What is Colostrum? Colostrum is the first milk of any mammal, usually in the first 48 hours from birth. The most commonly used, and research tested colostrum is bovine colostrum (the early milk produced by cows). Early milk has a nutrient profile and immunological composition that differs substantially from mature milk (Kelly, 2003).
Colstrum is made up of macro-nutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) and micronutrients including vitamins and minerals. Where colostrum differs from milk, is that it contains substantially higher concentrations of oligosaccharides, growth factors, anti-microbial compounds, and immune regulators (Kelly, 2003).
Colostrum is believed to enhance immune function, improve body composition, by increasing fat free mass, and enhance sporting performance.
Who might benefit from Colostrum supplements? People looking to increase muscle mass, improve recovery from exercise, improve exercise performance and enhance immune function may benefit from colostrum.
What does research say about colostrum supplements? Ideally colostrum should be collected, around 24-48 hours after birth, as this is where Ig growth factor, cytokine, oligosaccharide, and nucleotide content are at their maximum (Kelly, 2003).
One of the main reasons why colostrum is believed to enhance exercise performance is due to its high level of growth factors such as IGF-1. These are structurally identical to those found in humans, and since IGF-1 has an anabolic effect, the high IGF-1 levels in colostrum may be of benefit to exercise performance.
When athletes consumed 20g of colostrum as part of a resistance training program, they increased lean body mass by 1.4kg and reduced body fat mass by 0.72kg. This compared with a 0.11kg decrease in lean body mass and 1.45kg increase in fat free mass in the group that just consumed whey protein. The researchers concluded that 20g/day of bovine colostrum, in combination with exercise training, could increase bone free lean body mass (Antonio, et al., 2001).
Researchers have also looked at the effect of colostrum on aspect of field hockey performance. They compared the effects of 60g/day of colostrum, compared with 60g of whey protein, in field hockey players. They concluded that in elite field hockey players, colostrum supplementation improves sprint performance, during 5x10m sprints, better than whey protein (Hofman et al., 2002).
Research by Buckley et al., (2003a) also found that colostrum could enhance anaerobic performance. They found that the consumption of colostrum for 8-weeks significantly enhanced peak vertical jump power and peak cycle power, compared with protein. However, a study looking at the effects of colostrum on rowing performance, and hence anaerobic power, in elite female rowers, failed to find any improvements in rowing performance (Brinkworth et al., 2002). The researchers concluded that colostrum improved blood buffer capacity but not performance.
Colostrum also appears to be able to enhance recovery between exercise (Buckley et al., 2003b). In this study subjects performed 2, 30 minute, incremental treadmill tests to exhaustion. One group of athletes consumed 60g of colostrum for 8 weeks, and the other consumed 60g of whey protein. Although there was no significant difference between the two groups in the first run, during the second run the colostrum group improved by 5.2% compared with the whey protein group. Therefore, colostrum may enhance recovery between bouts of exercise such as interval training or during sports like football, rugby, or tennis, where there are a large number repeated sprints during a game.
Colostrum has also proved to be of benefit to endurance cyclists. In one study cyclists performed a two hour cycle at 65% VO2max followed by a time trial. Subjects consumed either 20g colostrums, 60g colostrum, 40g whey protein, or 60g whey protein for 8 weeks. Both the colostrum groups significantly enhanced time trial performance (Improvements in time trial performance were: Whey protein = 37secs, 20g colostrums = 158secs, 60g colostrums = 134secs.) (Coombes et al., 2002).
It is worth bearing in mind that in all of the above studies, whey protein was used as the placebo - a placebo is a supposedly "inactive" substance that is used to compare against the test product. However, a number of studies have shown that whey protein may be of benefit to exercise performance and therefore should not be considered as an inactive placebo (Kelly, 2003). It is therefore possible that these studies underestimated the effectiveness of colostrum as an ergogenic substance.
Based on the available evidence, colostrum appears to be of benefit for enhancing recovery between bouts of exercise, increasing lean body mass, enhancing aspects of anaerobic performance and possible enhancing endurance performance. However, the amount of colostrum used in these studies was relatively high (20-60g/day) and would be too expensive for most athletes, or sports people, to consider worth the investment. It is unclear whether smaller doses (2-5g/day) would be of benefit to sporting performance.
Colostrum, when taken at doses of 10g/day, appear to be effective at eradicating Cryptosporidion infections (Stephan et al., 1990; Kelly, 2003). However, it doesn’t appear to be effective at preventing infection. At this moment in time research doesn’t support the use of colostrum for reducing the risk of infections.
Colostrum appear to have few adverse effects (Kelly, 2003). However, some people may experience minor gastrointestinal problems such as flatulence and nausea.
Is Colostrum effective? Colostrum has been shown to increase lean body mass, whilst decreasing fat mass. Colostrum can also improve sprint or anaerobic exercise performance, and improves recovery between bouts of exercise.
How should I take Colostrum supplements? To enhance sporting performance research suggests that a minimum dose of 20g/day is required, and this may take up to 8-weeks to have a beneficial effect. It is not clear whether lower doses would also be effective. For eradication of Cryptosporidion infections research suggests that 10g/day is effective.
Antonio, J., Sanders, M. S. and Van Gammeren, D. (2001) The effects of bovine colostrums supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in active men and women. Nutrition. 17 (3), 243-247.
Brinkworth, G. D., Buckley, J. D., Bourdon, P. C., Gulbin, J. P. and David, A. (2002) Oral bovine colostrum supplementation enhances buffer capacity but not rowing performance in elite female rowers. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc. 12 (3), 349-365.
Buckley, J. D., Brinkworth, G. D. and Abbott, M. J. (2003a) Effect of bovine colostrums on anaerobic exercise performance and plasma insulin-like growth factor I. J Sports Sci. 21 (7), 577-588.
Buckley, J. D., Abbott, M. J., Brinkworth, G. D. and Whyte, P. B. (2002) Bovine colostrums supplementation during endurance running training improves recovery, but not performance. J Sci Med Sport. 5 (2), 65-79.
Coombes, J. S., Conacher, M., Austen, S. K. and Marshall, P. A. (2002) Dose effects of oral bovine colostrum on physical work capacity in cyclists. Medicine and Science of Sports and Exercise. 34 (7), 1184-1188.
Hofman, Z., Smeets, R., Verhaan, G., Lugt, R. and Verstappen, P. A. (2002) The effect of bovine colostrum supplementation on exercise performance in elite field hockey players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 12 (4), 461-469.
Kelly, G. S. (2003) Bovine Colostrums: A review of Clinical Uses. Altern Med Rev. 8 (4), 378-394.
Stephan, W. (1990) Antibodies from colostrums in oral immunotherapy. J Clin Chem Clin Biochem. 28, 19-23.
Although, every attempt is made to ensure the accuracy of the information on this site, the publisher does not accept responsibility for the accuracy of information on this site. This material is not intended for use to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The publisher does not accept any responsibility for consequences that may arise through the consumption of any supplement or nutritional product discussed on this site. You should always consult a physician, doctor, nurse, pharmacist or health practitioner before consuming any nutritional supplement. Always read the product label and be aware of any possible side-effects or possible drug interactions before taking any nutritional product.
Send mail to
questions or comments about this web site.