Performance Horses and Muscle Recovery

Stevi Hillman

In various disciplines speed, strength, collection and stamina all play into the difference between earning a big paycheck and awards or going home empty handed. Performance horses need to be able to come out of the stall ready to win, whether it’s the first day of the event or the last. Like their human athlete counterparts, a solid nutrition plan is the fuel that allows performance horses to compete and perform at their highest level. With Rebound Technology™, recovery isn’t an afterthought, the horse is always being fed for optimal performance.

Rebound Technology™ is a unique, proprietary blend of research-backed chromium and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) to support exercise recovery. When performance horses have the right nutrition, they are more able to quickly return to peak performance after strenuous training sessions and/or competitions.  Each time an equine athlete competes or performs there is an opportunity to increase its value, that of future offspring or help a rider achieve his or her goals. That’s why avoiding muscle fatigue and giving horses the ability to rebound from exercise and efficiently train for performance activities is a high priority for horse owners and trainers alike.

What Happens When Horses Exercise

When horses exercise, they experience an increased cortisol level, reduced muscle glycogen, increased Serum Amyloid A (normal inflammation), increased heart rate, reduced blood sugar and reduced plasma BCAAs. Three major factors in improving athletic performance in the horse are muscle development, muscle recovery and glycogen availability. Faster glycogen replenishment in the horse could lead to increased muscular performance.

As horses work, ATP or energy enables their muscle fibers to quickly contract and relax. Each muscle cell contains only enough ATP for a few contractions, which means horses must continuously resynthesize ATP during exercise primarily via stored glycogen. The more glucose we can make available to the cells in the performance horse, the better able they are to quickly replenish glycogen. The unique ingredient combination found in Rebound Technology™ optimizes the opportunity for these glycogen and glucose levels to rebound after work.

The essential BCAAs leucine, isoleucine and valine help to decrease muscle fatigue and improve muscle recovery19. Research with BCAAs has demonstrated that leucine infusion along with glucose infusion appears to increase whole body glucose availability, potentially increasing glycogen synthesis in horses1. Oral leucine supplementation has shown increased markers associated with protein synthesis in the post-exercised horse. Providing an increased rate of protein synthesis would increase both muscle mass and muscle recovery, both of which may improve athletic performance. In humans, BCAA supplementation prior to exercise appeared to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness and muscle fatigue, increased insulin response along with increased post-exercise rates of glycogen synthesis 5,7,8,9,10. Increased availability of amino acids and glucose demonstrated in research shows an improvement not only in protein synthesis, but also a decrease in protein breakdown19

Chromium’s Role in Recovery and Protein Synthesis

Recently FDA and AAFCO approved chromium propionate as a feed ingredient. Found in Rebound Technology™, it supports glucose getting to the cells where it’s needed for energy to repair and replenish after work. Chromium is involved in carbohydrate metabolism and other insulin dependent processes such as protein and lipid metabolism12. As horses exercise, increased levels of cortisol work against insulin as insulin attempts to move glucose and nutrients into muscle cells. Chromium supports more efficient insulin function by stabilizing insulin receptors leading to more efficient movement of glucose from the blood stream, thus reducing the negative impacts of exercise stress and increasing the body’s physiologic ability to move nutrients into muscle cells to function efficiently during exercise and rebuild muscle broken down following exercise13. Research in Thoroughbreds during exercise has demonstrated blood glucose was controlled on lower insulin levels versus control, which demonstrated higher insulin sensitivity when they were supplemented with chromium11

Another potential benefit to the improved insulin sensitivity demonstrated in horses supplemented with chromium propionate is in supporting the signaling pathway for protein synthesis, which is the re-building of structures. When insulin sensitivity is improved, glucose can more readily be available for protein synthesis. Insulin infusion in mature horses was shown to stimulate whole-body protein synthesis and activate the upstream and downstream effectors of mTor signaling in the gluteus medius muscle1. Simply put, this means is there was an increase in protein synthesis, or a re-building of muscle.

Glucose – An Important Component for the Working Horse

Glucose is the key energy source for every cell in the horse’s body and BCAAs stimulate protein synthesis. The proprietary BCAAs and chromium in Rebound Technology™ have been shown to make this key energy source more readily available to the cells of the horse. Rebound Technology™ can be extremely important for the performance horse needing muscle repair and remodeling to rebound in between shows and workouts.

