In general, riders and horse owners have a pretty comprehensive understanding of nutrition…. when it comes to their horse. I’m not suggesting all riders have a bad diet but a good nutritious diet is lacking in a large proportion of riders. When I have been to various riders yard kitchens, the cereal boxes and bars are flowing, the chocolate bars and the hot chocolate/ coffee / donuts are on tap! Yum, yes! Energy? Short term yes, healthy er no. Mostly those that are based on the yard or barn daily, early hours late nights horses to ride. And those of you that are at work in an office etc all day, it’s tiring packing up the lunches in advance getting to your horse before/after work, working out and riding. None of us have it easy, and the first thing to slide is nutrition. Right?
The physiological demands of horse-riding as a whole do not require any particularly extreme dietary considerations. However, the prolonged and varied activity patterns evoke a significant physical demand and riders particularly competitive or those working in yards should plan nutrition to match long days and extended physical activity. Dehydration (too much coffee and tea too little water sound familiar?!) are important factors in riders also.
There is a great chapter ‘Nutrition for Equestrian Athletes’ in the book Equestrian Training Performance which is written by my colleagues Dr C and Dr N Potter (this is the same book you can find my chapters on rider performance). I will summarize the key points they make below.
Energy availability should be the primary concern for riders. A complete days rest maximizes glycogen availability, but equestrian events usually require significant preparation the day before. In this instance riders should prepare and include a carbohydrate rich diet 2-3 days prior to competition.
Approximately 200g of carbohydrates should be consumed throughout the day and ideally 25-30g carbohydrate should be eaten the morning of competition. If one large carbohydrate based meal is not an option due to early rises etc then smaller meals with the same macronutrient intake should be planned. Myfitnesspal is a great app you can track your macronutrients (carbohydrate, proteins, fats).
An ongoing feeding strategy the day of competition should be considered to avoid glycogen stores being depleted. Regular small carbohydrate meals does increase decision making and technical skill execution in other intermittent sports and should be of primary importance in such a risk based sport.
Oh, yes carbohydrates. What I mean here do not include simple carbohydrates! Insufficient sleep and simple carbohydrates causes soporific effects and will leave you tired and making poor decisions-not good!
Dehydration decreases cognitive skill and does affect performance reduces endurance and effects decision making. A fluid replacement strategy should be included as thirst is a poor indication of dehydration. Sports drinks may be used at competition (I would avoid otherwise especially regularly). Fruit juice with electrolyte powders are a more cost effective way of supplementing your drinks.
- Clean healthy eating avoiding as much processed food as possible with the odd treat is the way forwards
- It can be difficult when busy to make a list, recipies and meal plan, consider joining an online clean eating challenge. I do them sporadically so keep you eye out. Planning is the key to success!
- Consider protein shakes to supplement your diet. Many riders have mentioned to me they feel much better taking a shake before/during the morning yard shift. I’ve tried lots of brands and you can get one to tailor to your lifestyle. A high protein low carb for muscle building, a moderate protein and moderate carb for energy/snack. It’s more nutritious than not eating at all then grabbing 7 digestives and a cup of tea 😉
You are as important and your horse, take care of you too. Hope this is food for thought!
Jenni is a Visiting Associate Principal Lecturer: Higher Education Equine Sciences, at the Centre for Performance in Equestrian Sport, Hartpury College, UK. Jenni is a certified personal trainer and has taught and published in both human and equine sports science fields. To learn more about Jenni visit her profile page.