Bovine Colostrum: Enhancements in IGF-1 and Hypertrophy Markers

Bovine colostrum is the early milk produced by cows during the first several days after the calf's birth. This "early" milk has a nutrient profile and immunological composition substantially different from "mature" milk as it helps the newborn develop in its first week of life. The purpose of colostrum is to provide the calf with antibodies and nutrition that will aid in the fortification of the immune system. Bovine colostrum contains many beneficial substances. The most important of these substances are: Immunoglobins, Lactoferin, Proline-Rich Polypeptide, Cytokines and Vitamins (2). 

"In addition to macronutrients found in milk such as protein, carbohydrate, and fat, and micronutrients including vitamins and minerals, bovine colostrum contains oligosaccharides, growth factors, antimicrobial compounds, and immune-regulating constituents either not present in milk or present in substantially lower concentrations" as expressed by Gopal and his team of nutritional scientists (1). Bovine colostrum is similar to whey protein's efficiency ratio. Furthermore, it is low in fat and lactose free (11). Bovine has been known for its role in improving strength and power outputs in high intensity bouts of anaerobic exercise. Bovine is also known for its naturally high levels of insulin like growth factors, specifically IGF-1. Although this may be beneficial for strength and growth gains, The American Institute for Cancer Research has recently discovered that high levels of IGF-1 may increase the risk for certain types of cancer, specifically breast and colon cancer (10). 

In a study by Antonio et al (3), he and his team examined the effect of 8 weeks bovine colostrum supplementation on body composition and exercise performance in active men and women. There were two groups: a placebo/whey protein group and a bovine colostrum group. The bovine colostrum group experienced a greater significant increase in lean body mass than the whey protein group. From this study, the scientists recommend that 8 weeks or more of 20 grams bovine colostrum will enhance lean muscle hypertrophy which will further lead to increases in strength and power. This should be especially important and significant for athletes or anyone interested in advanced human performance and hypertrophy.

In a study by Mero et al (4), their purpose was to examine the effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on serum insulin-like growth factors (IGF-I), amino acids, and saliva immunoglobulin concentrations during a strength and speed training period. In this study, 9 male subjects were all either advanced sprinters or jumpers. All of them underwent 3 different conditions each lasting a period of 8 days, but with a 13 day period between conditions to eliminate factors from the previous condition. The three conditions were identical in regards to the sprint and strength training with the only notable difference amongst them being the type of drink/supplement consumed during the training period. These conditions included a whey protein supplement, a low level bovine colostrum supplement, and a high level bovine supplement containing 5 times the amount of colostrum as the low level group. The results from this study showed a positive correlation between IGF-I and levels of bovine colostrum. In other words, high levels of bovine colostrum produced the greatest increases in IGF-I. Also, the low level bovine colostrum supplement increased levels of IGF-F to a greater degree than the whey protein group. Finally, if bovine colostrum can have such positive influence on IGF-I, the authors reasonably speculated that this supplement may have a tremendous effect on athletes due to the anabolic and muscle building effects of IGF-I.

One of the more recent studies regarding bovine colostrum supplementation was again conducted by Mero and his team of nutritional scientists (5). In this study, the main goal was to determine the effect of bovine colostrum on serum amino acid concentrations as well as strength measurements. There were two conditions in which 12 active male subjects underwent both treatments, but with 1 month between each protocol. The two conditions involved subjects ingesting either a 20 gram bovine colostrum supplement or a 20 gram placebo/maltodextrin supplement. Measurements were taken before and after each treatment to determine changes in amino acid concentrations and levels of strength. The results from this study clearly showed that bovine colostrum produced significant increases in essential amino acid concentrations within the muscles compared to no increases in the placebo group. However, there were no differences in strength in either group. The authors theorized that the lack of increases in strength, specifically in the bovine colostrum condition may be due to the 2 week duration of the study which is relatively short to induce significant gains in strength. 

In a study by Buckley et al (6), they examined the effects of bovine colostrum on peak vertical jump power, peak cycle power, alactic anaerobic work capacity, resistance exercise one-repetition maximum (1-RM), and plasma insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I) concentrations. This was an 8 week study composed of 51 males subjects divided into two groups: a placebo/whey protein group and a bovine colostrum group. Peak vertical jump and peak anaerobic cycle power both significantly improved in the bovine colostrum group when compared to the whey group. However, alactic anaerobic work capacity and resistance exercise one-repetition max changed equally in both groups. Thus, the authors noted that bovine colostrum supplementation worked equally as well as traditional whey protein powder for certain factors and was superior in eliciting changes in other factors such as anaerobic power. Simply put, bovine colostrum supplementation during training significantly increased peak anaerobic power and vertical jump, but had no effect on alactic anaerobic work capacity, 1RM, or plasma IGF-I when compared to the control/whey protein group.

