Few foods have endured such a tornado of criticism than eggs. For decades, nutrition researchers and the media have been scrambled over whether or not eggs are good for you or not. On one hand, eggs are high in cholesterol which has been linked to several diseases (strokes, for example). That said, in moderation, eggs also offer complete protein, vital micronutrients, and, to be frank, taste really good on toast.
Below, we’ll crack some of the most common health myths about eggs from the perspective of athletes so you can decide for yourself whether they belong on your shopping list.
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Egg Nutrition Facts
There’s more than one way to eat an egg. Below, you’ll find the nutrition breakdown for several variations of eggs, so you have an idea of their caloric, protein, fat, and cholesterol content. It’s important to know what’s in your eggs so you can determine if they have a place in your day-to-day diet — but that’s a decision for you and a nutritionist/dietitian to make.
The following nutrition facts are from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FoodData Central website and are a general guide. The specific eggs you buy may vary in protein, fat, cholesterol, and more depending on which type you buy and how you prepare them.
Portion size: Per one egg (50.3 grams). Source
Portion size: one egg (34 grams). Source
Portion size: one large egg (50 grams). Source
Portion size: 100 grams. Source (Note: the nutrition facts are reflective of a combination of several recipes)
Portion size: one large egg (46 grams). Source (Note: the nutrition facts are reflective of a combination of several recipes)
Eggs and Cholesterol: What You Should Know
First, let’s clear up the biggest egg myth: no, their cholesterol won’t give you a heart attack. That’s because while they’re quite high in cholesterol, there’s a very weak link between the type you eat and the type found in your blood, according to most researchers and nutritionists.
“Eggs aren’t going to kill you,” says Trevor Kashey, Ph.D., a nutrition scientist consultant. “Dietary cholesterol is not a major determinant of circulating cholesterol. Most of the cholesterol in circulation is made by the liver, not coming from the cholesterol in our food.”
So why do eggs sometimes still get a bad rap because of their cholesterol? To make a long story short, it has to do with outdated science and folks not understanding the difference between dietary cholesterol and natural cholesterol.
Let’s start with the second point — there’s the cholesterol you eat and cholesterol produced naturally by your liver to carry out the aforementioned bodily functions. Research has shown a weak connection between the two, meaning that unless you’re already at risk for heart disease, the amount of cholesterol you eat won’t have a major impact on your cardiovascular health. (2)(3)
But that wasn’t always understood. Many people, who lacked today’s technology to research such issues, were under the impression that eating dietary cholesterol was a death sentence — since having too much of it in our bloodstream can lead to blood clots that can cause heart attacks or strokes. That caused the American Heart Association to previously cap cholesterol intake to no more than 300 milligrams (mg) per day.
Eggs, of course, can have anywhere from 150-250mg of cholesterol per yolk, and that’s not even including the butter they might be fried in. People took the warnings seriously, and egg consumption dropped by 30 percent in the years after.
But scientists later found dietary cholesterol wasn’t the culprit of heart disease and there’s no longer a daily cap. That’s because we now know the real issue is saturated fats, which can cause cholesterol buildup and cause heart disease. (4) The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recommends capping saturated fat intake to a little less than 20 grams per day — each egg has about 1.6 grams of saturated fat.
So a three-egg omelet won’t kill you, so long as you’re watching your saturated fat intake during other meals. Here are some high-saturated fat foods you should limit, according to the American Heart Association.
- Fatty beef
- Poultry with skin
- Beef fat (tallow)
- Lard and cream
- Other dairy products made from whole or reduced-fat (two percent) milk.
Why Eggs Might Be Good for Athletes
Eggs contain plenty of nutrients necessary to everyday life and sustaining athletic activity. Eggs are high in vitamins B1, B2 (riboflavin), B6, and B12, contain a lot of choline, a “vitamin-like” essential nutrient that’s similar to B-vitamins and is sometimes used by athletes to delay fatigue in endurance sports. (It’s also been linked to lower incidences of certain mental illnesses.) (5)
“A lack of B-vitamins — and choline is sometimes thrown into this group as well — definitely does impair one’s ability to perform, but eating a surplus of them doesn’t necessarily give benefits beyond what is achieved with a decent diet all around,” says Kurtis Frank, the research director of the independent nutrition research organization Examine.com. “While eggs are a great source of these vitamins, choline is really the only one where one may go out of their way to paint eggs as the absolute best source of it.”
What people don’t often associate with eggs is the abundance of lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that are concentrated in the yolk. (6)
“The lutein and zeaxanthin content in the yolk is surprisingly high relative to other food products, and may be a reason to recommend eggs over other foods,” says Frank. “Though they aren’t necessarily athlete compounds, they’re strongly related to eye, skin, and general health.”
