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What is Colostrum?

Colostrum, beestings, bisnings, or first milk, is a special form of milk produced by mammals during late pregnancy, soon before birth. Colostrum is very rich in nutrients such as protein, vitamins, as well as antibodies for use by the infant. It serves as a good food source for bodybuilders and athletes because it has potential as an ergogenic aid and it is also lower in fat and carbohydrates compared to regular milk.

Where Does Colostrum Come From?

Most female mammals are capable of producing colostrum, including humans. However, commercial colostrum is generally obtained from cows (bovine colostrum).

Colostrum Benefits

Because colostrum is so packed full of good nutrients, it's no surprise that it may provide a range of benefits. Many studies investigate the effects of colostrum compared to whey, the king of protein... And it appears that colostrum may be superior.

Colostrum Benefits for Strength

Protein is needed for muscle development and athletic performance. Therefore, when we look at a product such as colostrum, which is rich in protein and contains an excellent amino acid profile, we immediately think of its potential as an ergogenic aid. There are studies that suggest that colostrum is capable of increasing peak power when compared to whey (Buckley et al, 2003). Another study using elite field hockey players found that colostrum increased sprint performance compared to whey (Hofman et al, 2002).

Colostrum Benefits for Lean Gains

With increases in strength and power, we also expect to see increases in muscle gain. This has been observed by researchers who reported that a 20 g/day supplementation of colostrum along with exercise increased lean mass to a higher degree compared to whey protein (Antonio et al, 2001).

Colostrum Benefits for Recovery

Not only is there evidence to show that colostrum increases strength and lean gains, it may also increase recovery. A study found that when performing two consecutive bouts of exercise, those supplemented with colostrum performed 5.2% better than those consuming whey protein (Buckley et al, 2002).

Colostrum Benefits for Immunity

After extremely intensive bouts of training and competition, the immune system often takes a bit of a battering. Consequently, it is not uncommon for athletes to suffer from infections during this period. A study has found that when given 10 g colostrum/day, high tier cyclists showed improved immune function, and reduced likelihood of upper respiratory tract infection (eg colds and flus) compared to those using whey protein (Shing et al, 2007).

Negatives of Colostrum and Side Effects

Colostrum shows potential in increasing muscle strength. However, it does not seem to have the same ergogenic properties for endurance athletes. Many of the studies above did not appear to find any significant improvements in endurance parameters.

Bovine colostrum is considered safe for human consumption. This is supported by observations and animal studies (Davis et al, 2007). However, just like with regular milk, people suffering from lactose intolerance or other dairy related intolerances may experience side effects from consuming colostrum.

One down side to an otherwise seemingly superior supplement, is the cost of colostrum. Colostrum is by far the most expensive protein powder. Many of the studies performed above used 60 g/day, over many weeks. If this was applied to real life, it would be very expensive.

Colostrum Recommended Doses and Nutrient Timing

Many of the above studies used 60 g/day. This was a dose effective in producing positive results for exercise performance, while 10 g/day was apparently effective in boosting immune function. However, these doses are somewhat impractical in real life considering the cost of colostrum. Smaller doses may still have some positive effects.

Timing for colostrum by itself is not important. However, colostrum may be found in supplement mixtures, in which case, you should follow the manufacturer's recommendations.

Colostrum Supplements

Stand-alone, pure forms of colostrum supplements are available for purchase. However, they are more often found in protein powders such as some weight gainers.

Stacking Colostrum

For boosting strength and lean gains, colostrum should be stacked with the protein powders appropriate for your goals (eg. mass gainers, fat loss proteins, etc). For immune function, consider stacking colostrum with vitamin and mineral supplements.

Antonio et al (2001), The effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in active men and women. Nutrition, 17: 243-247
Buckley et al (2003), Bovine colostrum supplementation during endurance running training improves recovery, but not performance. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 5: 65-79
Buckley et al (2003), Effect of bovine colostrum on anaerobic exercise performance and plasma insulin-like growth factor I. Journal of Sports Sciences, 21: 577-588
Davis et al (2007), The safety of New Zealand bovine colostrum: Nutritional and physiological evaluation in rats. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 45: 229-236
Hofman et al (2002), The effect of bovine colostrum supplementation on exercise performance in elite field hockey players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 12: 461-469
Shing et al (2007), Effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on immune variables in highly trained cyclists. Journal of Applied Physiology, 3: 1113-1122

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