Known as “first milk,” colostrum is a low-fat, high-protein breast milk that all mammalian mothers lactate within the first few days after giving birth. It’s packed with nutrients and natural antibodies. This makes it partially responsible for giving newborns a fighting chance against disease-causing pathogens, including bacteria and parasites. It also helps get them to a healthy weight.
Bovine colostrum is the cow version of colostrum. Because of its nutritional qualities, including protein power, it’s quickly gaining popularity in the athletic world.
Dr. Jon Buckley, a sports nutrition expert who teaches at the University of South Australia, has studied the potential benefits of bovine colostrum for athletes for decades. He’s found that supplementing an athlete’s diet with 60 grams of concentrated protein powder from bovine colostrum can improve an athlete's performance by more than 5 percent, according to an article that Buckley helped write, published in 2002 in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.
The Australian team used the same regimen and credited their successes in the 2000 and 2004 summer Olympics to bovine colostrum, according to an article published by the Center for Nutritional Research.
Can bovine colostrum give your athletic performance a pro-level boost? It can’t do this, or at least not yet. It won’t replace the need for intense training, a strict diet, and years of dedication. However, if early research is proven correct, it might be able to add some serious value to your regimen.
While its high-protein value is a plus, its greatest asset to athletes is its immune-boosting capability.
The bulk of a person’s immune system lies within their guts. The antibodies in colostrum are vital for helping newborns build up the ability to fight disease, but they can also prove valuable for athletes.
The intense physical stress that athletes put on their bodies during training can severely weaken their immune systems. Sometimes, “runner’s trots” strikes. This is the popular term for a loosening of the bowels. If this happens to an athlete during a big race, months of training can go out the window.
Bovine colostrum has been shown to help strengthen the gut during particularly stressful situations. This ability has lead experts to suggest it may be of particular benefit to soldiers serving in hot climates, such as Afghanistan, according to an article published in the American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology.
Its natural antibiotics can help athletes ward off sickness and infection during peak exercise routines. The supplemented form of bovine colostrum appears to have the same effect as the whole form.
The gastrointestinal benefits of bovine colostrum make it a possible treatment for diarrhea. This has been confirmed in clinical trials, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. It has also been found to help control gut disturbances in people taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, according to Sloan Kettering. These include ibuprofen, aspirin, and other common pain relievers.
Some research has indicated using bovine colostrum supplements can help a person recover after abdominal or coronary bypass surgery.
The main risks of bovine colostrum can occur when you consume it in raw form. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) attributed outbreaks of Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter bacterial infections to consumption of raw dairy products, including bovine colostrum, in the last decade. This lead to recalls of the product, and the largest producer of raw colostrum in the country stopped selling it in 2012. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned against consumption of raw milk products, pointing out that current studies confirm the presence of disease-producing bacteria in raw milk. However, this danger doesn’t exist in the processed form of bovine colostrum, according to the Center for Nutritional Research.
People allergic or sensitive to dairy products shouldn’t use bovine colostrum. Pregnant and nursing women, and young children should also avoid it. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about the potential benefits or risks of bovine colostrum before adding it to your diet.
Bovine colostrum has been shown to enhance athletic performance for some. It has helped others fight conditions such as diarrhea and intestinal discomfort. Research is mixed on the effectiveness of bovine colostrum. Few dangers have been substantiated for it, except when it’s taken in its raw form. Be sure to ask your doctor before taking it, and make sure it doesn’t interfere with any other of your current medications or treatments.