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.

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.

Ask the Expert: Horses per Acre of Pastures

Question: We’ve finally purchased a horse property! It’s 7 acres with about 5 acres in pasture. We have 2 horses, but are looking to expand our herd. However, we do not want more horses than what our pasture can hold since we do not want to feed hay (or much hay) during the summer. How many horses can our pasture support? 

Response: Congratulations on purchasing a horse property! The answer to your question is, “it depends”. In general, 2 acres per one 1,000-pound horse is recommended if owners expect the pastures to provide most of the horse’s nutrition during the growing season. However, this is highly variable and depends on several factors including geographical location, soil type, rainfall, and management. Although location, soil type, and rainfall are mostly out of an owners control, management can be controlled and includes mowing, fertilizing, controlling weeds, resting (e.g. avoiding over-grazing), and dragging; all recommended best practices for horse pasture management.

Your 5 acres of pasture should be able to feed 2.5 1,000-pound horses during the summer grazing season. If your farm is on sandy soil, there is a drought, or you choose not to do any pasture management (e.g. mowing, fertilizing, weed control, resting, and dragging), then 5 acres might not be enough for your two horses and hay supplementation would be needed. On the other hand, if your farm has heavier soil, there is good rainfall, and you practice good pasture management, then your pasture should be able to support your two horses, and maybe one more, during the summer grazing season. For more information on pasture management, click here

Author: Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota. Photo credit: Michelle DeBoer, PhD, UW-River Falls.

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

Hydration In Horses: Drink Up! Keeping Your Horse Well Hydrated

Hydration In HorsesMany regions of the country have been experiencing high heat and humidity this summer, so naturally, the concern of proper hydration comes to mind.

Reduced water consumption in horses may impair performance and increase the risk of impaction colic.

Additionally, horses may sweat more profusely, resulting in faster dehydration. So what’s a horse owner to do?

The first key element is to make certain that horses have ready access to clean, palatable, cool water at all times or at very frequent intervals. Horses will normally consume about 1 gallon of water per 100 lbs body weight, so an 1100 lb horse will require a minimum of 11 gallons of water per day. This quantity can increase substantially during periods of exercise, high heat/humidity or for lactating mares.

Some tips to keep in mind to keep water consumption up:

  • Horses do not like to consume warm water in warm temperatures. Automatic waterers or large tanks, located in the shade and cleaned regularly, may be good options. If water is supplied in buckets, they need to be cleaned regularly and re-filled regularly.
  • If you are traveling to a show or other competition, it is essential to monitor water consumption, particularly if temperature conditions change.
  • It is routine in many barns to flavor the water with something like wintergreen or peppermint at home so that you can flavor the water in new facilities to match the home water.  Read here for tips on training your horse to drink water away from home.
  • Do NOT use soft drinks or any material containing caffeine as these can trigger positive drug tests.
  • Taking horses to facilities with chlorinated water can sometimes reduce water consumption without proper precautions.

The second key element is to make certain that salt is offered free choice. Things to keep in mind for salt consumption in horses include:

  • Horses require 1-2 ounces of salt per day, and this can increase to 6 ounces per day with exercise in hot weather conditions.
  • Loose salt is consumed more readily than salt blocks in many cases.
  • When evaluating the total diet for salt consumption, commercial feeds normally contain 0.5-1.0% salt. It is not typically any higher than this, due to problems with palatability.
  • If a horse has been salt deficient or is bored, they may over-consume salt while in a stall.
  • Additional electrolytes, commercial or personal recipe, may be used per directions before, during and following completion, but care must be taken to ensure that the horses are drinking adequate water. Administering electrolytes to a horse that is not drinking properly, or allowing a horse to over consume salt without adequate water, can lead to electrolyte imbalances. If electrolytes are added to the water, plain water should be offered also.

Horses need to be offered water throughout the day at a competition, and should be re-hydrated following exertion. They cannot cool out and recover properly without being re-hydrated.

Keeping horses properly hydrated and maintaining electrolyte balance is extremely important in order to make a safe transition from cool temperatures to summer time and competition.

