Bovine colostrum is the early milk produced
by cows during the first several days after the calf's birth.
This "early" milk has a nutrient profile and immunological
composition substantially different from "mature" milk
as it helps the newborn develop in its first week of life. The
purpose of colostrum is to provide the calf with antibodies and
nutrition that will aid in the fortification of the immune system.
Bovine colostrum contains many beneficial substances. The most
important of these substances are: Immunoglobins, Lactoferin,
Proline-Rich Polypeptide, Cytokines and Vitamins (57).
"In addition to macronutrients found in milk such as protein,
carbohydrate, and fat, and micronutrients including vitamins
and minerals, bovine colostrum contains oligosaccharides, growth
factors, antimicrobial compounds, and immune-regulating constituents
either not present in milk or present in substantially lower
concentrations" as expressed by Gopal and his team of nutritional
scientists (56). Bovine colostrum is similar to whey protein's
efficiency ratio. Furthermore, it is low in fat and lactose free
(95). Bovine has been known for its role in improving strength
and power outputs in high intensity bouts of anaerobic exercise.
Bovine is also known for its naturally high levels of insulin
like growth factors, specifically IGF-1. Although this may be
beneficial for strength and growth gains, The American Institute
for Cancer Research has recently discovered that high levels
of IGF-1 may increase the risk for certain types of cancer, specifically
breast and colon cancer (92).
In a study by Antonio et al (58), he and his team examined the
effect of 8 weeks bovine colostrum supplementation on body composition
and exercise performance in active men and women. There were
two groups: a placebo/whey protein group and a bovine colostrum
group. The bovine colostrum group experienced a greater significant
increase in lean body mass than the whey protein group. From
this study, the scientists recommend that 8 weeks or more of
20 grams bovine colostrum will enhance lean muscle hypertrophy
which will further lead to increases in strength and power. This
should be especially important and significant for athletes or
anyone interested in advanced human performance and hypertrophy.
In a study by Mero et al (59), their purpose was to examine the
effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on serum insulin-like
growth factors (IGF-I), amino acids, and saliva immunoglobulin
concentrations during a strength and speed training period. In
this study, 9 male subjects were all either advanced sprinters
or jumpers. All of them underwent 3 different conditions each
lasting a period of 8 days, but with a 13 day period between
conditions to eliminate factors from the previous condition.
The three conditions were identical in regards to the sprint
and strength training with the only notable difference amongst
them being the type of drink/supplement consumed during the training
period. These conditions included a whey protein supplement,
a low level bovine colostrum supplement, and a high level bovine
supplement containing 5 times the amount of colostrum as the
low level group. The results from this study showed a positive
correlation between IGF-I and levels of bovine colostrum. In
other words, high levels of bovine colostrum produced the greatest
increases in IGF-I. Also, the low level bovine colostrum supplement
increased levels of IGF-F to a greater degree than the whey protein
group. Finally, if bovine colostrum can have such positive influence
on IGF-I, the authors reasonably speculated that this supplement
may have a tremendous effect on athletes due to the anabolic
and muscle building effects of IGF-I.
One of the more recent studies regarding bovine colostrum supplementation
was again conducted by Mero and his team of nutritional scientists
(60). In this study, the main goal was to determine the effect
of bovine colostrum on serum amino acid concentrations as well
as strength measurements. There were two conditions in which
12 active male subjects underwent both treatments, but with 1
month between each protocol. The two conditions involved subjects
ingesting either a 20 gram bovine colostrum supplement or a 20
gram placebo/maltodextrin supplement. Measurements were taken
before and after each treatment to determine changes in amino
acid concentrations and levels of strength. The results from
this study clearly showed that bovine colostrum produced significant
increases in essential amino acid concentrations within the muscles
compared to no increases in the placebo group. However, there
were no differences in strength in either group. The authors
theorized that the lack of increases in strength, specifically
in the bovine colostrum condition may be due to the 2 week duration
of the study which is relatively short to induce significant
gains in strength.
In a study by Buckley et al (62), they examined the effects of
bovine colostrum on peak vertical jump power, peak cycle power,
alactic anaerobic work capacity, resistance exercise one-repetition
maximum (1-RM), and plasma insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I)
concentrations. This was an 8 week study composed of 51 males
subjects divided into two groups: a placebo/whey protein group
and a bovine colostrum group. Peak vertical jump and peak anaerobic
cycle power both significantly improved in the bovine colostrum
group when compared to the whey group. However, alactic anaerobic
work capacity and resistance exercise one-repetition max changed
equally in both groups. Thus, the authors noted that bovine colostrum
supplementation worked equally as well as traditional whey protein
powder for certain factors and was superior in eliciting changes
in other factors such as anaerobic power. Simply put, bovine
colostrum supplementation during training significantly increased
peak anaerobic power and vertical jump, but had no effect on
alactic anaerobic work capacity, 1RM, or plasma IGF-I when compared
to the control/whey protein group.