Although many studies have examined human subjects in a laboratory setting, few have dealt solely with athletic subjects on the playing field especially at the higher level. Hofman et al (7) did just this. He examined the effect of 8 weeks of supplementation with bovine colostrum on body composition and exercise performance (5 x 10-m sprint, vertical jump, shuttle-run test, and suicide test) in elite field hockey players. Seventeen female and 18 male elite field hockey players, including players from the Dutch national team, received either 60g of colostrum or whey protein daily. The sprint test improved significantly in the colostrum group versus the placebo/whey group while there was also a slight increase in the vertical jump performance test for the bovine colostrum group. However, there was no significant change in body composition or endurance between the two groups. Therefore, it was concluded by the authors of this study that bovine colostrum supplementation may cause significant improvements in anaerobic power output and explosive capabilities in elite athletes.

Although most studies have found bovine colostrum to be of great aid to power and strength in athletes, little has been found or studied in regards to long term endurance performance. Coombes et al (8) decided to clarify this issue by conducting his own study in which bovine colostrum was tested on endurance cyclists. In this study, there were 42 competitive cyclists who were randomly divided into three groups and required to consume either 20g a day of bovine colostrum + 40g whey protein concentrate, 60g of bovine colostrum, or 60g of whey protein/placebo group. It appears that either of the bovine colostrum protocols elicited significant gains over the placebo/whey protein group. In other words, the cyclists improved their two hour time trials by reducing their time by 2-3 minutes over the placebo group. Of interesting note is that the group which combined 20 grams of bovine colostrum with whey protein experienced superior outcomes over the group that consumed 60 gram of only bovine colostrum. Their times were on the average of 30 seconds faster than the 60 grams bovine colostrum group. Thus, it can be surmised that bovine colostrum combined with high quality whey protein elicits the greatest gains in human performance.

Of similar interest to endurance athletes is a study by Shing et al (9) in which he investigated the influence of low dose bovine colostrum supplementation on exercise performance in cyclists over a 10 week period that also included 5 days of high intensity training. There were two groups: a bovine colostrum group which consumed 10 grams a day or a placebo/whey protein group. High intensity training was not performed until seven weeks into the endurance program as a means to further improve the cyclist's time trials. The results before high intensity training during the first seven weeks showed no change. However, as soon as the five day period of high intensity training was added, there was a significant change between the two groups. The benefits of the bovine colostrum group although complex and highly scientific were: a 1.9±2.2% improvement from baseline in time trail performances, a 2.3±6.0% overall increase in time trial intensity (%VO2max), and maintenance of time trial heart rate (2.5±3.7%). In addition, bovine colostrum supplementation prevented a decrease in ventilatory threshold following the high intensity period of training (4.6±4.6%). Simply put, these numbers illustrate how the athletes were able to improve endurance time trials by slightly altering their physiological makeup with proper supplementation of bovine colostrum and training. It also appears that bovine colostrum enhanced the ventilatory system and cardiopulmonary processes by helping them work more efficiently.

Summary and Recommendation

Although there are a relatively few number of research studies performed on bovine colostrum, all of them showed empirical evidence of aiding athletic performance. It appears that strength and muscle mass increases are the most evident results of bovine colostrum supplementation. Some of the other noted benefits associated with bovine colostrum supplementation include: increased IGF-1 levels, increased hormone levels, increased peak anaerobic power and vertical jump, reduced endurance times, and enhanced ventilatory system and cardiopulmonary processes by helping individuals work more efficiently. It should be noted that bovine colostrum's powerful effect on increasing IGF-1 levels is so prominent that the NCAA has banned its supplementation for its athletes. Therefore, collegiate athletes should avoid using this product. However, professional athletes may find it highly advantageous to their performance. 

Even though bovine colostrum greatly increases IGF-1 levels, there appears to be no toxicity issues. However, as previously mentioned, those considering bovine colostrum should note the slight but possible correlation between high IGF-1 and various cancers. In terms of dosage, current research would suggest that 20-50 grams a day, combined with other forms of high quality proteins such as whey and casein yield the greatest benefits. In fact, bovine colostrum, when consumed in excessively large amounts seems to have diminishing returns. Thus, small to moderate dosages in conjunction with whey protein work more effectively in enhancing performance than large quantities of colostrum alone when exceeding 50 grams per serving. 

Although bovine colostrum products are more difficult to find on the supplement market than most ergogenic aids, there are several that are of high quality and easily obtainable. Also, due to the fact that bovine colostrum is somewhat new to the supplement industry, has little to no information regarding it. With this in mind, some of the most noted bovine colostrum products from other sources include: Intact Colostrum, Manno's Pro-Fitness SuperCharger, Syntrax Goliath, Total Body Research Labs Colostrum Powder, Sedona Labs Colostrum, Bricker Labs Mega-Colostabs, KAL Colostrum, and Naturade Symbiotics Colostrum Plus Caps. CycoSports's Muscle Milk also appears to have similar benefits of supplementing with bovine colostrum. Although it does not contain the full formula of colostrum, CytoSport has extracted the key elements and ingredients that make colostrum so powerful. Although Muscle Milk's popularity continues to grow, further evidence is needed to clearly indicate whether or not it has the same benefit as pure bovine colostrum.


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