5 Things Athlete Need to Know About New Cholesterol Guidelines


The big nutritional news this week was that in the coming weeks the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a panel of experts who provide scientific justification for the US Government’s “Dietary Guidelines”, is expected to largely reverse the long-standing recommendations to limit the intake of dietary cholesterol. We studied the available literature so you don’t have to.

Summary of the relevant findings:

  • Dietary cholesterol isn’t as much of a risk factor for heart disease as previously believed.
  • Genetic predispositions to high levels of LDL cholesterol  (the bad kind) in the blood have a greater impact on heart disease risk than dietary cholesterol intake.
  • High levels of LDL cholesterol are still a significant risk factor for heart disease, and if you have high cholesterol you should follow your doctor’s guidance rather than mine or any other blogger or journalist.

Percentage of all deaths due to the five leading causes of death by year: US 1935-2010. The percentages of deaths from heart disease and stroke have decreased in the last 30 years, but as of 2013 heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the US.


As an athlete here’s how these changes affect you:

Eat eggs, just not with every meal.

There is about 150-180mg of cholesterol in an egg yolk and none in an egg white. As a result, egg yolks were essentially blacklisted back in the 1970s when the low-fat, low-cholesterol dietary guidelines originally came out. More recently the guidelines were amended and one whole egg per day was deemed OK. Meanwhile, egg whites have enjoyed a huge surge in popularity because of they have a lot of protein, no cholesterol, and make great omelets. So, is it time to down 50 whole hard boiled eggs like Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke”? No, but it is time to stop fearing egg yolks. Whole eggs can be a great source of protein and energy for athletes, but you still have to think about how they are prepared. Your best options are hard boiled and poached eggs because they have fewer added calories from fats and additives (cream, cheese, bacon, etc.) that are often used in preparing or serving scrambled eggs, omelets, and fried eggs.


Bacon is still not the answer.

Some people will absolutely glom on to the news about cholesterol and say it means you can eat as much bacon as you want. Cholesterol is the least of the problems with bacon. I understand why it’s so popular, even in sports nutrition recently. It’s a strong flavor and a savory flavor, meaning you only need a little bit to have a big impact on flavor. And used sparingly to add savory flavor, I’m not concerned about bacon. But there’s a huge difference between that use for bacon and wrapping a burger in bacon and deep-frying it. Bacon is still high in saturated fat, extremely high in calories, relatively low in useful nutrients, and often packed with nitrates and other garbage. Use it for flavoring if you must, but there are better sources for dietary fat, protein, … pretty much anything.

Butter is back, but who cares?

I think athletes should view butter the same way you view bacon: use it sparingly if you want but there are better sources of fat available. Butter is still high in saturated fat and you’d be better served getting fat from avocados, fish, and nuts because these sources also deliver other great nutrients along with their unsaturated fat calories. However, if this news marks the final death knell for margarine containing trans-fat, that would be great for everyone.

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Yay for shellfish!

If there’s anyone who should be excited about these new guidelines it’s the shrimpers, crabbers, and lobstermen. Shrimp, crabmeat, and lobster meat are low in fat and rich in protein, but high in cholesterol. They were all but off-limits to people trying to lower their blood cholesterol. However, despite those recommendations, shellfish consumption in the US has increased since the 1970s – even as the percentage of deaths from heart disease decreased. We’ve been eating shellfish anyway, but if you have been avoiding it you might be able to reconsider.

meat consumption in U.S.

Note the decline in egg consumption and the rise in shellfish consumption from 1970 to 2008. The decline in beef consumption is even more dramatic, and largely caused by advice to minimize cholesterol and fat intake.

More plants, fewer animals, and less overall is still best

For me the biggest takeaway – for athletes without a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol – is that this news doesn’t really change much for athletes. Before these changes in dietary guidelines and after them the best thing an athlete can do for performance, weight management, and overall health is to eat more plants and fewer animals and fewer calories overall. Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free athletes have shown that you don’t need animal protein or carbohydrate from wheat to win at the highest levels of sport, but not necessarily that the absence of animal protein and/or gluten provides a performance improvement. What’s more important is that your food sources are whole foods rather than processed foods, that you’re eating enough to support your energy requirements for optimal training and recovery, and that you’re not overweight.

