Nutrition Q&A: Egg Whites vs Whole Eggs, Tracking Calories and Macros, Avoiding Sodium, and Why You Don’t Need BCAAs
Today I’ll be answering four common nutrition questions about eggs vs egg whites, BCAA supplementation, tracking nutrition, and sodium intake. Let’s get cookin’!
Should I Eat Egg Whites or the Entire Egg?
The nutrition and fitness industries love to demonize things. First, we said that eggs were too high in cholesterol and fat, leading to heart disease. That led to an influx in gym bros eating/drinking entire cartons of egg whites in one sitting. I mean, c’mon, it’s pure protein, bro. Flash forward and now we’re attacking egg whites as being nutrient-void and egg yolks being the holy grail of nutrition.
So, what does that mean for you? I say you should eat both, depending on your fitness goals. Whole eggs are very nutrient dense from the fat-soluble vitamins and minerals in the yolk, but they contain a lot of fat relative to their protein content (see graphic below). And with that fat content comes added calories. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the fat content in an egg. Like I said, that’s where most of the nutrients are. However, if you are aiming to lose fat, you will need to be in a calorie deficit, or eating fewer calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight.
One large egg has around 70 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 6 grams of protein. The egg white, on the other hand, has roughly 20 calories and 4 grams of protein. If you have 1,500 calories per day to play around with and need 150 grams of protein, whole eggs wouldn’t be an ideal protein source since you’d need 280 calories (4 eggs) for 20 grams of protein.
Okay, enough about the nutrition content. Here’s what I recommend.
The best strategy for most people would be to eat both eggs and egg whites together. You’ll get a great dose of the vitamins/minerals inside the yolk, high amounts of protein from both, and you’ll keep overall calorie intake under control. Two large eggs and 4 servings of liquid egg whites (to not waste egg yolks) would net 240 calories, 32 grams of protein, and 10 grams of fat. The egg whites will add a ton of volume to the meal and fill you up, thwarting hunger.
If your calorie needs are lower, eat one less egg or maybe skip whole eggs altogether and opt for different fat sources like avocados, nuts, oils, fatty fish, etc. Choose the foods you like most and feel good eating.
Should I Avoid Sodium?
Did you know that sodium plays a role in maintaining blood volume and pressure, nutrition transport and absorption, muscle and nerve function, and a laundry list of other physiological processes? It’s essential for proper function and life, to say the least. So why all the hate?
Well, to be honest, we Americans do eat too many processed foods that are high in sodium. And while we should be eating more unprocessed foods, the problem has less to do with sodium intake and more to do with the lack of its important counterpart – potassium. Think of potassium as the yin to sodium’s yang. These two nutrients affect many of the same processes, but they usually do so in an opposing manner.
Potassium, for instance, may relax a muscle contraction while sodium contracts the muscle. Or sodium may draw water out of a cell while potassium draws water into the cell. This happens all day every day inside your body.
The problem is that potassium is primarily found in the unprocessed foods, namely leafy green vegetables (but not always). If you’re not eating enough potassium-rich foods, you could end up with an unhealthy sodium to potassium ratio. Here are a few examples of foods high in potassium:
- white potatoes
- black beans
The takeaway on sodium: Unless you have a pre-existing heart condition, don’t worry about sodium. Instead, worry about consuming more potassium-rich foods.
Here’s a video from my Facebook page on sodium intake:
Should I Track My Calories or Macros?
This is a tricky one. My short answer is that it depends on you and your personality. On one hand, tracking is one of the best educational experiences you can have when it comes to food. On the other, tracking can be wildly inaccurate, inconsistent, and unsustainable. Not to mention, it might lead to eating more processed foods and burning fewer calories than a nutrient-dense diet. You can read more on that here.
I believe the number of people that can sustain a flexible dieting (IIFYM) approach forever is very small. Unless you’re a fitness die hard, odds are you don’t want to track what you eat forever. That said, it can be a great starting point. If you follow a guide to determine your metabolic rate like in my eBook Nutrition Made Easy, you can get a ballpark of where your maintenance calorie level needs to be. That’s a great thing to know.
During this experiment, you’ll also learn more about the calorie and macronutrient of foods you regularly eat. And if you tracked for long enough, you’ll be able to ballpark almost any food and keep a mental log of your daily intake. This may take time, but it’s undoubtedly a great skill to have and means you don’t have to track forever.
On the flip side, you may be the type of person who struggles to track even for one day. In that case, you should start working on including more nutrient-dense, high-quality foods into your diet slowly. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Increase your protein intake to .8 to 1.2 grams per pound of body weight. That’s between 150 and 220 grams of protein per day for a 185-pound person.
- Buy frozen fruits and vegetables to make it easier on yourself if need be. (see graphic below)
- Pay attention to food quality and how many processed foods you’re eating compared to unprocessed. Make the easy changes first. (I.e. swapping white rice for brown rice, white bread for whole grain, fries for baked potato, starchy carbs for colorful veggies, diet soda for water, etc.)
- Choose high-volume foods and meals. Here are a few recipes.
- Focus on color. The more colorful foods in your diet, the healthier you’ll be. And no, ketchup doesn’t count.
- Drink more water.
Should I Take BCAAs?
If you would have asked me this in 2015 (or even 2016), I would have said yes. But as science continues to evolve and more research is done, our opinions should change along with it. BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids, are three amino acids – leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine has been shown to play an important role in kickstarting the mTOR pathway, an important predictor of muscle hypertrophy. It was also thought that BCAAs would prevent muscle breakdown in the absence of protein. I.e. fasted training. Put simply, a lot of us thought that BCAAs were a great supplement to whole food and protein powders because more is better, right?
Well, it’s looking more and more like BCAAs are unnecessary when adequate protein is being consumed, and you should be consuming adequate protein well before considering to supplement with BCAAs. Go with a whole protein source like whey to ensure you get a full spectrum of essential amino acids before supplementing with BCAAs.
Here’s a list of the muscle and performance supplements I recommend.