• Colostrum is a protein-rich substance secreted in breast milk in the first few days after a mother has given birth. Colostrum is rich in immunoglobulins and insulin-like growth factors (IGFs).
• The gut of a baby has "leaky" junctions that allow it to absorb proteins, like immunoglobulins to develop its own immune system. By contrast, most experts believe that adults do not have “leaky” junctions and hence are unable to absorb these proteins.
• Commercial colostrum supplements are typically produced from bovine (cow) sources. These supplements are intended for chronic use and are claimed to improve exercise performance and recovery, and possibly to have beneficial effects on body composition (increasing lean muscle tissue).
• To date, a small number of studies have been conducted and published in peer-reviewed literature. Although these studies are well-controlled and have involved long-term supplementation with several commercially available colostrum supplements, they have been unable to show consistent or universal improvement of athletic performance. However, one study has shown that a short-lived benefit may occur immediately after periods of intensified training due to a reduction in residual fatigue (Shing et al. 2006).
• There is little evidence of an enhanced outcome of training on changes in body mass or body composition.
• The possibility of a reduced risk of illness with colostrum supplementation still requires careful long-term research.
• A mechanism by which colostrum supplementation may benefit athletes remains speculative. While a few studies indicate that colostrum supplementation increases concentrations of serum IGF-1 and salivary immunoglobulins, other studies have failed to demonstrate these findings (Mero et al. 2002).
• In summary, further research is required to demonstrate that colostrum supplementation benefits performance and to identify the athlete group most likely to benefit from supplementation.
Supplements products and Protocols
• There are several supplements based on bovine colostrum on the market.
• Many factors affect the quality and amount of active ingredients in commercially available bovine colostrum supplements, including characteristics of the source and handling of the colostrum. Issues related to the source include the breed and feeding/health status of the cows, and most importantly, the time of collection in relation to the birth of a calf. As time after birth lengthens, active ingredients like IGF-1 and IgG (immunoglobulins) are reduced markedly. Therefore, it is unlikely that the results achieved by one commercial supplement will apply to all others.
• The protocol for colostrum use in most studies involves an intake of 10-60 g of colostrum powder or liquid each day and the literature indicates that at least 4 weeks of supplementation may be required to induce a benefit. With commercial supplements costing $AUS15-70 per week to achieve these doses, colostrum supplementation involves a considerable expense.
Situations for use in Sport
• Due to the lack of current evidence for use in sport, colostrum should be used with discretion.
• It may be beneficial to improve performance within a few days of completing a high intensity training block but this benefit is diminished after 1 week of rest.
Concerns Associated with Supplement Use
• Colostrum supplementation may be expensive.
• Due to the lack of long-term studies it is unclear if there are any chronic side effects from taking colostrum.
Mero A, Kahkonen J, Nykanen T, Parviainen T, Jokinen I, Takala T, Nikula T, Rasi S, Leppaluoto J. IGF-I, IgA, and IgG responses to bovine colostrum supplementation during training. J Appl Physiol. 2002; 93(2): 732-739.
Shing CM, Jenkins DG, Stevenson L, Coombes JS. The influence of bovine colostrum on exercise performance in highly trained cyclists. Br J Sports Med 2006; 40:797-801
Please refer to summary table for research conducted on Colostrum.
Last updated August 2009
This fact sheet was prepared by AIS Sports Nutrition as part of the AIS Sports Supplement Program. The AIS Sports Supplement Program has been designed for the specific needs of AIS athletes and all attempts are made to stay abreast of scientific knowledge and of WADA issues related to anti-doping. It is recommended that other athletes and groups should seek independent advice before using any supplement, and that all athletes consult the WADA List of Prohibited Substances and Methods before making decisions about the use of supplement products. © Australian Sports Commission 2009