Legendary old-school bodybuilder/curmudgeon Vince Gironda once said that eating three-dozen fertile chicken eggs a day is “as effective as anabolic steroids.”
Frank Zane believed him. Bill Grant believed him. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger believed him. So did the rest of our ancestral bodybuilders and weight lifters, but then came the great cholesterol scare.
Forced to choose between the hope of big biceps and a heart that worked better than the congealed pumps on their bottles of Coppertone, they opted for healthy hearts.
(Well, not that they chose to forgo the hope of big biceps; they just found alternate nutritional/pharmaceutical paths to get there.)
Bodybuilders and the general public alike began to gradually limit their egg intake, or at least their YOLK intake. Pale, joyless egg-white omelets became standard breakfast fare in restaurants across the country. The sewers underneath restaurants ran yellow with discarded yolks, and millions of rats channeled their inner Ratatouille to make delicate custards and pound cakes.
Then came scientific news that egg yolks weren’t the food of the devil, that the dangers of dietary cholesterol weren’t as clear-cut as we’d once thought. People, at least regular people, began eating whole eggs again – maybe not three dozen a day, but you know, normal amounts.
Even so, a lot of bodybuilders continued to demonize yolks – not for their cholesterol but for the fat they contained. Never mind the nutritive attributes of whole eggs; they feared the high-calorie yolks might blur the definition of their abs.
So a lot of them stuck with their pasty egg-white omelets to this day, despite research indicating that eating whole eggs increases mTOR and muscle protein synthesis over just eating egg whites. But if that wasn’t enough to convince them of their folly, maybe the results of a new study will; one that found that whole egg consumption increases testosterone levels and strength while reducing body fat percentage.
What They Did
- 30 resistance-trained young males were randomly assigned to one of two groups.
- One group ingested 3 whole eggs right after training, and the other ingested 6 egg whites right after training (to ensure both groups got the same amount of protein).
- Both groups did three weight-training sessions (undulating periodized) a week for 12 weeks.
What They Found
The whole-egg group experienced the following benefits over the egg-white group:
- Reduced body fat percentage
- Increased lean body mass
- Increased serum testosterone
- Increased anaerobic power
Based on this study and other similar ones, it seems that there’s something special about eating whole eggs – even a relatively small amount of them. What it is that’s special about them isn’t known for sure, though.
The yolk-related rise in testosterone might simply result from supplying the body with additional amounts of the fatty acid arachidonic acid, which plays a big role in the production of testosterone by the testes.
That in itself might lead to reduced body fat, increased muscle mass, and additional anaerobic power seen in the whole-egg eaters.
The benefits might also have to do with egg-yolk related increases in mTOR, which is probably the most important cell-signaling complex for muscle growth. While this particular study didn’t focus on mTOR, other egg studies have found that there’s something about yolks that causes higher levels mTOR, and the higher the levels, the greater the synthesis of protein.
Why the egg yolk itself would lead to a rise in mTOR, I’m not exactly sure, but there it is.
Beyond that, it might well be that whole eggs just contain more nutrition than egg whites and that the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, phenols, fats, etc., in whole eggs that are lacking in egg whites all contribute to additional muscle protein synthesis.
What to Do With This Info
Clearly, whole eggs have positive body comp attributes that far outweigh any concerns about calories from fat. That just leaves the question, how many can you safely eat without having to worry about the cholesterol/saturated-fat boogie man?
Another study, this one a survey of the egg-eating habits of residents of 50 countries, gives us some guidelines about the impact of eating lots of whole eggs and, surprisingly, it points to what they described as a “neutral association between egg intake and health outcomes.”
After you weigh the following factors, you might agree with them:
- It’s well known that dietary cholesterol in general, has a relatively small impact on total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol).
- The phospholipids (class of lipids that make up cell membranes) in eggs raise HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol), which may offset any negative repercussions of eggs on LDL cholesterol.
- The substitution of carbohydrate with eggs (protein in general) improves the blood fat profile, lowers blood pressure, and consequently lowers CVD risk.
- Egg-derived phospholipids have both pro- and anti-inflammatory effects, which may vary by individual (a reduction of inflammation in obese people and a modest increase of inflammation in slim people).
- Egg yolks contain large amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, two polyphenols with high anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory properties.
So, based on this info, at least, it appears that eating lots of whole eggs is indeed safe. Of course, we need to define “lots.” While the 50-country analysis included people who ate up to a dozen eggs several times a week, no study I’m aware of ever addressed the health repercussions of eating up to three-dozen whole eggs a day.
The Final Question
So, what are we to make of Vince Gironda’s statement? Will eating 3-dozen whole eggs a day give you “steroid-like” results?
When pressed on his statement, Gironda didn’t back down. He really believed that the effects of eating a whole lot of eggs were similar to what you could get from a cycle of the steroid Dianabol.
Of course, one has to remember that the steroid cycles of Gironda’s day were a lot tamer, a lot saner, than those routinely practiced today, so maybe the comparison isn’t all that crazy.
Personally, I’d feel kind of apprehensive about eating that many whole eggs a day, but it might just be the psychological residue of years and years of warnings about the effects of excess cholesterol and saturated fats.
- Bagheri, Reza, et al. “Whole Egg Vs. Egg White Ingestion During 12 Weeks of Resistance Training in Trained Young Males,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Dec. 9, 2020.
- Vliet, Stephan Van, “Consumption of whole eggs promotes greater stimulation of postexercise muscle protein synthesis than consumption of isonitrogenous amounts of egg whites in young men.” Am J Clin Nutr, October 4th, 2017.
- Scavo, L. et al. “Insulin-like growth factor I activity is stored in the yolk of the avian egg,” Biochem Biophys, 1989, Aug 15;162(3):1167-73.
- Dehghan, Mahshid, et al. “Association of egg intake with blood lipids, cardiovascular disease, and mortality in 177,000 people in 50 countries,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 21 January 2020.