Amino Acid Requirements for Horses

In order to fuel, repair, and recover muscle, equine diets must optimally contain Amino Acid Requirements for Horsesa superior amino acid profile, including all 10 of the essential amino acids.

Most horse owners can quickly name the crude protein level in the feed they provide their horses. But, what horse owners really need to know about is the amino acid content.

Protein is made up of amino acids, similar to how a chain is made up of links. There are two basic categories of amino acids: Essential and nonessential.

Essential amino acids must be provided in the diet, as the horse cannot create them on its own in the digestive tract, where the nonessential amino acids can be made.

Another key point is that some amino acids are known as “limiting” amino acids. This means that if a horse runs out of this type of amino acid, it can’t utilize any of the remaining amino acids present in the feed.

If the horse has enough of the first most-limiting amino acid, but then runs out of the second most-limiting amino acid, it can’t use the remaining amount of the third most limiting, and so on.

In horses, the first three most-limiting amino acids, in order, are lysine, methionine and threonine. Generally speaking, if these three amino acids are present in sufficient quantities, the ingredients used also provide the remaining amino acids in sufficient quantities.

It is increasingly common to see these three amino acids listed on the guaranteed analysis of horse feed tags, as it is an indication of the quality of the protein sources and the balanced nature of the feed.

If you are looking for a feed that may help impact topline, be sure to look at the guaranteed analysis on the feed tag. In specific Nutrena feeds – SafeChoice productsProForce products, and Empower Topline Balance– the amino acid levels are called out and guaranteed on the tag.

The amino acids included in Nutrena’s Topline Balance products are included in specific amounts and ratios. Research has shown that this specific combination and type of amino acids help to support a healthy topline when fed correctly.

Guaranteed amino acids on the tag is a good starting point. You then need to let the horse tell you if the feed is working by regularly evaluating and noting changes in topline condition.

To determine what nutrition best fits your horse’s needs, take the Topline Balance assessment for a customized nutrition plan.

Halloween Candy – Horses & Dogs

It’s the time of year when ghosts and goblins are out and about – there are Halloween costume contests and pumpkin spice everything. And the candy! So. Much. Candy.  But what’s safe for our horses and dogs? Can they participate in the fun or will the candy make them sick? Most dog owners know that chocolate is toxic to dogs – but would you know what to do if your pup helps himself to that bowl of peanut butter cups? And our horses LOVE sugary snacks, but what’s really safe for them to have and what’s not?

Let’s begin with dogs and chocolate. First off, if you know your dog has ingested chocolate, call your vet. Depending on the type of chocolate and the size of your dog, you may need to bring them in right away. Cocoa powder is the most toxic type of chocolate and white chocolate is the least. Depending on your situation, your vet might suggest you induce vomiting. If you aren’t sure if they ingested it, you should watch your dog for signs of chocolate toxicity – things like vomiting, diarrhea, confusion and restlessness.  When in doubt, go to your nearest emergency vet clinic.

Besides chocolate, really no candy is truly safe for your dog. Many other types of candy such as gum contain a sweetener called xylitol that can cause liver failure in dogs. It’s best to stick to dog specific treats if you want to give your dog something fun for the holiday.

As for horses, what can they have for a Halloween snack? Of course for any horses with insulin resistance diseases, gastric ulcers or other medical conditions, you should stick with only what your vet suggests for treats and feed. But will the occasional candy corn hurt your ‘normal’ horse? Probably not, but keep in mind candy (mints included) have more sugar in them than just one sugar cube, so keep the Halloween treats to a minimum and keep your horse away from anything chocolate. But the safest thing is just giving your horse a carrot, which he will love just as much!

Happy Halloween everyone!

Assessing Your Horse’s Topline

Assessing Your Horse’s Topline – A horse’s topline — the muscles that support the spine, from neck to hindquarters — plays an important role in how a horse performs, looks and feels.

But identifying and assessing this area does take a few steps, so we’ve provided some easy guidance!

Click below to visit ToplineBalance.com and do an online assessment, with customized feeding recommendations specific to your horse’s needs!

Assessing Your Horses Topline