Although many studies have examined human subjects in a laboratory
setting, few have dealt solely with athletic subjects on the
playing field especially at the higher level. Hofman et al (63)
did just this. He examined the effect of 8 weeks of supplementation
with bovine colostrum on body composition and exercise performance
(5 x 10-m sprint, vertical jump, shuttle-run test, and suicide
test) in elite field hockey players. Seventeen female and 18
male elite field hockey players, including players from the Dutch
national team, received either 60g of colostrum or whey protein
daily. The sprint test improved significantly in the colostrum
group versus the placebo/whey group while there was also a slight
increase in the vertical jump performance test for the bovine
colostrum group. However, there was no significant change in
body composition or endurance between the two groups. Therefore,
it was concluded by the authors of this study that bovine colostrum
supplementation may cause significant improvements in anaerobic
power output and explosive capabilities in elite athletes.
Although most studies have found bovine colostrum to be of great
aid to power and strength in athletes, little has been found
or studied in regards to long term endurance performance. Coombes
et al (64) decided to clarify this issue by conducting his own
study in which bovine colostrum was tested on endurance cyclists.
In this study, there were 42 competitive cyclists who were randomly
divided into three groups and required to consume either 20g
a day of bovine colostrum + 40g whey protein concentrate, 60g
of bovine colostrum, or 60g of whey protein/placebo group. It
appears that either of the bovine colostrum protocols elicited
significant gains over the placebo/whey protein group. In other
words, the cyclists improved their two hour time trials by reducing
their time by 2-3 minutes over the placebo group. Of interesting
note is that the group which combined 20 grams of bovine colostrum
with whey protein experienced superior outcomes over the group
that consumed 60 gram of only bovine colostrum. Their times were
on the average of 30 seconds faster than the 60 grams bovine
colostrum group. Thus, it can be surmised that bovine colostrum
combined with high quality whey protein elicits the greatest
gains in human performance.
Of similar interest to endurance athletes is a study by Shing
et al (65) in which he investigated the influence of low dose
bovine colostrum supplementation on exercise performance in cyclists
over a 10 week period that also included 5 days of high intensity
training. There were two groups: a bovine colostrum group which
consumed 10 grams a day or a placebo/whey protein group. High
intensity training was not performed until seven weeks into the
endurance program as a means to further improve the cyclist's
time trials. The results before high intensity training during
the first seven weeks showed no change. However, as soon as the
five day period of high intensity training was added, there was
a significant change between the two groups. The benefits of
the bovine colostrum group although complex and highly scientific
were: a 1.9±2.2% improvement from baseline in time trail
performances, a 2.3±6.0% overall increase in time trial
intensity (%VO2max), and maintenance of time trial heart rate
(2.5±3.7%). In addition, bovine colostrum supplementation
prevented a decrease in ventilatory threshold following the high
intensity period of training (4.6±4.6%). Simply put, these
numbers illustrate how the athletes were able to improve endurance
time trials by slightly altering their physiological makeup with
proper supplementation of bovine colostrum and training. It also
appears that bovine colostrum enhanced the ventilatory system
and cardiopulmonary processes by helping them work more efficiently.
Summary and Recommendation
Although there are a relatively few number of research studies
performed on bovine colostrum, all of them showed empirical evidence
of aiding athletic performance. It appears that strength and
muscle mass increases are the most evident results of bovine
colostrum supplementation. Some of the other noted benefits associated
with bovine colostrum supplementation include: increased IGF-1
levels, increased hormone levels, increased peak anaerobic power
and vertical jump, reduced endurance times, and enhanced ventilatory
system and cardiopulmonary processes by helping individuals work
more efficiently. It should be noted that bovine colostrum's
powerful effect on increasing IGF-1 levels is so prominent that
the NCAA has banned its supplementation for its athletes. Therefore,
collegiate athletes should avoid using this product. However,
professional athletes may find it highly advantageous to their
Even though bovine colostrum greatly increases IGF-1 levels,
there appears to be no toxicity issues. However, as previously
mentioned, those considering bovine colostrum should note the
slight but possible correlation between high IGF-1 and various
cancers. In terms of dosage, current research would suggest that
20-50 grams a day, combined with other forms of high quality
proteins such as whey and casein yield the greatest benefits.
In fact, bovine colostrum, when consumed in excessively large
amounts seems to have diminishing returns. Thus, small to moderate
dosages in conjunction with whey protein work more effectively
in enhancing performance than large quantities of colostrum alone
when exceeding 50 grams per serving.
Although bovine colostrum products are more difficult to find
on the supplement market than most ergogenic aids, there are
several that are of high quality and easily obtainable. Also,
due to the fact that bovine colostrum is somewhat new to the
supplement industry, consumerlab.com has little to no information
regarding it. With this in mind, some of the most noted bovine
colostrum products from other sources include: Intact Colostrum,
Manno's Pro-Fitness SuperCharger, Syntrax Goliath, Total Body
Research Labs Colostrum Powder, Sedona Labs Colostrum, Bricker
Labs Mega-Colostabs, KAL Colostrum, and Naturade Symbiotics Colostrum
Plus Caps. CycoSports's Muscle Milk also appears to have similar
benefits of supplementing with bovine colostrum. Although it
does not contain the full formula of colostrum, CytoSport has
extracted the key elements and ingredients that make colostrum
so powerful. Although Muscle Milk's popularity continues to grow,
further evidence is needed to clearly indicate whether or not
it has the same benefit as pure bovine colostrum.
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