So Cholesterol is bad?
Tom McCullough MEd.

We have all been told that cholesterol is bad. High blood cholesterol levels have been associated with cardiac problems. There are two types of cholesterol:

LOW-DENSITY Lipoproteins (LDL) or the bad cholesterol, which are thought to cause a reduction in blood circulation, which often leads to heart disease and heart attacks.

HIGH-DENSITY Lipoproteins (HDL) the good cholesterol, often help facilitate the removal of cholesterol from the arteries.

However, LDL is significant in the fact that it serves as a warning sign that something is wrong and alerts the body to defend against the malady at hand. Further more, our tissues need cholesterol, and LDL delivers it. HDL, the good cholesterol, cleans up after the repair is done. And the more LDL you have in your blood, the better you are able to build muscle during resistance training. :o

Riechman SE, et al. Statins and dietary and serum cholesterol are associated with increased lean mass following resistance training. Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Oct, 2007; 62 (10): 1164-1171.

Age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia) is a prevalent condition associated with disability and mortality. Exercise and optimal nutrition are interventions to prevent and treat sarcopenia, yet little is known, outside of protein, of the effect of common nutrition recommendations and medication use on exercise-related muscle gain.
Forty-nine community-dwelling, 60- to 69-year-old men and women completed 2 weeks of nutrition education (American Dietetic Association recommendations) followed by 12 weeks of high intensity resistance exercise training (RET) with postexercise protein supplementation and 3x/wk dietary logs.
We observed a dose-response relationship between dietary cholesterol (from food logs) and gains in lean mass that was not affected by variability in protein intake. Serum cholesterol and the serum cholesterol lowering agent statin were also independently associated with greater increases in lean mass. Dietary cholesterol was not associated with serum cholesterol or the significant reduction in blood pressure observed, but trends were observed for altered plasma C-reactive protein.
These data suggest that dietary and serum cholesterol contribute to the skeletal muscles' response to RET in this generally healthy older population and that some statins may improve this response.

So the researchers observed that higher self-reported dietary cholesterol intake and serum cholesterol levels were associated with greater lean mass gains. Very interesting! So perhaps high blood cholesterol is bad in sedentary people but not so bad for athletes, especially strength athletes. Especially since we now know LDL delivers [cholesterol] to tissues. This result is consistent with the my hypothesis that cholesterol is important for muscle adaptations to resistance training and suggests a step in the pathway.


Riechman SE, et al. Dietary Cholesterol and Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Training: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. FASEB Journal, 2008; 22: 962.13.

Background: We recently reported a strong positive association of dietary cholesterol and skeletal muscle responses to resistance training (Riechman, 2007). To confirm these findings we conducted a randomized placebo controlled trial in which we supplemented the diet with whole egg or egg white (control).
Methods: 3 groups of 50–69 year old generally healthy subjects (N=30) underwent 12 weeks of resistance exercise training (RET, 3x/week, 2–3 sets, 8–12 reps, 70% of max strength). Each group consumed 3.5 mg/kg lean/day (<200 mg/day, LC), 7.0 mg/kg lean/day ( 400 mg/day, MC), or 14.0 mg/kg lean/day ( 800 mg/day, HC) of cholesterol. Subjects were asked to complete 48 food records over the 12 wks to confirm dietary compliance. Body composition (DEXA) and maximal strength tests were conducted before and after the training.
Results: Summary strength gain (chest press +leg press) was increased significantly (P<0.05) with increasing dietary cholesterol (HC=52±8%, MC=38±8%, LC=21±8%). The mean gain in lean mass was 1.7±1.0 kg (3.7%) where subjects also lost 0.5±1.7 kg of fat mass (1.6%). Changes in lean mass and fat mass between groups was not significantly different (P>0.05).
Conclusion: Our results confirm our previous finding that high dietary cholesterol contributes to strength gain with resistance training; however, lean mass gains were inconsistent. Supported by US Poultry and Egg Association.

So researchers found that the combined strength gain on the chest press +leg press increased significantly (P<0.05) with increasing dietary cholesterol. The low, medium and high cholesterol groups increased strength by 21, 38 and 52%, respectively. Read that again – the high cholesterol group experienced 250% greater strength gains than those seen in the low-cholesterol group!

Despite the greater strength gains of the higher cholesterol groups, changes in lean mass and fat mass were not significantly different between groups; the mean gain in lean mass was 1.7 kg, and the subjects also lost 0.5 kg of fat.

The most likely explanation for the lack of difference in lean mass gains is that caloric intake did not differ between the 2 groups, and neither group increased their caloric intake sufficiently to bring about more substantial increases in muscle. This is hardly the first study that showed one group to gain more strength than the other without a concomitant greater increase in lean mass.

Gaining muscular bodyweight requires a calorie surplus, and if participants in a strength training study do not consistently consume a calorie surplus for the duration of the study, muscle hypertrophy will be limited as a result. It is also suspected that the cholesterol from dairy products does not react the same in the body as the cholesterol found in meats.

Now, this doesn't mean that we all need to go on a McDonald's diet and stuff our selves with cholesterol but it is important to understand that precise implementation of saturated fats will be conducive in facilitating muscle hypertrophy. It is also suspected that saturated fats may increase healthy prostaglandin production, which will initiate a myriad of growth factors localized to muscle, and systemically. This could also play a major role in LDL’s influence on building big muscles.