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