Eggs are more than just a go-to breakfast food; they are also a nutrient-rich food that is particularly beneficial for endurance athletes and runners. Hard boiled, poached, scrambled; however you like them, eggs should be a regular part of the runner’s diet. Here are five benefits that eggs offer to runners:
Runners have higher protein needs than less athletic people, and the egg is a high-quality protein that will provide all of the essential amino acids that the body needs. Eggs also score high on the satiety index, which measures a food’s ability to induce feelings of fullness. One egg provides six grams of protein, 78 calories, and five grams of fat. If you are used to eating only the whites of the egg to get the protein without the fat, read on to see how this may be negatively impacting your athletic performance!
2. Fat and Cholesterol
The fat in an egg yolk is more monounsaturated than saturated fat (although both types are present). The American Heart Association recommends monounsaturated fats, eaten in moderation, for beneficial effects on your heart.
For athletes who participate in ultra-endurance sports, like long-distance runners, a high-fat diet may improve performance. New advice from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee suggests that cutting back on starchy carbohydrates and consuming more nuts and fat-rich foods will improve metabolic health. Eggs contain lecithin, which aids in fat assimilation, and raises HDL “good” cholesterol levels.
One egg yolk provides 187 mg of cholesterol. For decades, dietary advice was to limit the amount of dietary cholesterol, and even though egg consumption in the U.S. dropped to half of what it was in 1945, there were no comparable levels of decline in heart disease rates. New research suggests that the cholesterol in eggs can be beneficial to our health and not harmful. Athletes may want to take note: cholesterol aids in the metabolism of carbohydrates.
Choline is a member of the B vitamin family, and it is used in the body to help control cholesterol buildup, to build cell membranes, and has a role in producing signalling molecules in the brain. Aside from the protective and supportive role that choline plays in the brain, choline also works with inositol (another B vitamin) to help the body utilize fats and cholesterol.
Choline is a “lipotropic,” a compound whose prime function in the body is to prevent abnormal or excessive fat accumulation in the liver. People on high protein diets, like runners and other athletes, need more lipotropics than others.
Of more interest in runners may be choline’s ability to increase the release of acetylcholine from nerve endings, including those that cause skeletal muscles to contract. A study found a significant reduction in choline levels following exercise, and running 20 miles led to a significant fall in choline levels of 40 percent to 50 percent. Choline provided prior to exercise prevented a fall and raised choline levels for up to two hours post-exercise. Researchers theorized that replacement of choline lost during exercise, or prevention of that loss, could affect measures of athletic performance and fatigue.
One egg provides almost a quarter of a day’s recommended amount of selenium, a mineral that works to increase the body’s antibody response to infection, and help prevent blood clots. Low levels of selenium have been linked to a higher risk of knee osteoarthritis.
Many athletes may not be consuming even the minimum amounts of selenium needed, not to mention the optimum amounts required to protect their cells from higher free radical production associated with athletic activity.
Selenium acts as an antioxidant in the body, and is crucial for the production of glutathione, the “master antioxidant” found in every cell in the body.
Selenium is not the only antioxidant compound found in eggs. Antioxidants are important for cell health, and even more important to athletes like runners.
Free radicals (unstable molecules that steal electrons from stable molecules, leading to cellular damage, aging, and illness) may increase during exercise. Research has found that as oxygen consumption increases during exercise, free radical production also increases. To defend against free radical cellular damage, the body uses antioxidants from dietary sources, and the production of glutathione, to remove free radicals.
In addition to selenium, eggs are a great source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been shown to improve vision in people with healthy eyes and prevent macular degeneration. This vision protective effect is particularly beneficial to athletes like runners that spend a large amount of time training outdoors, where glare, bright sunshine, and intermittent shade cause the eyes to quickly adjust. In one trial, just eating 1.3 egg yolks for four weeks increased levels of lutein by up to 50 percent, and zeaxanthin by over 100%.
Eggs provide benefits to people of all levels of fitness and activity, but endurance athletes and runners have even more reasons to include eggs as part of their healthy diet. Remember, most of the benefits that eggs have to offer come from the yolk, so leave the “whites only” mentality back at the starting line.