Click here for more information on Rebound Technology and Nutrena’s ProForce products.

References:

1. Urschel, et al. Insulin infusion stimulates whole-body protein synthesis and activates the upstream and downstream effectors of mechanistic target of rapamycin signaling in the gluteus medius muscle of mature horses.  Domestic Animal Endocrinology 2014; 47: 92-100.

2. Glade,  M.J.  Timed  administration  of  leucine,  isoleucine,  and  valine, glutamine, and carnitine to enhance athletic performance. Equine Athlete 1991; 4:4-10.

3. Trottier, et al. Equine endurance exercise alters serum branched-chain amino acid and alanine concentrations. Equine vet. Journal 2002; 34:168-172

4. Eva Blomstrand, Jörgen Eliasson, Haåkan K. R. Karlsson, Rickard Köhnke, Branched-Chain Amino Acids Activate Key Enzymes in Protein Synthesis after Physical Exercise, The Journal of Nutrition 2006; 136(1): 269S–273S

5. Shimomura et al. Nutraceutical Effects of Branched-Chain Amino Acids on Skeletal Muscle. 2006. Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/jn/article-abstract/136/2/529S/4664393 on 05 June 2020

6. Ra, S., Miyazaki, T., Ishikura, K. et al. Combined effect of branched-chain amino acids and taurine supplementation on delayed onset muscle soreness and muscle damage in high-intensity eccentric exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 10, 51 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-10-51

7. Arfuso, et. Al. Dynamic Change of Serum Levels of Some Branched-Chain Amino Acids and Tryptophan in Athletic Horses After Different Physical Exercises. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 2019; 77:12-16

8. Van Loon, et al.  Maximizing post exercise muscle glycogen synthesis: carbohydrate supplementation and the application of amino acid or protein hydrolysate mixtures. Am J Clin Nutri 2000; 72:106-111

9. Van Loon, et al.  Plasma insulin responses after ingestion of different amino acid or protein mixtures with carbohydrate.  Am J Clin Nutr 2000; 72:96–105

10. Zawadzki, KM, et al.  Carbohydrate-protein Complex Increases the Rate of Muscle Glycogen Storage After Exercise.  J Appl Physiol 1992 May; 72(5):1854-9

11. Pagan, J. D., S. G. Jackson and S. E. Duren. 2018, March. The effect of chromium supplementation on metabolic response to exercise in thoroughbred horses. ker.com/published/the-effect-of-chromium-supplementation-on-metabolic-response-to-exercise-in-thoroughbred-horses

12. Spears, et Al. 2020. Chromium propionate increases insulin sensitivity in horses following oral and intravenous carbohydrate administration. Journal of Animal Science 2020; 3:1-11

13. Mertz, W. 1992. Chromium history and nutritional importance. Biol Trace Elem. Res. 32:3.

14. Lancome, et al. Muscle Glycogen Depletion and Subsequent Replenishment Affect Anaerobic Capacity of Horses. J Appl Physiol. 2001; 91:1782-1790.

15. Lacombe V, Hinchcliff KW, Geor RJ, and Lauderdale MA. Exercise that induces substantial muscle glycogen depletion impairs subsequent anaerobic capacity. Equine Vet J Suppl 1999; 30:293–297.

16. NRC. 2007. Nutrient requirements of horses. 7th rev. ed. Washington (DC): National Academies Press.

18. Graham-Thiers P.M.; Kronfeld D.S. Amino acid supplementation improves muscle mass in aged and young horses. Journal of animal science 2005; 83:2783–2788, 10.2527/2005.83122783x

19. Matsui et al.  Effect of amino acid and glucose administration following exercise on the turnover of muscle protein in the hindlimb femoral region of Thoroughbreds.  Equine Vet Journal Suppl 2006; 38:S36 611-616.

How to Safely Introduce Dogs and Horses

Many of us who own horses also have a dog (or two or three…) that is part of the farm family. In general, horses and dogs go together like peas and carrots. But just like people, animals are individuals so caution should always be taken. If you’re considering introducing your dog to your horse, here are a few steps to help ensure the meeting goes well.

