Over the last couple decades there have been a few major shifts in our understanding of what constitutes healthy nutrition. We were once told that fat was the main cause of heart disease (it’s not). We were also told that the unsaturated fats from hydrogenated vegetable oils were better than natural saturated fats (wrong). Now it looks like one more belief may be totally wrong as well, at least when it comes to athletes and those interested in building muscle or strength.
Dietary cholesterol was a MASSIVE boogeyman for decades. We were told to avoid it like the plague. People started throwing away egg yolks, beef sales dropped and chicken sales exploded. We all thought dietary cholesterol was terrible for us. Again, we were wrong.
Recently the Dietary Guideline Committee declared that cholesterol was no longer a nutrient of concern. According to their extensive review of hundreds of studies they found that dietary cholesterol had little to no impact on blood cholesterol.This is great news because other studies have been showing that dietary cholesterol may have some serious athletic performance, strength and muscle building benefits as well!
A 2007 study done with 49 resistance training elderly individuals showed that the more cholesterol they consumed the more muscle and strength they gained. Literally, more cholesterol in the diet led to more gains. A 2011 study compared two groups of young, healthy adults. One group was a high cholesterol consuming group the other was a low cholesterol consuming group. They found that the high cholesterol group had nearly THREE TIMES the myofibrillar protein synthesis rate of the low cholesterol group 22 hours post training. Protein synthesis is a measurement of muscle growth
A recent study published in 2017 that consuming whole eggs results in dramatically higher rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis versus eating just the egg whites. Egg yolks are one of the richest sources of cholesterol on the planet. There are many other studies showing the connection between cholesterol and muscle gains and strength. I have personally experienced this relationship with my own training. I’ve experimented with consuming very high cholesterol (upwards of 1000 msg a day) and each time I get stronger. It works like clockwork. I’ve also had clients experiment with dietary cholesterol and they also see and feel the results. Cholesterol is ANABOLIC.
It’s well known that post-workout, your blood cholesterol levels temporarily dip. This may be because your muscles recovery process sucks up cholesterol like crazy. Post-workout cholesterol is probably a great strategy.
Cholesterol may help with muscle gains for a few key reasons. First off cholesterol is a basic steroid molecule and is the root building block of your Anabolic hormones. In fact, increasing dietary cholesterol may be a simple strategy to raise your testosterone levels. Cholesterol aids in cell membrane viscosity which may contribute to cell membrane stability. This might help your muscles deal better with damage and adapt faster to damage. Cholesterol is also needed for the body. It’s essential. It’s so essential that your liver produces cholesterol itself. It’s not the bad guy we have been led to believe.
To be fair there are certain relatively rare polymorphisms that respond poorly to a diet that is high in cholesterol and fat. If you are one of these people you probably already know (it’s genetic) and you are taking medication to help. For everyone else, if you are healthy, exercise regularly and have a good diet, increasing your dietary cholesterol may just be one of the most impactful dietary measures you can take to positively influence your strength and progress.