- Bovine colostrum for athletes

Regular exercise strengthens the body, but periods of very intense training may actually weaken the immune system and induce gastrointestinal problems. Bovine colostrum has proven to be very effective as diet supplement during training against both immune related diseases and gut problems, such as diarrhea.

Exercise strengthens the body

It is well-known that regular exercise strengthens the body and makes it more capable of withstanding the attacks to which the body is constantly exposed. Such attacks includes harmless infections, such as a common cold, or a more severe attacks, like the flu. Both of which are easily overcome when you are fit and healthy. Persons engaged in regular exercise will also experience a faster recovery after surgery and will ultimately face a lower occurrence of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer (Gleeson et al., 2011).

The elite athlete paradox

Keeping this in mind, one may wonder why elite athletes appear to be more susceptible to infections, particularly when training is intensified shortly before competition. This paradox of last-minute illness is much feared by athletes as it can dramatically influence their results. Results show that periods of very intense training can weaken the immune system, by leading to immunosuppression that affects the innate and the adequate immune systems. Apparently, the mucous membranes in the mouth and in the intestine change when the body is exposed to an increased level of stress during very intensive exercise. This leads to an increased risk of infections, but the exact mechanism behind in still unknown (Walsh et al., 2011). This means that the athletes must take special precautions to protect themselves when the immune system is weakened by strenuous training.

Upper respiratory tract infections

Upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) is one of the most common complications for athletes during periods of intensive exercise, and while prolonged intense exercise may increase the risk of infection, moderate exercise, on the other hand, may improve the ability to resist URTI, illustrating the complexities of these mechanisms (Moreira et al., 2009).

Endurance athletes, such as cyclists, distance runners, swimmers and tri-athletes, are particularly susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections such as sore throat and the common cold. Apparently, infections occur more frequently during intensive training when periods of recovery are short due to a depressed immune function as a result of the hard training (Walsh et al., 2011). Especially exercise during winter disposes the athletes to develop upper respiratory infections (Jones et al., 2014).

Stomach problems

During periods of very intensive training, it is not unusual for athletes to experience stomach problems such as cramps, diarrhea and nausea. "Runner's diarrhea" is a known and feared phenomenon among marathon runners, partly caused by the combination of extreme physical stress and an increased body temperature. These stressing conditions make the gut more leaky allowing bacteria, toxins and other substances to pass from the gut into the blood. This may lead to acute effects like abdominal pain and diarrhea, while at the same time puts an extra load on the immune system that has to work overtime to combat the unwanted substances in the blood (Lambert, 2008).

Nutritional recovery

Knowledge of the body’s response during periods of extreme stress has put an increased focus on the importance of recovery, especially for endurance athletes. An important part of recovery is the nutritional recovery: eating the right food and getting the right nutrients at the right time. This has led to an increasing interest in natural health supplements as a safe and legal way of supplying the body with the nutrients that are necessary for an efficient recovery. One of the natural products that attracts international interest among researchers in elite sport is currently colostrum. Different studies have concluded that the effects of bovine colostrum on athletic performance is related to an improved ability to recover after exercise, independent of the colostrum dosage (Coombes et al., 2002).

Bovine colostrum for athletes

The effect of bovine colostrum supplementation on athletic performance has received massive attention, and the research focuses in particular on two challenges that are relevant for the elite athlete: depressed immune function and gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea.

Recent studies indicate that colostrum can help the immune system to withstand the extra training load, and that a daily intake of colostrum over some weeks can reduce the incidence of respiratory tract infections in athletes (Davison & Diment, 2010). How colostrum provides this protection is not known, but a recent hypothesis is that the protection is linked to a beneficial effect of colostrum on the gastrointestinal tract (Davison, 2013) as bovine colostrum has been found to limit salivary bacterial load and displayed bacterial load control over time (Bagwe et al., 2015). The positive influence of bovine colostrum supplementation is likely due to the high content of IgA. Secretory IgA is the first defense in protecting mucosal surfaces from enteric pathogens and toxins, thereby being essential for the protection of the respiratory, gastrointestinal and genitourinary tracts (Mantis et al., 2011).

