The Practical Nutritionist - Horse


Boost Rider Performance Part 1

Boost Rider Performance Part 1

The Practical Nutritionist - Horse

My recent post on horse rider nutrition proved to be popular and I have been asked to provide more specifics in terms of horse rider nutrition for those doing different types of activities. In response, I will be writing three separate blog posts to correlate with the intensity of activity. Here’s number one!

To begin, mental clarity and physical performance for the equestrian is paramount. Horses are unpredictable creatures so it is important to be able to think on your feet. To do this, there are some important factors related to enhancing your health and your safety. In this three part series we will look at how energy is produced in the body, what you need to produce energy, what foods to eat and you can help your body to recover after a hard day with your horse.

Low Impact Activity

Part 1, will look at low-impact activity for the equestrian. Generally speaking, you will not be using a lot of oxygen over long periods of time but may, upon occasion, exert energy quickly over a short space of time, usually to avoid being bitten, kicked, trodden on, thrown off or trampled over! Therefore, your energy needs are not actually that high.

How energy is produced in the body:

The body has three main systems to produce energy depending on the physical demands. (1)
1. ATP-PC (phosphagen)(ATP is commonly referred to as the energy for life) – Low impact activity (lasts 6 seconds, short bursts)
2. Anaerobic Glycolyticn or lactic acid – medium impact activity (lasts 30 seconds to several minutes)
3. Aerobic system (uses carbohydrates and fat) – high impact activity (lasts 1-2 hours)

What you need for energy: (2)

  1. Carbohydrates (4 calories per gram)
    Carbohydrates can be stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver
  2. Fat (9 calories per gram)
    Fat is stored as adipose tissue and small amounts can be stored in the muscles
  3. Protein (4 calories per gram)
    Protein is a building material; protein is only used in extreme situations. Meaning the carbohydrates and fat have been used-up and the only reserves left are proteins, this is not a good situation to place the body.

Types of carbs, fats and protein can be found in numerous foods. Please refer to a previous blog post which provides a variety of food examples:  more information here.

Before I get further into the nutrition, let me remind you to get enough sleep. If you own and care for your own horse and have a full time job then I know from experience you’ll be doing a lot of early mornings. It is important to get enough sleep so that you can perform the next day. As mentioned earlier, working with horses can be a dangerous pursuit. Many accidents occur in the workplace due to fatigue. Remember, fatigue not only affects you but your colleagues too. Here are some extreme cases of what can happen during work time if sleep deprived.

One hour Riding Lesson
If you only ride once or twice a week or have a one-hour riding lesson you are going to need to be mentally alert. Not only will you be listening to instructions from your coach you will also need to be attentive to the movement of the horse. Avoid foods that can cause brain fog; sugary foods, stimulants like pop and processed packaged foods that can contain trans-fats and large amounts of sugar or salt. Consume good fats like avocado, coconut oil, cold pressed olive oil (do not cook), nuts and seeds, experts believe these sorts of fats are good for brain health.

Start your day drinking filtered water, wait for at least 15 mins and then eat breakfast. If possible, squeeze a fresh lemon and add it to that first glass of water to alkalize your digestive system and also wake it up. When I say eat breakfast, I am not talking tea and toast or coffee and bagel! Think granola, oatmeal, toasted quinoa bread topped with avocado (SEE RECIPES). Don’t rush your breakfast, chew your food properly as it helps with digestion.

Avoid riding on a full stomach, it prevents proper digestion and could make you feel sick. Ensure you have enough to drink before your lesson and take water with you for after the lesson. Start eating healthy, unprocessed food each day. Eat lots of vegetables, add lentils and beans to your dishes, spices and herbs for flavour. Eat raw, unflavoured nuts, it is very easy to add your own spices and herbs at home, make homemade trail mixes, eat apples, carrots and hummus for snacks. Set yourself a challenge, go vegetarian (if not already one) once or twice a week, it will add variety to your meals.

You’ll note that I’m not getting overly specific here with food recommendations. I’ll get into more recipes and food lists another time but for now just be assured that if you are eating plenty of fresh, unprocessed food then that’s a great start. The body loves variety so try and mix things up!

Weekend Warrior
What do I mean by weekend warrior? You spend the entire weekend at the stables. Now, if you are going to be physically active all day then you will want to ensure you don’t skip meals and you have plenty of healthy snacks to hand. Plan your day and plan your meals! Have a good breakfast, take snacks with you to the stables, apples, nuts, seeds, trail mixes, bananas, drink lots of water throughout the day. Try to avoid high-sugar and fizzy drinks and juices, these just spike blood sugar, can make you jittery and be overstimulating which is the last thing you need to be when you are around a horse that weighs about 1000kg. Pack a lunch, soups (homemade preferable otherwise read the label), quinoa salad with grated vegetables and nuts if tolerated. Don’t forget to eat dinner at the end of the day, for example salmon, wild rice with dark leafy greens, (steamed kale or chard) will make sure you are topping up on good quality protein, carbs, fats, vitamins and minerals.

Stable Manager
Early starts, missing breakfast, sugar cravings are not a good way to start your working day. Here is the thing: your job is hard and physically demanding. For you this is all about maintaining balanced energy levels. Avoid high sugary drinks and food and any other stimulants – you need quality carbs, good fats and protein. Pack healthy meals and snacks. The time of year can impact what you crave, there are cooling foods like salads during warmer months and warming foods to help during winter months, more on this later. Vegetable soups with beans/lentils that can be heated at work are a great way to help warm up during the chilly season. Energy bars make good snacks and can be made at home and fruit snacks, apples, pears, bananas, grapes (local and seasonal is preferable when it permits). I like eating a banana dipped in organic almond butter and sprinkle chia seeds, hemp hearts or cacao nibs on top. Be creative.

I  have covered some of the basics and hopefully given you some ideas to help you nourish your body to help improve performance. Being physically active is just one part of an holistic approach to health. Healthy living includes eating fresh, clean food, hydrating your body and ensuring you get some time to relax.

Please note: The information provided are guidelines, it does not however take into account any specifics about your health concerns or diagnosis. Please remember no one nutritional program fits all therefore the information is assuming you are in good health and are not on medications.

1.Anita Bean (2013). The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition 7th Addition. London, Bloomsbury (p. 17)

2.Anita Bean (2013). The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition 7th Addition. London, Bloomsbury (p. 14)

The Practical Nutritionist – personal, and above all, practical nutritional advice and services to help you improve your health.

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