Nutrition plays a key role in achieving peak performance; however, it can be a complex relationship between feeding and exercise, gut function and nutrient digestibility.
A frequently asked question to the Bluegrass Horse Feed team is “when should I feed before exercising?”. The type of feed and intensity of exercise will all be contributing factors to this answer, research has also helped to eliminate some of the questions and theories around feeding horses pre exercise.
As we know, horses have a monogastric digestive tract, which means that large meal are not ideal and can cause digestive upset, such as colic or hind gut acidosis. During mealtime horse’s cardiovascular response to feeding can be separated into phases, the first being anticipation/ingestion, this gradually decreases when eating. However, some studies have reported that ponies remain elevated for more than 1 hour after consumption. During exercise there is a change in the distribution of blood flow around the body and digestive tract. This is controlled by the nervous system, an increase in the sympathetic nervous activity (excitement) leads to the constriction of arteries. The blood is shunted from the digestive system to the working muscles in an adrenaline-driven flight response. A study conducted by Kentucky Equine Research looked at the effect of fasting ponies before exercise. They found that blood flow to the digestive tract was higher and blood flow to both locomotor and respiratory muscles was also higher in ponies fed prior to exercise compared to fasted.
Three studies where conducted by Pagan and Harris (1999), on the affect of feeding hay with or without grain on glycaemic response and haematological responses on thoroughbred horses at rest and during stimulated competition exercise tests on a high-speed treadmill.
- Feeding hay before exercise, with or without grain significantly reduced glycaemic response
- Feeding ad lib hay 24 hours prior to exercise caused an elevated total plasma protein and heart rate.
- Feeding grain with or without hay will reduce free fatty acid availability and increase glucose uptake into working muscle.
- Grain should not be feed less than 3 hours prior to exercise, feeding small amounts of hay will not adversely affect performance and will help to stimulate saliva production which may help to preserve gastrointestinal integrity.
What should you feed before exercising?
Feeding a chaff or fibre source 20-30 minutes before exercising is good practise, Bluegrass traditional or garlic chaff and Turmash are high fibre products that are ideal to be given before exercise at competitions or at home. This will act as a fibre mat to protect the non-glandular region of the stomach from acidic “splashing” and reduce the risk of Gastric Ulcers. Avoid large meals and fed grain feeds (concentrates) 3-4 hours before exercising.
If travelling for over 4 hours to an event it is recommended to ensure the horse receives good quality forage to help maintain gut function. Supplementing with a high fibre and oil-based feed such as Turmash, helps to both encourage water intake and increase fibre and slow release energy sources. Fresh water should be offered every 3-4 hours. Travelling can be stressful to horses which can ultimately lead to an upset in the gut microbiome. Within the Bluegrass Horse Feed product range some feeds contain live yeast cultures to help promote and maintain gut health, such as Bluegrass Stamm 30 balancer and Extra Pro range products.
Next week we discuss feeding times post exercise. For more information or advice contact the Bluegrass Horse Feed Nutritional Helpline – 028 3754 8276/ firstname.lastname@example.org