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Egg and Milk: More than the sum of their parts
Let’s talk in more detail specifically about the combination of egg and milk, since this is so important.
The two main proteins in milk are casein and whey. Casein is described as “sustained-release” because it releases amino acids into the bloodstream more slowly. Whey, on the other hand, releases amino acids more quickly and is therefore said to be a “fast” protein. Scientists have determined this by separating casein and whey from milk and studying them in isolation. Their research also suggests that these proteins may work best when they are left together, just as they occur naturally in milk.
This may explain why some of today’s protein supplements don’t work as expected.
Many if not most of today’s protein supplements are based on whey. Many also contain little or no fat or cholesterol, and no whole egg protein. Perhaps not coincidentally, many consumers complain that these products barely help them maintain muscle, let alone build it.
Whey is clearly a high-quality protein. Clinical studies show that it does a good job of stimulating muscle protein synthesis, the essential element of building muscle. This is partly due to its high speed of absorption. However, the high speed of absorption also means that whey is “fast in, fast out”. In other words, its effects are relatively short-lived. This may be why the combination of “fast” whey and “sustained-release” casein found naturally in milk works better: Whey gets the muscle-building “engines” started and casein helps keep them going.
Now let’s move on to egg. Despite all the hype about milk protein in recent years, scientific studies dating back to the 1930s show that egg protein –again, we’re talking about protein from the whole egg, not just the white- is equivalent to milk protein. Some researchers even suggested that egg was superior (see Sumner et al., 1938, and Sumner and Murlin, 1938, for instance).
Lipids are not “bad”
Like milk, the egg is definitely more than the sum of its parts. The yolk provides just over 40% of the protein in an egg. It also contains a host of other nutrients that are either absent, or present at considerably lower levels, in the white. Among these are lipids.
The term lipid refers to a group of nutrients that includes fats, cholesterol, and phospholipids, among other compounds. All three are found in eggs. Over 90% of the lipids in an egg reside in the yolk.
Fat serves important functions in the building of muscle cells. The building blocks of fat are fatty acids. Fatty acids also occur in phospholipids, which are used to build the membrane around the muscle cell. Whole eggs, because of the yolk, are rich in phospholipids. Phospholipids also aid in the digestion of fats and are essential for proper brain function.
It’s well known that whole eggs –again, because of the yolk- contain plenty of cholesterol. Like fatty acids and phospholipids, cholesterol is used to build muscle cells. It is also a precursor to androgens, including testosterone. The biggest source of cholesterol in the diet is eggs.
Eggs in the prevention of age-associated muscle loss
In 2007, researchers at Texas A&M University decided to investigate the relationship between dietary cholesterol and the muscle-building effect of resistance exercise in older men and women (Riechman et al., 2007). They were interested in getting insights into how to treat or prevent sarcopenia, or age-associated loss of muscle size and strength.
The researchers observed a dose-response relationship between dietary cholesterol and gains in lean mass (i.e. muscle). In fact, cholesterol intake was found to be the biggest predictor of how much muscle the subjects gained from their workouts. Strength gains, too, were greater with a higher cholesterol intake. Subjects who consumed 7.2-10.2 mg of cholesterol per kg of lean body mass were more than twice as strong as those who consumed 2.2 to 3.5 mg per kg of lean body mass.
These pieces of scientific evidence and others may explain why the “Old School” strategy of combining whole egg and milk proteins is so effective for increasing lean muscle size without gaining fat!
Bergouignan et al. (2012). PLoS One 7(1): e30164. Available online at:
Grivetti and Applegate (1997). Am J Clin Nutr 127: 8605.
Available online at:
Riechman et al. (2007). J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 62(10): 1164.
Sumner et al. (1938). J Nutr 16(1): 37.
Sumner and Murlin (1938). J Nutr 16(2): 41.