By Dr. Johnathan Edwards
Food is energy, and nutrition shapes how you perform and recover on the bike after training. A common misconception is that pros can eat what they want. Riders like Chris Froome and Romain Bardet confirm that they are strict about what they eat. They also consider the nutrient density and quality of foods they eat. Bardet goes to great lengths to eat from his grandmother’s farm.
In Froome’s autobiography, The Climb, he says, “I try to go very light in terms of diet. In the mornings, I limit myself to just the one bowl of porridge, and normally a two-egg omelet, with no hint of extras on the side. No second helpings, no picking, nothing. If there is a big stage ahead that day, I’ll try a three-egg omelet, but warily, I’ll mix a small amount of white rice into the porridge.”
Eggs are a vital part of the busy cyclist’s diet, as they are easy to make, cheap, versatile and nutrient-dense. In the past, eggs have been vilified due to their high saturated fat and cholesterol content. When America was on a low-fat kick for so-called health reasons due to the thought that high fat and cholesterol led to heart disease, eggs were no longer recommended in a healthy diet. The result was the low-fat, high-protein egg whites and egg-white omelets.
Are egg yolks unhealthy? Is the cholesterol bad for you? Let’s debunk five of the most common myths surrounding egg consumption.
Myth #1: Eating Eggs Raises Cholesterol
Fifty years ago, our egg appreciation soured as scientists thought that high cholesterol in our blood predicts a higher risk of heart disease. By extension, many physicians of the day assumed that eating high-cholesterol foods like butter, red meat and eggs caused an accumulation on artery walls, resulting in heart attacks and strokes, and should be avoided. Fatphobia ensued, and eggs were given the thumbs down.
Nowadays, we understand that the story is more complicated. Eggs yolks have about 200mg of cholesterol, but an under-appreciated fact is that only 10 percent of this cholesterol ever makes it into the bloodstream and, therefore,
Believe it or not, over 90 percent of our cholesterol is produced in our bodies and governed by genetics, gender and age. We now realize that heart disease is more about damaging our blood vessels from unhealthy diet patterns, smoking, lifestyle, consuming excess sugar and unhealthy fats, such as vegetable oils (trans fats).
“No one separated egg whites a hundred years ago, and we have been eating whole eggs for thousands of years. There’s a lot to like about egg yolks, because they contain a fantastic nutrient profile.”
Cholesterol is required for digestion, the immune system, cellular function and hormones production. Eggs in fact improve your cholesterol profile and do not raise your risk of heart disease. They raise HDL (good cholesterol), and they tend to change the LDL (bad cholesterol) in ways that are not as strongly associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
Myth #2: Brown Eggs are Better Than White Eggs
Brown eggs give the appearance that they are more nutritious than white eggs. This is not necessarily the case. The different-colored eggs have more to do with the particular chicken. It’s essential to keep in mind that not all eggs are created equal. Pasture-raised eggs are often brown and have a better nutrition profile. Pasture-raised chickens eat a variety of seeds, insects and even small rodents. Factory-raised chickens are raised indoors under artificial lights and fed pre-made chicken feed. However, conventional supermarket eggs are still a good choice if you don’t have to access the others.
Myth #3: Egg Yolks Should Be Avoided
This myth that egg whites are the greatest thing since sliced bread seems to be ingrained in our heads. No one separated egg whites a hundred years ago, and we have been eating whole eggs for thousands of years. There’s a lot to like about egg yolks because they contain a fantastic nutrient profile. A large egg contains about 80 calories, 6 grams of quality protein, 5 grams of fat and trace amounts of carbohydrates.
One whole egg contains small amounts of almost every vitamin and mineral required by the human body: calcium, iodine, iron, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, omega-3-fatty-acids, B vitamins, (B1, B2, biotin, folate, B5, B12, choline, antioxidants—lutein and zeaxanthin — which help prevent eye degeneration and cataracts). More important, an egg contains 6 grams of protein—3 in the egg white and 3 in the egg yolk.
An egg is said to be a perfect protein, meaning that it contains all the essential amino acids in the proper amounts. However, this is true if you eat the whole egg! If you remove the yolk and choose just the egg white, then the nutritional value of your egg changes considerably. The biological value (a measure of protein quality) is often evaluated by comparing it to eggs, which are given the perfect score of 100.
Myth #4: Eating Eggs Daily is Bad for You
Daily consumption of eggs is fine. Besides giving you a great source of vitamins and nutrients, eggs also satisfy your hunger and do not raise your glucose levels. This is important if you are struggling to keep your sugars down if you have metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes. Each rider has their preference. Some pro racers eat three to eight eggs on race day, along with some pasta or rice. On lighter days, they may eat an avocado with eggs.
Myth #5: Eggs Make For Bad Brains
Eggs are loaded with choline, an important nutrient for the brain. Choline is a lesser-known nutrient that is often grouped with the B-complex vitamins. Choline is an essential nutrient for necessary human health. It is required to synthesize the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and is also a component of cell membranes. Low-choline intake is implicated in liver diseases, heart disease and neurological disorders. Choline is especially important for pregnant women.
Studies show that a low-choline intake can raise the risk of neural tube defects and decrease cognitive function in the baby. The best sources of choline in the diet are egg yolks and beef liver. One large egg contains 113mg of choline. As for beef liver, I think I’ll pass!