Colostrum is the ‘initial milk’ that mammalian breasts secrete (for a few days) after giving birth. It varies from ‘true milk’ not only in consistency but also in its composition.
Similar to milk, colostrum is a rich source of proteins, carbs, fat, vitamins and minerals; the immunoglobulin (antibody) content in colostrum is much higher.
This assumes importance for the new born; the neonatal immune system is not fully developed at the time of birth – immunity imparted by the mother in the form of ready-made immunoglobulins (passive immunity), thus, serves to protect the new born from bacterial and viral infections for a few months until the baby develops its own immunity.
In addition, evidence also suggests that colostrum may, in fact, also hasten the development of the baby’s immune system (Kelly & Coutts, 2000).
Importance of Bovine Colostrum for Humans
Colostrum derived from bovine sources has always been of great interest to humans. This is so because of the immense likeness of bovine colostrum to human colostrum (homologous). Furthermore, the immunoglobulin content of bovine colostrum can be as much as 100% higher than regular cow’s milk. Thus, colostrum can serve as a great source of immunity (not to mention other nutrients) for babies.
The concept of using colostrum from immunized cows for preventing human diseases dates back to the 1950s (Campbell & Petersen, 1963; Lascelles, 1963). Some earlier attempts aimed at using colostrum as a treatment option for diseases like arthritis and hay fever (Campbell & Petersen, 1963).
In addition to antibodies, bovine colostrum is also high in growth factors – insulin-like growth factors and transforming growth factor, to name a few. These are responsible for the growth of various organ-systems – musculoskeletal (Liu, Baker, Perkins, Robertson, & Efstratiadis, 1993) and gastrointestinal (Jehle et al., 1999) and play a crucial role in cell repair as well (Tokuyama & Tokuyama, 1989).
Colostrum and Exercise Performance
In recent years, colostrum has been marketed as a ‘bodybuilding supplement’ – the logic being that it supports muscle growth due to its protein and growth factor content. The fact that colostrum plays a role in cell repair helps recovery from a resistance training session (which causes micro tears to muscle cells).
Furthermore, immunoglobulins contained in colostrum help fight the stresses of intense training – especially when the athlete tends to lean towards overtraining. Add to that, the fact that colostrum has also been shown to enhance exercise performance (Urhausen, Gabriel, & Kindermann, 1998; Coombes, Conacher, Austen, & Marshall, 2002; Lehmann et al., 1992) and improve recovery (Buckley, Abbott, Brinkworth, & Whyte, 2002) after intense bouts of exercise sessions.
A study conducted on highly trained cyclists at the University of Queensland, Australia reported improved ‘race times’ and reduced ‘time to fatigue’ with a low-dose colostrum supplementation (Shing, Jenkins, Stevenson, & Coombes, 2006).
To conclude, current evidence does seem to suggest improved exercise performance and recovery after bovine colostrum supplementation. You might, therefore, want to consider adding a tub of colostrum to your supplements if you are experiencing a ‘plateau’ in strength gains or race times.
Buckley, J. D., Abbott, M. J., Brinkworth, G. D., & Whyte, P. B. (2002). Bovine colostrum supplementation during endurance running training improves recovery, but not performance. J Sci.Med Sport, 5, 65-79.
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Coombes, J. S., Conacher, M., Austen, S. K., & Marshall, P. A. (2002). Dose effects of oral bovine colostrum on physical work capacity in cyclists. Med Sci.Sports Exerc., 34, 1184-1188.
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Lehmann, M., Gastmann, U., Petersen, K. G., Bachl, N., Seidel, A., Khalaf, A. N. et al. (1992). Training-overtraining: performance, and hormone levels, after a defined increase in training volume versus intensity in experienced middle- and long-distance runners. Br.J Sports Med, 26, 233-242.
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Shing, C. M., Jenkins, D. G., Stevenson, L., & Coombes, J. S. (2006). The influence of bovine colostrum supplementation on exercise performance in highly trained cyclists. Br.J Sports Med, 40, 797-801.
Tokuyama, H. & Tokuyama, Y. (1989). Bovine colostric transforming growth factor-beta-like peptide that induces growth inhibition and changes in morphology of human osteogenic sarcoma cells (MG-63). Cell Biol.Int Rep., 13, 251-258.
Urhausen, A., Gabriel, H. H., & Kindermann, W. (1998). Impaired pituitary hormonal response to exhaustive exercise in overtrained endurance athletes. Med Sci.Sports Exerc., 30, 407-414.