Wellness Wednesday - Are We Over-Supplementing Our Horses?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


This week's Wellness Wednesday is brought to you by BioStar EQ Performance Whole Food! In a recent article: Inside Elite Nutrition at the Olympics, the author, Nathan Gray, interviewed Jeni Pearce, head of performance nutrition at the English Institute of Sport. Ms. Pearce pointed out that the over-use of supplements in humans is higher at the amateur level than with the elite athletes. She points out that supplements with elite athletes are used to complement the diet. She called supplements, “supplementary to food.” “What we need to do is to be honest and say ‘you know what, there are a lot of foods out there that we can eat to get these nutrients’.” (Jeni Pearce).On the heels of this article came a short interview on NBC sports with Olympic Swim Team member Ryan Lochte, who after the Beijing Games said that he stopped eating fast food and started to really pay attention to what he ate. He contributes part of his recent successes at the Olympic Trials to his change in diet.

I realize this may be an odd topic for a person who makes her living in the supplement industry, but a recent visit to a barn where literally every horse had 3-6 daily packs of supplements did stop me in my tracks.

If we look to the elite human athletes, their diets are finely tuned, and designed around each particular sport. But with horses the convenience and simplification factors weigh heavily. It is common in many barns to offer low starch as one feed alternative, and high fat/protein as another. There is no room for customization; no room for fine tuning.

Elite human athletes routinely tweak their diets as to training schedules and competitions. These diet adjustments are not only focused on performance but on recovery.   

“Exercise breaks you down; rest builds you up.” (Tim VanOrden, competitor:  Track & Field, Road Racing, Mountain Running).

I don’t think we in the horse world think about recovery as human athletes do; we don’t consider feeding our horses for recovery.

Since rest is the build up process, it is important that we consider what we feed (concentrates, supplements) and how they affect the resting process. When we feed processed and refined foods we are adding stress to the GI tract, reducing the time the body has to rest, heal, repair, fix something. When we add supplements that are made with petro chemicals, solvents, methane gas, artificial colors, flavors, acetone, processed sugars, and coal tar we extend the breaking down time, we don’t increase the building up time.

Nutrients in whole food and plants are in a complex of other vital factors:  free amino acids, enzymes, micro nutrients, minerals, soluble fiber, phenols, protein chaperones, and anti oxidants. This complex reduces the body’s need to pull these co factors from cells (the proverbial “rob Peter to pay Paul”) and reduces  stress on digestive enzymes ,other enzymatic biological catalysts, and the micro organisms. Nutrients from food reduce stress on the body system at large, the digestive system in particular and can help increase the building up time.

What supplements to choose is a very personal choice, and label reading becomes even more important as we are coming to understand more about stress and recovery with our horses.