To the question eggs vs. protein powder, which is better for the body, we say, why must it be one or the other? These two super proteins complement each other for total body wellness. We’re covering the health benefits of each, using whey protein as our standard protein powder, and then answering the question you’re really here for—which is better for building muscle?
The Benefits of Egg Nutrition
Eggs are making a comeback after nearly half a century with a tarnished reputation. Before we talk about the cholesterol in eggs and the link between egg consumption and heart disease, let’s take a look at all the nutrients to be had from one of the healthiest whole foods on the planet.
A single large boiled egg contains just 77 calories, with 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of healthy fats.
In addition to B vitamins, phosphorus, and selenium, eggs contain the vision-enhancing antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as the essential nutrient choline, which most people don’t get enough of in their diets. Choline plays a crucial role in cell signaling and cell membrane development among other duties.
As for protein content, eggs are a complete protein, which means they contain all the essential amino acids your body needs in just the right proportions. Essential amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They build and repair body tissue, produce neurotransmitters, generate energy, fight infection, and strengthen the immune system.
Do Eggs Increase Cholesterol in the Body?
Eggs are high in cholesterol, with 1 large egg containing 212 milligrams. That’s almost the daily recommended cholesterol maximum (300 milligrams).
For decades, popular opinion linked dietary cholesterol to an increase in cholesterol levels in the body, but most recent research has softened that theory (1). It is now understood that the liver, which produces cholesterol, cuts back on its cholesterol production when dietary cholesterol is consumed, which helps to keep levels of cholesterol in balance (2).
Still, everyone responds to eating eggs differently. Findings suggest that cholesterol levels stay normal in 70% of egg eaters. The 30% of people who experience a rise in LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol are called hyper-responders.
Research also shows that eggs raise HDL cholesterol, which is the heart-healthy type of lipoprotein. One study suggests that eating two eggs a day can raise your HDL by 10%.
When looking at the research in its entirety, Harvard Health researchers maintain that an egg a day will not increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke for most people. If you have diabetes or already have heart disease, three eggs a week is a good maximum to abide by.
Individuals with genetic disorders such as familial hypercholesterolemia or the gene variant APOE4 should limit or avoid egg intake.
The Gold Standard in Protein Powders
Since we’re comparing eggs to protein powder we’ll cut to the chase and compare them to the gold standard of protein powders—whey protein. No protein powder—not soy, hemp, or pea—can beat the protein profile of whey.
Whey protein powder is a complete protein powder that’s high in calcium (it’s one of the proteins in milk alongside casein ). While whey protein is typically consumed for its protein content (20-27 grams in 1 scoop) and its effect on muscle-building, it also helps promote:
- Dental health
- Bone health
- Glutathione production
- Blood vessel dilation
- Lower cholesterol
- Weight loss
- Weight gain (in the form of muscle)
Eggs vs. Protein for Muscle Growth
When assessing protein quality, nutrition scientists consider the essential amino acid composition of the protein, how digestible the protein is, and how bioavailable it is, which means how well its component amino acids are able to work in the body.
Let’s look to a 2018 study published in the journal Amino Acids to see which is a higher quality protein for muscle growth: eggs or whey protein powder (3). Researchers compared the essential amino acid profile of several different sources of protein, including plant foods, animal foods, and human skeletal muscle. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on eggs and whey.
When it comes to the amount of protein the winner is...whey protein. Whey protein is more similar to the protein content of human muscle. It also has a high biological value of 104!
- Whey: 72-84% protein
- Egg: 51% protein
As for essential amino acid (EAA) content the winner is still whey protein.
- Whey: 43% EAAs
- Egg: 32% EAAs
While eggs have a terrific mix of the essential amino acids, whey has a higher proportion of the essential amino acids most directly involved in muscle protein synthesis, the process by which muscle tissue is repaired and rebuilt. These essential amino acids are called the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAS): leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine is particularly important, because it kicks muscle protein synthesis into gear.
When it comes to BCAA content, the winner is...whey once again!
As for their bioavailability, both eggs and whey protein powder get 100% on the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS).
When it comes to muscle growth, there’s a reason why whey protein is the preferred protein-based meal replacement among athletes and bodybuilders. It is able to stimulate muscle protein synthesis to a greater degree, and in just one scoop. Studies show that 2.7 grams of leucine or 10.9 grams of essential amino acids in whey protein isolate is needed to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. You’d need to consume substantial amounts of egg to see the same benefit.
Whey protein powder also increases insulin, an anabolic hormone, to a greater degree than egg does, and ushers much-needed nutrients, oxygen, and hormones to muscles.
That doesn’t mean don’t eat an egg. Eggs, which are digested slower than whey protein, help to prevent muscle breakdown, for instance. But if building muscle mass is your goal, then supplementing with a protein powder such as whey post-workout supports those efforts.
As for egg white protein powder it doesn’t measure up as well to whey protein powder as a source of protein. Amino Co recommends getting your eggs in whole egg form to benefit from additional nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and micronutrients.
Is Whey Protein Really the Best Protein Powder for Muscle Building?
As a component of a high-quality protein supplement, we love whey. But a whey protein powder is a rather roundabout way to get your EAAs. After all, whey has to be digested before its EAAs can be used by the body.
An essential amino acid supplement is digested quicker than a whey protein supplement so you benefit from direct energy. Free EAAs are also proven to maintain and build muscle mass in older adults, including older women. They also provide a low-calorie and low-carb alternative to other protein supplements, including whey protein, which can affect appetite and impair overall nutritional intake.
The other huge benefit of an essential amino acid powder is that it can be formulated according to specific health needs and dietary restrictions, such as maximizing the leucine content to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, adding citrulline, a precursor of arginine, to boost heart health and muscle recovery, or making sure its lactose free, gluten free, and vegetarian approved.
You can shop the highest quality protein powders (free of artificial sweeteners and additives) and increase your protein intake according to your wellness needs here.