Colostrum is the milk produced by mammals within the first few days after giving birth. It is rich in growth, immune, and antimicrobial factors intended to support neonatal development. Bovine colostrum has similar composition to human colostrum and is often supplemented by athletes to improve immune function, increase lean muscle mass, and improve exercise performance and recovery (Shing 2009, Stear 2010).
Bovine colostrum supplementation may improve anaerobic and power performance as well as endurance performance. Colostrum contains growth factors that moderate protein synthesis and supplementation may lead to increases in serum levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). This has the potential to affect muscle growth and strength. Colostrum may also alter substrate utilization and cardiac output that could lead to improved exercise capacity. (Shing 2009, Stear 2010)
In addition to performance enhancing effects, bovine colostrum may improve immune function in athletes. Exhaustive exercise can lead to immunosuppression that affects an athlete's susceptibility to infection. Supplementing colostrum may counter postexercise immune suppression. (Rathe 2014)
There has been some evidence demonstrating beneficial effects on endurance performance during intense training or overload periods (Shing 2009). However, the evidence for the effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on athletic performance is equivocal (Rathe 2014). Regarding anaerobic performance, colostrum use has shown increases in serum essential amino acid concentration, but without effects on strength performance (Mero 2005).
Evidence for improved immune function reported colostrum did not significantly affect the overall reactivity to a novel antigen, but did lessen the decrease in immune response caused by prolonged exercise (Jones 2019). Overall, research is limited and the results are inconclusive regarding the effects of colostrum on immunity in athletes (Rathe 2014).
Bovine colostrum supplementation is thought to provide potential ergogenic and immune effects. However, the research is limited supporting benefits to exercise performance and immune function in athletes. The safety of long-term supplementation (>12 weeks) has not yet been established. (Stear 2010)
Jones AW, March DS, Thatcher R, Diment B, Walsh NP, Davison G (2019). The effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on in vivo immunity following prolonged exercise: A randomised controlled trial. European Journal of Nutrition, 58(1), 335-344.
Mero A, Nykänen T, Keinänen O, Knuutinen J, Lahti K, Alen M, Rasi S, Leppäluoto J (2005). Protein metabolism and strength performance after bovine colostrum supplementation. Amino Acids, 28(3), 327-335.
Rathe M, Müller K, Sangild PT, Husby S (2014). Clinical applications of bovine colostrum therapy: A systematic review. Nutrition Reviews, 72(4), 237-254.
Shing CM, Hunter DC, Stevenson LM (2009). Bovine colostrum supplementation and exercise performance: Potential mechanisms. Sports Medicine, 39(12), 1033-1054.
Stear SJ, Castell LM, Burke LM, Jeacocke N, Ekblom B, Shing C, Calder PC, Lewis N (2010). A-Z of nutritional supplements: Dietary supplements, sports nutrition foods and ergogenic aids for health and performance: part 10. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(9), 688-690.