Body fat percentage is lower.

Increased lean body mass is a good thing.

Increased testosterone levels in the blood

Improved anaerobic capacity

Based on these and other similar studies, it appears that eating whole eggs – even a modest amount of them – has health benefits. However, it is unknown exactly what it is about them that makes them unique.

The increase in testosterone linked to the yolk could simply be the result of providing the body with more of the fatty acid arachidonic acid, which is important in the testes' manufacture of testosterone.

This could lead to lower body fat, higher muscular mass, and greater anaerobic power in the whole-egg eaters.

Increases in mTOR, which is arguably the most essential cell-signaling complex for muscle growth, may also play a role in the benefits. While this study didn't specifically look at mTOR, other research have discovered that something about egg yolks produces higher levels of mTOR, and that the higher the levels, the greater the protein synthesis.

I'm not sure why the egg yolk would cause an increase in mTOR, but there it is.

Beyond that, it's possible that whole eggs simply have more nutrition than egg whites, and that the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, phenols, lipids, and other elements found in whole eggs but not in egg whites all contribute to increased muscle protein synthesis.

What Should You Do With This Information?

Whole eggs clearly provide significant body composition benefits that far outweigh any worries about fat calories. That leaves just one question: how many can you consume without worrying about the cholesterol/saturated-fat boogie man?

Another study, this one a survey of the egg-eating habits of people in 50 nations, provides some guidance on the consequences of eating a lot of whole eggs, and it surprisingly finds a "neutral relation" between egg intake and health outcomes.

You might agree with them after considering the following factors:

Dietary cholesterol, in general, has a minor effect on total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, as is widely known (the bad cholesterol).

Eggs' phospholipids (a type of lipid found in cell membranes) enhance HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol), perhaps counteracting any detrimental effects eggs may have on LDL cholesterol.

The substitution of eggs (protein in general) for carbohydrate improves blood lipid profile, decreases blood pressure, and so lowers CVD risk.

Phospholipids generated from eggs contain both pro- and anti-inflammatory properties, which might differ from person to person (a reduction of inflammation in obese people and a modest increase of inflammation in slim people).

Lutein and zeaxanthin, two polyphenols with significant anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics, are abundant in egg yolks.

The Last Thought

So, how do we interpret Vince Gironda's statement? Will eating three dozen whole eggs a day provide "steroid-like" results?

When questioned about his remarks, Gironda stood firm. He truly believed that the results of eating a large number of eggs were comparable to those obtained from a Dianabol cycle.

Of course, one must keep in mind that Gironda's steroid cycles were far gentler, far gentler, than those used now, so perhaps the analogy isn't so absurd.

Personally, I'd be hesitant to eat that many whole eggs in a day, but it could just be the psychological aftereffect of years of warnings about the dangers of high cholesterol and saturated fats.