Protein is an essential macronutrient for everyone, whether you work out or not. For those who exercise and train regularly, protein intake is a little more complicated, but essentially you need more than the average couch potato.
It’s so important for exercising and working out because protein is responsible for building new muscle tissue. Without enough protein, you risk losing muscle mass in response to training. Protein is in a lot of foods, but for many reasons, an egg is an ideal little package of nutrition.
Why You Need Protein in Your Workout Diet
Everyone needs protein, but if you work out, you need more protein. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand on protein and exercise (1):
Exercise and protein intake together stimulate muscle protein synthesis, or the building of new muscle tissue.
Most people who exercise regularly need 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Even higher intakes of protein can improve fat loss in people who strength train regularly.
Studies show that consuming protein before and after exercise improves recovery, promotes the growth of lean body mass, enhances athletic performance, and even boosts immune system functions. (2)
How do women’s protein needs compare to those of men? This handy guide answers all your questions about women and protein.
The Nutrition Profile of an Egg
Eggs are relatively low in calories compared to all the important nutrients they contain. According to the American Egg Board, one extra large egg contains (3):
5 grams of total fat
2 grams of saturated fat and no trans fat
1 gram of polyunsaturated fat
2 grams of monounsaturated fat
210 milligrams of cholesterol
7 grams of protein
Additionally, one egg contains significant amounts of vitamins A, B2, B3, B6, B7, B12, D, and E, folic acid, phosphorous, iodine, zinc, selenium, and choline.
Why Are Eggs Great for Exercise?
The nutrition profile is one reason to choose eggs as a regular part of your diet. These little nuggets of food are packed with a wide range of nutrients and plenty of protein without too many calories or fat. Here are some other great reasons to include more eggs in your meals and snacks:
Eggs Are Complete Proteins
The human body cannot make all the amino acids necessary for a full complement of functional proteins. The essential amino acids must be consumed in the diet, and a food with all of them is a complete protein. An egg provides all essential amino acids in a couple of bites.
An Egg is a Lean Protein Source
Eggs are good sources of protein without adding too much fat to your diet. You need some fat, of course, but if you are trying to maintain or change body composition, too much fat can be detrimental. An egg provides 7 grams of protein with just 5 grams of fat.
Eggs are Nutrient-Dense, But Calorie-Light
When trying to build muscle and limit or lose fat, the last thing you want is a high-calorie snack. Eggs provide protein and a lot of other nutrients with just 70 to 80 calories depending on size. It’s one of the most calorie-efficient foods for protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Eggs Are Filling
Eggs are far more satiating than their meager 70 to 80 calories suggest. Just a couple of eggs can leave you satisfied and full for hours. This is great if you are trying to avoid junk food, lose weight, or just make it to the next meal without reaching for another snack.
Here are some other foods that help you feel fuller longer and avoid the midday slump.
It’s Easy to Add Carbs to Eggs for a Complete Workout Food
Eggs do not have carbs, but the best snacks for fuel and recovery do. It’s easy to add carbs to get the perfect balance:
Put a poached egg on whole grain bread or bagel.
Mix leftover rice or quinoa into an omelet.
Heat up frozen broccoli to eat with eggs.
Make scrambled eggs with beans.
Prep cooked sweet potatoes at the start of the week and eat half with an egg after a workout.
Eggs are Convenient
What could be easier and more portable than a food that comes in its own shell? Hard boil eggs on Sunday night, and you’re set for post-workout recovery snacks for the week. They travel well and are easy and quick to peal and eat. Add a sprinkle of salt to your travel container for a little flavor and recovery electrolytes.
Eggs are Versatile
Not only is an egg one of the most compact, nutrient-dense foods you can find, it is also among the most versatile. You can do almost anything with them, from making sweet baked goods to adding to a stir fry. You simply can’t get bored eating eggs if you try new recipes and sneak them into more of your meals.
What About Cholesterol?
In the past, eggs have gotten a bad nutritional rap for cholesterol. What we now know about eggs, though, is that they don’t raise blood cholesterol levels to the same degree as other foods, especially those with trans fats.
The evidence from research is mixed but suggests that for healthy people with normal cholesterol measurements, eating eggs daily is fine. Some studies show that eating an egg a day raises the risk of heart disease, but many people eat eggs with other fatty foods like butter and bacon. Eggs are not necessarily the culprits. (4)
One way to get around the issue of cholesterol is to eat only the egg whites. This will provide much of the protein, but the yolk contains many of the other nutrients in an egg. The yolk may be important for muscle building.
A study of healthy, regular weightlifters found that those who consumed entire eggs after a workout had higher levels of muscle repair than those who ate the same amount of protein in egg whites. (5) Talk to your doctor about whether eating egg yolks every day is acceptable for you.
Choose eggs for exercise and reap the benefits of so much more than just protein. These convenient little packets of nutrition go where you go and help stimulate muscle growth. Consider making eggs a regular part of your workout routine.
Nutrition coaches make a real difference in their clients’ lives. That could be you if you have a passion for food and helping people. Check out the ISSA’s online Nutritionist program to get started.
Jager, R., Kerksick, C.M., Campbell, B.I. et al. (2017) International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 14(20). Retrieved from https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
Kreider, R.B. and Campbell, B. (2009). Protein for Exercise and Recovery. Phys. Sportsmed. 37(2), 13-21. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20048505/
American Egg Board. (2019, April 25). Nutritional Label. Extra-Large Eggs. Retrieved from https://www.incredibleegg.org/wp-content/themes/AEGGB/assets/pdf/extra-large-tabular.pdf
Lopez-Jimenez, F. (2020, January 9). Eggs: Are They Good or Bad for My Cholesterol? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/expert-answers/cholesterol/faq-20058468
Van Fliet, S., Shy, E.L., Swan, S.A., Beals, J.W., West, D.W.D., Skinner, S.K., Ulanov, A.V., Li, Z., Paluska, S.A., Parsons, C.M., Moore, D.R., and Burd, N.A. (2017, December). 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. 106(6), 1401-12. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/106/6/1401/4823156