Bovine colostrum have also proven to be beneficial against stomach problems. Studies have shown that ingestion of bovine colostrum may stabilize the gut and significantly counteract the tendency of increasing gut permeability that may be as much as two- to threefold higher during intensive training (Marchbank et al., 2011). Again, the mechanisms have not been elucidated, but a likely explanation is that the very same substances that help mature and seal the intestine of the newborn calf, also may help in healing a stressed and damaged gut of an athlete (Rathe et al., 2014).

Colostrum may improve body composition

Some studies have found that colostrum affects body composition, whereas others have not. Supplementation appeared to improve exercise performance in short bursts in elite-level athletes, while no firm conclusions on the influence of colostrum supplementation on body composition in elite-level athletes exists. However, in non-elite level athletes performing weight training prior to colostrum supplementation body composition improved (Kelly, 2003). The potential effect on body composition is based on the likeliness of bovine and human IGF-1 as they are structurally identical. An increase in serum IGF-I induced by colostrum supplementation may provide positive effects on protein synthesis and thus body composition, but so far reported results have been inconclusive (Rathe et al., 2014).


Bagwe, S., Tharappel, L. J. P., Kaur, G. & Buttar, H. S. (2015) Bovine colostrum: an emerging nutraceutical. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, March 2015 aop.

Coombes, J. S., Conacher, M., Austen, S. K. & Marshall, P. A. (2002) Dose effects of oral bovine colostrum on physical work capacity in cyclists. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 34(7), 1184-1188.

Davison, G. & Diment, B.C. (2010) Bovine colostrum supplementation attenuates the decrease of salivary lysozyme and enhances the recovery of neutrophil function after prolonged exercise. British Journal of Nutrition, 103, 1425-1432.

Davison, G. (2013) Bovine colostrum and immune function after exercise. Medicine and Sports Science, 59, 62-69.

Gleeson, M., Bishop, N. C., Stensel, D. J., Lindley, M. R., Mastana, S. S. & Nimmo, M. A. (2011) The anti-inflammatory effects of exercise: mechanisms and implications for the prevention and treatment of disease. Nature Reviews, 11, 607-615.

Jones, A. W., Cameron, S. J., Thatcher, R., Beecroft, M. S., Mur, L. A. & Davison, G. (2014) Effects of bovine colostrum supplementation on upper respiratory illness in active males. Brain, Behavior and Immunity, 39, 194–203.

Lambert, G. P. (2008) Intestinal barrier dysfunction, endotoxemia and gastrointestinal symptoms during exercise-heat stress. Medicine and Sports Science, 53, 61-73.

Mantis, N. J., Rol, N. & Corthesy, B. (2011) Secretory IgA’s complex roles in immunity and mucosal homeostasis in the gut. Mucosal Immunology, 4(6), 603–611.

Marchbank, T., Davison, G., Oakes, J. R., Ghatei, M. A., Patterson, M., Moyer, M. P. & Playford, R. J. (2011) The nutriceutical bovine colostrum truncates the increase in gut permeability caused by heavy exercise in athletes. American Journal of Physiology, 300, G477-G484.

Moreira, A., Delgado, L., Moreira, P. & Haahtela, T. (2009) Does exercise increase the risk of upper respiratory tract infections? British Medical Bulletin, 90(1), 111-131. Doi: 10.1093/bmb/ldp010.

Walsh, N. P., Gleeson, M., Shephard, Gleeson, M., R. J., Woods, J. A., Bishop, N. C., Fleshner, M., Green, C., Pedersen, B. K., Hoffmann-Goetz, L., Rogers, C. J., Northoff, H., Abbasi, A. & Simon, P. (2011) Position statement. Part one: Immune function and exercise. Exercise Immunology Review, 17, 6-63.
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