Again, any eating plan should be designed on an individual basis and what might be good for one person might not be suitable for another. That said, several studies have said whole eggs (not just the protein-filled whites) should be considered a “superfood” for athletes because of their high micronutrient profile. (7)(8)
What’s the Healthiest Way to Cook Eggs
Is there a “best” way to cook eggs? Surprisingly, the temperature at which eggs are prepared can have a pretty meaningful effect on their nutrition. Typically, you want to find a lower-temperature way of cooking the egg.
“Frying the egg is probably going to diminish the antioxidant value compared to something like steaming,” says Kashey. “The lower the temperature of the cooking method, the better, at least in terms of preserving antioxidant capacity. The antioxidant levels are cut in half or more when they’re boiled, fried, or microwaved, so if that’s a priority, I would opt for lower temperature cooking methods.”
Kashey jokingly suggested that a sous vide egg would probably have the highest antioxidant content before admitting that’s a pretty unrealistic idea. (Funnily enough, there are plenty of recipes out there for slow-cooked frittatas.) If you’re not so patient, steaming eggs or cooking them slowly should help preserve more benefits.
But don’t eat them raw. While some fitness folk insist the salmonella risk is overblown, more protein is absorbed when you cook it.
Steve Hanson from Project Swole added his take:
“One of the best attributes of eggs is that they are easy on the wallet; a very affordable source of important nutrients. These superfoods not only make you feel full longer, but they also pack a wallop of protein. Eggs are rich in amino acids, choline, and vitamin D, all essential to healthy muscle growth. Researchers say that eating eggs in the morning can reduce your daily cravings for fatty foods by up to 400 calories, making eggs useful for fat loss efforts too.
Yes, the yolk has cholesterol, but it also houses the majority of nutrients in the egg, so you definitely want to eat it. Let’s not forget that cholesterol is used by the body to produce testosterone and other hormones, which help in building muscle as well. Dollar-for-dollar, eggs are one of the most affordable, nutritionally sound, bioavailable, complete sources of protein on the planet.”
Lots of protein, a ton of micronutrients, great for athletes, and surprisingly low-calorie — six large eggs don’t even crack 500 calories — eggs can and should have a place in any athlete’s diet. That said, this doesn’t mean ordering a plate of greasy eggs with a side of hash browns, toast, and sausage will get you closer to your training and physique goals. It’s still up to you to manage your macronutrient and calorie intake, but eggs can (and probably should) have a place in your mea plan as long as you can make it work.
- Berg JM, Tymoczko JL, Stryer L. Biochemistry. 5th edition. New York: W H Freeman; 2002. Section 26.4, Important Derivatives of Cholesterol Include Bile Salts and Steroid Hormones. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22339/
- Kratz M. Dietary cholesterol, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2005;(170):195-213. doi: 10.1007/3-540-27661-0_6. PMID: 16596800.
- Soliman GA. Dietary Cholesterol and the Lack of Evidence in Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients. 2018;10(6):780. Published 2018 Jun 16. doi:10.3390/nu10060780
- Nettleton JA, Brouwer IA, Geleijnse JM, Hornstra G. Saturated Fat Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Ischemic Stroke: A Science Update. Ann Nutr Metab. 2017;70(1):26-33. doi:10.1159/000455681
- Réhault-Godbert S, Guyot N, Nys Y. The Golden Egg: Nutritional Value, Bioactivities, and Emerging Benefits for Human Health. Nutrients. 2019;11(3):684. Published 2019 Mar 22. doi:10.3390/nu11030684
- Goodrow EF, Wilson TA, Houde SC, Vishwanathan R, Scollin PA, Handelman G, Nicolosi RJ. Consumption of one egg per day increases serum lutein and zeaxanthin concentrations in older adults without altering serum lipid and lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations. J Nutr. 2006 Oct;136(10):2519-24. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.10.2519. PMID: 16988120.
- López Sobaler AM, Aparicio Vizuete A, Ortega RM. Papel del huevo en la dieta de deportistas y personas físicamente activas [Role of the egg in the diet of athletes and physically active people]. Nutr Hosp. 2017 Oct 15;34(Suppl 4):31-35. Spanish. doi: 10.20960/nh.1568. PMID: 29156929.
- Riechman, Steven & Lee, T & Chen, Vincent & Lee, Chang Woock & Bui, S. (2015). Whole egg as an athlete’s training and performance superfood. 10.3920/978-90-8686-804-9.
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