IS BOVINE COLOSTRUM SAFE FOR ATHLETES?

The milk secreted by a cow during the first few days after giving birth, Bovine colostrum, contains a wide array of nutrients essential to the overall health of the athlete as well as growth-promoting and disease-fighting compounds that are thought to facilitate quicker recovery times during intense cycles of training and competition. 

Bovine Colostrum is highly nutritious and has more nutrients than normal milk, containing 3-4 times more protein than regular cow’s milk, an estimated 150 g/L, and is lactose-free. Bovine Colostrum’s health benefits are linked primarily to three specific protein compounds 

  1. Lactoferrin – a protein involved in the body’s immune response to infections 
  2. Growth Factors - Hormones that can stimulate growth. Bovine Colostrum is high in protein-based hormones Insulin Growth Factor (IGF)-1 and Insulin Growth Factor (IGF)-2. IGF-1, which enhances glucose and amino acid transport to cells; promotes protein synthesis while protecting against protein breakdown, all key factors to recovery; and may also help contribute to lean body mass gains. 
  3. Immunoglobulins- Protein antibodies that the body uses to fight bacteria and viruses. Bovine colostrum has been shown to increase levels of an antibody called IgA (Immunoglobulin A) within saliva that may help activate immune defenses, protecting the athlete from various sidelining bugs throughout training and competition.

Bovine colostrum appears to improve intramuscular buffering capacity, helping protect against muscle fatigue during high-intensity training as well as enhance recovery between high-intensity exercise sessions hence athletes may benefit from quicker recovery times and enhanced immune function. 

Bovine colostrum can improve gut health. Bovine Colostrum can increase the growth of intestinal cells, strengthen the gut wall, and reduce gut permeability. This is possible because of the presence of Lactoferrin and the growth factors that are contained in the Bovine colostrum. Studies on athletes having gut permeability issues have shown positive reports when they took Bovine Colostrum. 

Bovine colostrum has the potential to reduce upper respiratory symptoms. A lower dose (10 g/day) of bovine colostrum taken over 10 weeks not only reduced the incidence of upper respiratory symptoms but also yielded significant improvements in highly trained cyclists compared to a placebo group in a 40 km time trial performance after completing a high-intensity training session

Bovine colostrum is available in a variety of forms, including tablets, powders, bars, and liquids. Research-supported doses are variable but, on average, a dose of 10-50 g/day. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) recommends a dosage not exceeding 15g/day. 

Despite the promising benefits, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) does not recommend the usage of Colostrum for athletes. 

WADA Statement on Bovine Colostrum 

“Colostrum is not specifically prohibited, however it can contain certain quantities of IGF-1 and other growth factors which are prohibited and can influence the outcome of anti-doping tests. Therefore, WADA DOES NOT recommend the ingestion of this product”.

Our take: 

Athletes need to follow the WADA guidelines regarding Bovine Colostrum strictly as it contains IGF1- a banned substance. IGF-1 can be taken as a subcutaneous injection too, hence the ban on it.