  • First, make sure your dog is trained and obedient. Basic commands – especially come, sit and stay – are vital to be certain you have your dog’s attention.
  • Gradually introduce your dog to your horse by getting him or her used to the daily routine of the barn. Let your dog see your horse in a stall or pasture before they meet nose-to-nose. Use this approach for a few days. 
  • When you are ready to introduce your dog and horse, have someone there to help in case an unexpected situation arises. Each person should have full control of only one animal. You don’t want your dog’s leash getting entangled around a horse’s legs or a horse stepping on a lead rope if you are busy trying to tend to your dog. 
  • If either your dog or your horse is nervous, don’t force the interaction and try again another day. And if one acts aggressively, immediately remove them from the situation and when all is calm reward them with a pat or treat.
  • You’ll recognize when your four-legged companions are comfortable with each other when they just go about their own business, in a relaxed, calm manner.

The most important thing is to remember to take the introductions slowly. By nature, dogs and horses are predator and prey, so building the relationship will take some time. Once they are accustomed to each other, they are likely to be good companions for life.

Nutrena Nutrition Tips: Feeding Horses During Reduced Work

If your horse’s work level changes during the year, then his feeding program should change as well, to ensure he stays in peak condition no matter what his activity level. Adjusting caloric intake through adjusting the total amount fed, or through changing which feed product is being given, are both viable options to help maintain ideal body condition and topline score.

Nutrena Nutrition Tips: Feed Freshness and Storage

One of the many components of feeding horses properly is feeding fresh feed. This video will walk you through some simple steps to ensure that you are purchasing the right amount, storing it properly, and feeding it correctly to your horse, so that he always receives the freshest feed possible.

Switching Feeds Safely

Most horse owners know that changing their horse’s feed should be done with care – but how exactly should it be done? In this video, Nutrena Equine Consultant Kirk Carter explains the proper way to transition feed.

  • Slowly transition horse to new feed over 7 days
  • Weather can play a really critical role in transitioning horse to new feed
  • Make sure your horse is in an environment that they’re used to

When to Start Spring Grazing

It is tempting to turn horses out into spring pastures at the first sight of green grass, especially after a long winter. However, spring grazing should be introduced slowly and delayed until grasses reach 6 to 8″ to optimize both the health of the horse and pasture. When horse pastures reach 6 to 8″, begin grazing for 15 minutes, increasing the grazing time each day by 15 minutes until 5 hours of consecutive grazing is reached. After that, unrestricted grazing can occur.

Why is this recommendation so important? Even though hay and pasture are both forms of forages, there are significant differences. Dried hay is approximately 15% moisture compared to fresh pasture that is 85% moisture. The horse is a hind-gut, fermenting herbivore that relies extensively on the microbes present in its gastrointestinal tract to be able to process forages. The microbes are a mix of different organisms that work together to the benefit of the horse. If the feedstuffs the microbes are utilizing change suddenly, there may be too little time for the microbial populations to adjust to the change. Instead, large numbers of them die, while others flourish, setting up a situation where toxins may be absorbed by the horse, resulting in digestive dysfunction and possibly colic. A gradual change from one feedstuff to another provides enough time for the microbial populations to adjust.

Additionally, pasture grasses need sufficient growth before grazing is allowed. Photosynthesis (the process of converting solar energy to chemical energy) occurs mainly within the leaves of plants. If the leaves are grazed too early (prior to 6″ tall) or too often, plants can lose vigor, competitiveness, and root structure due to the lack of photosynthetic ability. This will lead to eventual die back and overgrazed areas being replaced by undesirable plant species or weeds. Grazing should cease when forages have been grazed down to 3 to 4 inches. At this time, move horses to another paddock or a dry lot. Grazing can resume when grasses regrow to 6 to 8″. On average, about 2 acres of well-managed pasture can provide the forage needs for one horse during the grazing season.

It is critical to slowly introduce horses to spring pastures. So, the following is worth repeating, when horse pastures reach 6 to 8″, begin grazing for 15 minutes, increasing the grazing time by 15 minutes each day until 5 hours of consecutive grazing is reached. Following this recommendation will help ensure both horse and pasture health.

Author and photo credit: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota