Sansum Nutrition for Athletes: The Incredible Egg

Nutritional info specialized for athletes is provided by registered dieticians at Sansum Clinic of Santa Barbara.

My active career was once focused on spending time in the gym lifting weights with my friends who were professional weight lifters and bodybuilders. These days I’m more active outside hiking, running, swimming or paddling in an outrigger canoe. In the 1980s at the Santa Barbara Fitness Center the topic of conversation often was about food: what to eat, what not to eat. Those wanting more muscle ate more protein which seemed logical; the egg was king. Bodybuilders ate the egg white to save calories while power lifters enjoyed the raw whole egg in their protein drinks never concerned about salmonella.

Athlete-Nutrition---The-Egg

For your good health

By Gerri French, MS, RD, CDE, Sansum Clinic Dietitian

The protein in an egg is ‘complete’ containing all of the essential amino acids in optimal balance and is used as a gold standard for quality with its high biological value. In addition, it contains iron, zinc, fat soluble vitamins A, D and E. None of this changed when the egg quickly became a “taboo” food in the 1970s when research suggested that because it contained cholesterol it was a major culprit for plaque and heart disease.

Fast forward 35 years and there is talk that the new Nutrition Facts label will no longer list the cholesterol in food since it is not responsible for the cholesterol in our blood. You can read the 471 page scientific report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee which along with the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology concludes that there isn’t scientific evidence to show that reducing dietary cholesterol reduces the artery clogging LDL cholesterol in the blood. A single nutrient deficiency or excess is usually not responsible for creating a disease. Heart Disease is multifactorial with genetics, food, exercise, stress, sleep cycles and the microflora in our guts contributing. And with reference to food, it can be more complicated since it is not specifically what you are eating (conventional animal fat) but also what you are not eating (plant foods), where your food comes from (local?) and how it was produced (quality of the soil? chemicals?) along with how you eat it (mindfully at a table or distracted?) that are all important considerations.

Cholesterol is and will always be an essential fat like substance (a ‘sterol’) necessary for various functions including an important component of our cell membranes, needed to manufacture vitamin D and hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. The human body makes cholesterol in the liver and/or we obtain cholesterol from any and all animal foods.

Eggs contain a concentrated amount of cholesterol along with the crustacean family of seafood: shrimp, crab and lobster. What the chicken eats will determine its nutritional ratio of fatty acids and other nutrients. Eggs are relatively low in calories, a large egg containing 70 calories which is mostly in the yolk where the fat is contained; the egg white alone contains 35 calories. A special nutrient choline in the yolk helps maintain the structure of the cell membrane in our brains and two valuable antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin help prevent macular degeneration, a leading cause of age-related blindness.

Each large egg contains about 6 gm of protein equivalent to 1 oz of meat, fish or cheese. The egg white contains about half of the protein without the fat. Eggs do not have any fiber; combine them with vegetables, beans, fruit and legumes to add healthy carbohydrates and fiber. A word of caution: all animal foods have the capacity to increase inflammation in the blood; enjoy plant foods along with your eggs to minimize this effect. So instead of bacon, sausage or cheese with your eggs, enjoy spinach, mushrooms and tomatoes; salsa and avocado. Choose eggs from chicken raised on pasture to receive special omega 3 fats that function to decrease inflammation.

As with many foods, knowing its source can provide valuable information. With eggs, it involves asking a few questions: Where do your chicken eggs come from and how were they raised? What diet did the chickens eat? Were they raised on pasture? Remember Prop 2? Back in 2008 California passed this ballot to require that egg laying hens no longer be raised in cages and have enough space to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. This law became effective January 1, 2015.

One popular issue about this law is whether it will increase the cost of eggs. Generally chicken eggs cost more in winter when the law was enacted. The price is also determined by the cost of feed. Eggs will continue to be a “bargain”; 2 eggs with low cost beans and vegetables is a nutritious and balanced meal. For more information about this and other questions, go to CageFreeCA.com.

Unfortunately, “cage free” or “free range” does not mean that they are pasture raised; they might be living on dirt inside or out and fed corn or other grains grown with many pesticides and other non-food. And conventional chickens raised in close quarters are usually given antibiotics to prevent illness and to grow bigger. The poultry industry is not allowed to use hormones to increase the weight of the chickens; instead they use antibiotics to increase their weight. These days chickens can be 12 pounds instead of 6 pounds years ago. Because of our current antibiotic resistance crisis, this practice of feeding chickens antibiotics is being evaluated and a few major influential corporations are refusing to purchase eggs from these chickens. Stay tuned for more about this.

The USDA food data base provides the nutritional analyses of thousands of foods and is easily found on the internet and in smart phone apps. It is not YET standard practice to differentiate between the eggs from chickens fed on pasture versus conventional raised chicken eggs. One reason for this is that data is lacking. From the few studies that have been done, it is fact that chickens raised on pasture produce eggs that have higher amounts of omega 3, less saturated fat and less harmful Arachidonic Acid. They contain higher levels of vitamin E, beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin found in the yolk.

So, enjoy eggs as part of your diet; combine them with colorful vegetables, quality mayonnaise, herbs and spices such as curry powder containing turmeric to add beneficial anti-inflammatory properties, color and flavor, Yum!

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