Have a Great Weekend!
Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 18

  1. A couple “little” additions to this fine info:
    When egg yolks are cooked soft below 112 degrees then the inherent lecithin is still intact which functions to lower cholesterol as a fat emulsifier. Good news for us egg lovers.
    Also the benefit of lowering one’s risk by raising HDL level’s, thus lowering cardiovascular risk by participating in the fine cardiovascular exercise as described by CTS may have been overlooked.

  2. I can agree with the “new” guidelines to some extent. After reading several opinion differing books on nutrition, I have noticed that differing conclusions are often drawn from the same data or similar data. However, the conclusion of your article pretty much summed up the common denominators of good nutrition …in my view. None of this will make me live forever on this earth, but it can improve performance and possibly limit the disabilities we might have before we reach the end day. None of us are getting out of this world alive no matter what we eat, but in the meantime, we can utilize the best nutrition we know, exercise like fury : ), to live out that live fully the way, I believe, it was intended to be lived.

    1. Yes – you are correct in that we all will die. However, as you alluded to – we won’t die on 18 different medications locked up in a nursing home. (Unless we get hit by a mac truck)

  3. Thanks for the GREAT reminder Chris… if I’m reading your message correctly, what you’re saying is moderation is the best dietary advice.

    FYI, “Bulletproof coffee” is all the rage right now. However, even though I’ve maintained an active off-season with plenty of aerobic exercise, I’ve still packed on 10 pounds. As a matter of fact my midsection now resembles a Peloton! Now I know my results may be different than others, but I’m cutting out my daily routine of organic coffee, grass fed butter, and MCT Oil until I start my longer rides, and even then I will probably not drink quite so much.

    So a big time reminder that moderation is key! Thanks again for the great weekly advice Coach, keep the shiny side up!

  4. Wheat and sugar are the worst offenders, so I’ve read and been told by medical people. While M.D.s still prescribe cholesterol lowering drugs, the real villain for heart disease is sugar … and wheat impacts the brain (which needs cholesterol to prevent/slow onslaught of Alzheimer’s.

    Being on the bike and in this community continues to teach me about my body in ways that I couldn’t have imagined years ago. Thanks, Chris and CTS.

    1. And don’t forget the nasty hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils in much of the processed foods. Don’t think those aren’t affecting those who eat that stuff!

  5. Chris
    Love the weekly articles. And frequently pass onto friends.

    Nobody who can afford to ride bikes competitively should be taking nutritional advice from the government. Or propagating such advice.

    For those who are open to challenging the stigma over bacon, eggs, and butter I’d recommend reading “The Art and Science of Low a Carbohydrate Performance” by Volek and Phinney

  6. Excellent summary Chris. I’m thinking this is the week to invest in eggs in the stock market! Great summary at the end of your article too…bottom line, eat real food with an emphasis on plant based and one will be much healthier and able to perform at a higher level.

  7. I would like to see a chart that should numbers of smokers over the same time period. I bet the shape of the curve closely mimics that of heart disease.

  8. Typical conclusion to any disseminated agenda from the federal government. Our wonderful bureaucracy never seems to get it exactly right. Another scam is their drum beating about “global warming.”
    I have an old cycling friend who has raised chickens (illegally) within a major southern city and has eaten their eggs for years. He once went to breakfast with us and when ordering his meal pulled out three of his own eggs and instructed the waitress how to have them prepared. No Egg Beaters for this guy.

  9. An interesting case of the government issuing ‘guidelines’ based on bad or incomplete science. Sometimes we are too quick to join the herd running over the cliff. (And a pox on my wife for attempting to curb my cheese cravings!)

    1. I believe what we have is science continuing to explore. They make conclusions based on what they know at the moment. We can’t expect them to make conclusions based on what might be good 40 years down the road. I’m am pleased that they continue to study and don’t assume they know everything.

    2. You better thank your wife! Cheese is NOT all it is cracked up to be.
      I am not a cheese hater (was raised in the country and grew up eating it).
      The casein is the problem in such ~ and can cause tumors. So, once again – you need to kiss your wife and thank her.

  10. Dang, Chris, the “Cool Hand Luke” reference will be lost on the kids (<45 years old). What we have here is a failure to communicate! 🙂

    Good article. Note that we never got the memo about not eating shrimp, crabs, oysters and crawfish here in Louisiana.

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