Nutrition Notes

Colostrum and Its Potential to Support Athletic Performance

Colostrum is the milk secreted by mammals in the first few days after birth. The composition of colostrum differs from the milk produced later in lactation due to its targeted support of the growth and immunological function of neonates. Almost all essential nutrients including protein, fat, lactoferrin, immunoglobulins, vitamins, minerals, and growth factors are present in higher concentrations in colostrum than in mature milk. Many biological activities of colostrum are shared across species. Supplementation with bovine colostrum (BC) has been popularized to support the immune and gastrointestinal systems in humans. Research also suggests that BC may support athletic performance.

Intense physical activity may cause a suppression of certain immune functions for up to several hours after exercise. In vivo studies show that BC may influence the exercise-induced decrease in immune responsiveness in the presence of a novel antigen. BC supplementation may also improve gut permeability during intense athletic training by its ability to maintain the stability of the intestinal membrane and reduce intercellular permeability. BC also contains lactoferrin and a range of immune-regulating constituents that help protect against intestinal inflammation.

In addition to its immune and digestive benefits, BC may also decrease fatigue and directly support muscular function. Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) is the main growth factor in BC. It is believed to be responsible for the ability of BC to help maintain muscle mass and possibly stimulate the growth of muscle tissue. An 8-week study among older individuals showed an improvement in muscle strength in the presence of 60 grams of BC supplementation per day. 

A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial assessed the effects of BC on professional soccer players with exercise-induced muscle damage for 6 weeks during their competitive season. Participants were randomized to assess either BC or whey protein and serum biomarkers, such as creatinine kinase (CK), high sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP), and interleukin (IL)-6, in addition to muscle strength, jumping performance, body composition, and perceived muscle soreness. At the end of the trial, lower CRP values, lower elevations of CK activity, and significantly lower IL-6 were observed in the BC treatment arm. 

BC may have the ability to influence athletic performance with its unique composition of growth factors, immune-supporting compounds, and other supportive nutrients. Supplementation with BC may improve recovery and support healthy energy levels after exercise. This potent substance may be a natural way to support digestion, immune health, and high-intensity training. 

By Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT