Every so often in the health and fitness world there comes along an elixir that can reputedly increase an athlete’s muscle mass, stamina, speed and strength, while boosting the metabolic rate and staving off hunger to aid weight loss. One that’s supposedly been ticking all the above boxes is colostrum milk.
So what is it?
Colostrum is produced by female mammals late in the gestation period and for the first few days following birth. For cows (bovine colostrum), it is usually the first four days after a calf is born, its main purpose to ensure the complete development of the young animal’s gut.
In addition, colostrum reinforces the newborn’s immunity to infection by providing antibodies and antimicrobials, plus immunoregulation and antioxidative factors.
Before the advent of antibiotics, bovine colostrum was the main source of antibodies used to fight infections. The reason being: antibody levels in colostrum can be 100 times greater than that of regular milk.
Recently, researchers have developed hyperimune bovine colostrum, a special variety which contains antibodies that are targeted at specific diseases. However, studies have not only shown its ineffectiveness, it has also been shown that natural bovine colostrum contains more antibodies.
In addition to its utilization in the medical community, some athletes and coaches also use colostrum because of its promise as an ergogenic aid to enhance performance in high-intensity exercises.
What does the science say about colostrum?
Well, a key component of colostrum as an ergogenic aid is its high IGF-1(insulin-like growth factor) content. The importance of IGF-1 in muscle growth can’t be understated because of its ability to activate cell growth.
However, research is split in regards to colostrum’s ability to raise IGF-1 levels. A study in 2002, conducted by a Dr A Mero, reported that colostrum raised the body’s levels of IGF-1. However, a more recent study, by a Dr JD Buckley, refuted that claim and instead found colostrum actually increased anaerobic power. And that result seemed to be substantiated by a study by a Dr Z Hofman when he gave colostrum to elite field hockey players and noted their marked improvement in a number of speed tests and time trials.
Plus, in another study where the performances of professional cyclists given 10g of whey protein per day were compared to a group who received the same amount of colostrum demonstrated, over an eight-week period, the cyclists using colostrum reported a greater improvement in a 40km time trial. In fact, the colostrum group also showed better stamina levels and quicker recovery times.
But this throws up the question as to whether colostrum has more benefits to offer with strength-building (anaerobic) or stamina-boosting (aerobic) exercises.
In another study conducted on top-level female rowers, by a Dr G D Brinkworth, colostrum appeared to have no effect on their performance. However, an increase in the body’s buffer capacity was observed.
Muscle buffer capacity is the ability of the muscles to neutralize the acids that accumulate in them due to high-intensity training and therefore fight off fatigue. The authors of the research theorize this could be the result of an increase in fast-twitch muscle fibers; and as we all know, these are predominantly linked to anaerobic exercise.
So in conclusion, the evidence would seem to suggest colostrum offers consistent performance improvement in activities that involve the anaerobic energy system. Plus, it appears to shorten recovery times.
What is the ideal daily dosage?
The recommended serving on virtually all commercially available colostrum supplements ranges from 3g to 6g. However, the lowest dose shown to work in studies is 10g, while the greatest improvements came as result of subjects consuming 20g daily.
For instance, in the Hofman study it was noted colostrum supplementation at 10g per day didn’t illicit a response at eight weeks, whereas in his previous research subjects demonstrated an improvement in performance at eight weeks after consuming 20g per day.
Furthermore, colostrum has positive effects on body composition in addition to its ability to enhance the body’s natural defense against infections.
Finally, it goes without saying that money spent on colostrum would be a waste if you don’t have a solid nutrition plan in place.
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