These days, there is no disputing the fact whey is the king of protein powders. But long before anyone knew what whey or casein even were, egg-white protein powder was all the rage. While we’re certainly not trying to dissuade you from using whey, we will argue that egg-white protein powder still holds a place in your protein shake. Here’s why.
Fast and Hard-Boiled Facts
Egg-white protein powder is typically made from dehydrated egg whites that have been processed into a fine powder. Many manufacturers use a spray-drying process to produce egg-white protein powder. It also undergoes a pasteurization process to prevent salmonella and inactivate the avidin protein. (See below.) And it typically comes in the basic flavors — vanilla, chocolate and strawberry — and often an unflavored version.
Protein in an Eggshell
Egg whites may not be particularly large, but they can contain as many as 40 different proteins. Of these, ovalbumin, a type of glycoprotein (protein that has carbohydrates attached to it), comprises the majority, making up roughly 55 percent of egg whites’ protein. Ovotransferrin is an iron-binding protein that provides antimicrobial properties and makes up more than 10 percent of the protein content. Ovomucin, another type of glycoprotein, accounts for less than 5 percent of egg-white protein but is one reason why egg whites are so gelatinous. But it’s avidin that might sound most familiar.
One of the most minor constituents in egg-white protein (accounting for only 0.5 percent), avidin can be toxic when ingested in large amounts. Known as the cause of egg-white injury, avidin binds with biotin, a critical B vitamin, and escorts it out of the body, which can result in biotin deficiency. This condition only tends to present itself in those who eat tons of raw egg whites. Egg-white protein powders are pasteurized, which inactivates the avidin protein and prevents it from binding with biotin.
In addition to all those proteins, egg whites contain a slew of amino acids. Among those that are prevalent in egg whites are the branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. These aminos — particularly leucine — are critical for driving muscle protein synthesis and therefore muscle growth. Research shows that egg-white protein has similar effects on stimulating muscle protein synthesis as the milk proteins: whey and casein.
Arginine is another amino that’s present in high amounts in egg-white protein. Arginine stimulates nitric-oxide production in the body, and NO dilates blood vessels, resulting in increased blood flow to muscles, which helps to deliver more oxygen, nutrients and anabolic hormones for better energy and a bigger pump during workouts and better muscle recovery and greater muscle growth after workouts. Arginine also increases levels of growth hormone, which is critical during and after workouts.
Egg whites contain other beneficial components. Take sulfur, for example. Responsible for the hideous odor of rotten eggs, the element is critical to the body’s hormone-producing pathways, which helps egg-white protein further enhance muscle growth.
Egg whites are one of the highest-quality proteins on earth. In fact, because of their amino acid makeup and how easy it is for the body to use them, some call egg whites the perfect protein.
Slow Your Roll
Egg-white protein digests at a moderate rate, meaning it falls somewhere between very-fast-digesting whey protein and very-slow-digesting casein. This is likely why egg whites have been shown in clinical trials not only to boost protein synthesis but also to prevent muscle protein breakdown.
This digestion differential means that by adding egg-white protein powder to a whey and casein shake, you get maximal benefits, with fast- (whey), medium- (egg) and slow-digesting (casein) proteins in each dose. Research shows that this is the best way to maximize muscle growth because whey will immediately kick-start muscle protein synthesis and the egg protein and then the casein will keep it turned on for many hours while also decreasing muscle breakdown. Many protein manufacturers are adding egg protein to their mixed protein powders for this reason.
Where’s the Egg?
Peer closely enough at the ingredients label on a protein-powder bottle and you might come up confused — particularly if you’re searching for egg-protein powder. Quite often, egg-white protein is listed on such labels as egg albumen, though some protein manufacturers incorrectly spell it egg albumin. Although albumin usually refers to blood proteins, there is confusion due to the fact that the most common protein in egg whites is ovalbumin. For this reason, you also may see egg-white protein listed as ovalbumin.
Egg-White Protein Check List
Wondering whether egg protein is right for you? Consult this checklist.
- I am concerned about the chemical and mechanical processing that some protein powders undergo.Egg-white protein is naturally devoid of carbs and fat. That means that it bypasses a lot of the processing that other protein powders endure.
- I don’t want any extra carbs or fat in my protein shakes.See above — egg-white protein is very low in carbs and fat.
- I am either allergic to cow’s milk protein or so supremely lactose intolerant that I can’t even tolerate whey protein.Egg-white protein doesn’t come from cows or contain lactose.
- I hate eggs’ flavor/consistency/color.Being dried and (often) flavored, egg-white protein is a great way for those who can’t stand the taste of eggs to take advantage of eggs’ many nutritional benefits.