Rocky Balboa, the sixth installment of the Rocky franchise, has brought in more than $30 million since opening in theaters last Wednesday. In the new flick, Sylvester Stallone's title character trains for the big fight the same way he did in the 1976 original: He drinks raw eggs. Do real boxers do this?
They're not supposed to. Boxing trainers praise the egg as an excellent source of muscle-building protein, and admit that drinking a protein shake made with raw eggs is a lot more convenient than making an omelet at the gym. But few trainers believe that raw eggs are more nutritious than the cooked variety, and fewer still would run the risk of losing their protégé to a case of Salmonella enteridis. The egg-borne bacteriumcan cause chills, diarrhea, muscle weakness, and dehydration, all negatives before a big fight. Even if the eggs were germ-free, drinking the whites might not be a good idea: Raw, as opposed to cooked, egg whites contain a substance called avidin, which prevents the body from absorbing biotin, an important vitamin. (You'd have to ingest 26 raw egg whites a day for a month to develop a biotin deficiency.)
The practice of eating raw eggs to build muscle began at least 100 years ago. In the late 1890s, fitness and nutrition guru Bernarr Mcfadden became famous for advocating a diet of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and raw eggs. The popular bodybuilding contests he sponsored made a name for fitness icon Charles Atlas, who would himself become associated with egg drinking. (In later years, McFadden attempted to start his own religion, cosmotarianism, where those with the healthiest bodies go to heaven, and he developed an early version of the vacuum penis pump.) The raw-egg diet continued straight through the 20th century: As Mr. Universe, a young Arnold Schwarzenegger advocated drinking a thermos of eggs and heavy cream to aid in weight gain.
In fact, raw eggs are not especially healthful. Cooking an egg has little effect on its nutritional content; some fluid may be lost in the heating process, but it retains its value as a source of protein. Despite this, many boxers and bodybuilders relied on the supposed potency of the raw egg until the late 1980s, when stories of raw-egg-related salmonella were reported at home and abroad. These days, most hard-core trainers stay away from raw eggs; those who still buy into the Rocky regimen can gulp down a pasteurized "liquid egg white" product, which is supposed to have all the protein and none of the salmonella.
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Explainer thanks Leora Bock of the Cleveland Clinic, Donald J. McNamara of theEgg Nutrition Center, and Gleason's Gym.