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What Stimulates Muscle Growth More…Whole Eggs or Egg Whites?
You are woken up by an early text message from your friend.
They say “Remember we had that discussion about egg nutrition? I told you whole eggs are better than egg whites.”
With one eye open, you message back and say, “What the heck are you talking about?”
Your friend tells you to check Instagram and Facebook.
You scroll down your phone, your feeds are flooded with headlines from the New York Times saying, “Whole Eggs are Better for you Than Egg Whites.”
While scratching your head you are thinking “WTF?”
I just stocked up on a months’worth of liquid egg white cartons.
You begin reading the article frantically while biting your nails.
The writer completely takes the conclusions out of context to freak you out even more.
After that, you storm into the kitchen and throw all your egg white cartons away and start buying whole eggs in bulk.
You see where we are going with this?
This happens every day with false article headlines, misleading interpretations of the scientific data, and then coaches, clients, and uneducated consumers fret and go off and do extreme things.
This new study HERE is a perfect example of this (1).
Throughout the rest of this article we will break down this new article about egg nutrition and its claim on whole eggs are better than egg whites for muscle growth.
Don’t throw your egg white cartons away just yet 😉
Egg Nutrition Study and What in the World is “Muscle Protein Synthesis?”
Let’s break down some key points here in the egg nutrition study we are going to be discussing.
- 10 subjects (healthy young males)
- The study claims it was resistance-trained subjects, but we never really know how experienced these subjects are with weight lifting
- They took all subjects through a decent resistance training program and immediately after gave them 18g of protein via whole eggs or 18g of protein via egg whites
- The results showed that whole eggs stimulated muscle protein synthesis (MPS) acutely over liquid egg whites
Now, you’re probably like what in the world is muscle protein synthesis and what does it matter to me?
The best analogy we can give you is from Professor Stuart Phillips from McMaster University (2):
“Imagine your muscle as a brick wall, when new bricks get delivered these are the amino acids from proteins, on one end of the wall there’s a process to put bricks in which is muscle protein accretion and on the other end of the wall you take bricks out which is muscle protein breakdown. Protein synthesis is the bricks end of the wall and bricks out of the wall is protein breakdown and the net difference between the two are net muscle protein balance and this would be the rate at which your making things and subtracting at which the rate your breaking them down, if that’s in a positive direction the wall gets bigger (i.e., muscle growth) or if it’s in the negative direction your muscle shrinks. Protein ingestion and resistance training is a potent stimulus to make the brick wall bigger and stronger (i.e., stimulate the protein synthetic process).”
We know that’s a lot to take in but trust us when we say that analogy compared to the way textbooks break it down is a lot more digestible.
Now, let’s look at some of the egg nutrition study limitations:
- Only 10 subjects and all males, it would be interesting to see a larger sampling size and with women as well
- The study claims it was resistance-trained subjects, but we never really know how experienced these subjects are with weightlifting, so it’s great to see this study replicated in true resistance trained subjects
- This study investigated whole eggs vs egg whites in isolation. Very few if any people we know just eat in this fashion
- This study looked at acute MPS (meal by meal). The effects of MPS for muscle growth need to be considered over time and long-term (days, weeks, months) and that includes consumption of other foods throughout the day (3)
The total protein consumption in both conditions was only 18 grams, prior research shows you may need at least 20g of a high-quality protein to sufficiently maximize protein synthesis after resistance training (4) or even up 30-40g to stimulate MPS (5).
So, it’s not clear how results would change with more usual consumption (i.e. double that amount) or if MPS was looked at over a longer term.
Remember we said not to throw out your egg white cartons just yet?
The reason being this is an interesting study that suggests other nutrients besides protein may enhance anabolism.
That said, it’s important to point out that ultimately the effects of MPS for muscle growth need to be considered over time (days, weeks, months) and that includes consumption of other foods throughout the day (carbohydrates and fats).
Instead of worrying about egg nutrition, specifically whole vs egg whites as a protein source for muscle growth, consider the hierarchy of importance for daily dietary protein…
While it’s possible that there are unique properties to whole eggs that maximize anabolism (i.e. lipids, micronutrients, antioxidant carotenoids, and microRNAs), it alternatively may well be that these properties are sufficiently available in other foods we normally eat (depending on one’s overall diet).
We’d also note, it’s always important to look at the context of a study when drawing evidence-based conclusions.
Instead of fretting over this new egg nutrition study, let’s wait until there’s more data conducted on it, and in the meantime, focus on these suggestions we have for you:
- If you don’t have a cholesterol issue, then it’s okay to have whole eggs
- If you don’t prefer whole eggs (specifically the yolk), it’s fine to have liquid egg whites as a substitute
- If you are a coach, we wouldn’t recommend forcing your clients to eat whole eggs or even egg whites if they don’t have a personal preference for it. This is how our coaches go about it.
- If you think whole eggs aren’t nutritious, you are flat out wrong, research shows the yolk is nutrient dense and may contain a variety of bioactive compounds (see above). The removal of the yolk and its associated nutrients from eggs may limit the stimulation of MPS rates as well as well as overall human health (6)
- Instead of worrying about egg nutrition, specifically whole vs egg whites as a protein source for muscle growth, consider the hierarchy of importance for daily dietary protein (7):
- Total Daily Protein Intake – what matters most is hitting your total protein goal at the end of the day (i.e., if your total target protein goal is 200g, then focus on hitting that number)
- Protein Distribution – it’s important to evenly distribute your protein at however many meals you eat per day (i.e., 150g per day and 4 meals per day, should be 50g per meal) this way it keeps MPS elevated and MPB (muscle protein breakdown) lowered (Side Note: a good tool to track your protein goal is IIFYM flexible dieting calculator)
- Protein Quality – including high-quality protein sources (animal sources) such as Eggs, chicken, milk, beef, fish, etc. To stimulate MPS due to the high leucine content and strong amino acid profiles
- Specific Protein Timing (pre/post workout or before bed)- Having enough protein pre and post workout for recovery is important for muscle growth and remodeling, as well as having high-quality protein before bed to keep your body in an anabolic environment.
Now that you got some great info on egg nutrition, specifically regarding whole eggs vs egg whites, keep in mind the hierarchy of importance for daily dietary protein intake is what matters most.
It’s easy to run away with a study like this and say “see, I told you whole eggs are better than egg whites.”
Which is mostly true, but it should never be looked at as a black and white statement or end all be all situation.
Enough with us blabbing away about egg nutrition…Go and enjoy that beautiful sizzling sound of when you have the frying pan on medium-high and you pour your eggs into the pan and get your muscle gainzzz on 😊
- Vliet et al. Consumption of whole eggs promotes greater stimulation of postexercise muscle protein synthesis than consumption of isonitrogeneous amounts of egg whites in young men. AJCN.2017
- Stuart Phillips from McMaster University
- Gropper and Smith. Advanced nutrition and human metabolism. Sixth edition. 2013
- Moore et al. Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. 2008
- Macnaughton et al. The response of muscle protein synthesis following whole-body resistance exercise is greater following 40 g than 20 g of ingested whey protein. 2016
- Bhat et al. 2015; Anton et al. 2006; Andersen et al. 2015
- Witard et al. Protein considerations for optimizing skeletal muscle mass in healthy young and older adults. 2016