Athletes Are Turning to a New Supplement: Breast Milk

Last Update: May 4, 2024

A single ingredient helps a human grow from a tiny, helpless infant into a walking, titanic toddler: breast milk, aka the original superfood.

The concentrated liquid produced by mammals late in the gestation period is especially dynamic. It’s called colostrum, and it’s basically baby’s first vaccination. This pre-milk is abundant with antibodies and immunoglobulins that protect newborns from bacteria and viruses. And a new trend has extreme athletes seeking out the stuff for a competitive edge.

Loaded with growth and immunity boosting vitamins (A, C, D, E, and K), anabolic agents (which use energy to form cellular structures in the bones or muscles), and compounds such as insulin-like growth factor-1 that enhance the immune system, colostrum is often called liquid gold (that’s also what color it is). The hormone leptin, which increases the metabolic rate while decreasing hunger, is also a factor that makes this stuff super.

Cows produce it too, and for years bodybuilders and athletes have used bovine colostrum as a fitness supplement to increase muscle mass, stamina, speed, and strength, and also boost their metabolic rate and curb hunger.

“Athletes have found that it helps prevent fatigue and improve endurance, and there are a few small scale studies to back that up,” says registered dietician Kathryn Bloxsom.

In 2006, researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia found that cyclists who supplemented with colostrum had improved cycling performance. A separate study published the Journal of Applied Physiology by the same group showed that subjects who took colostrum had augmented immune function as well. So, clearly, colostrum has some real potential to power superhumans.

Things are getting a little sour though, as more bodybuilders turn to to colostrum from human sources. Often, it’s purchased from strangers through the Internet, which can be dangerous, since unpasteurized human milk has a high bacteria content.

“Using human colostrum that has not been through quality control [as bovine colostrum has]…the potential for bacteria and disease transmission is so high and it is so dangerous,” says Bloxsom.

Plus, Bloxsom explains, a mother’s colostrum should be used by the person it’s made for—her baby.

“Not to mention, this is a very important source of nutrients for newborns and should be used by them,” Bloxsom says, noting that colostrum contains specific antibodies that babies need to combat pathogens in their surroundings.

Drinking human colostrum is unlikely to hit the mainstream anytime soon. But if you’re interested in amping up your performance, you can find a huge array of other nutritional supplements—at Thrive Market.

Photo credit: matt northam via Flickr

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Dana Poblete

Dana's love for all creatures under the sun (bugs, too) drives her in her advocacy for ethical eating, environmental sustainability, and cruelty-free living. A natural born islander, she surfs when she can, and writes, always.

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