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High Protein Diets for Athletic Horses

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

It is the quality, rather than the quantity, of protein that is likely to be of key importance in an athletic horse's diet. Horse owners and trainers should prioritise providing balanced and adequate amounts of high-quality protein to support the horse's overall health and performance.

Feeding high-protein diets to horses in work was once a popular trend, possibly influenced by the trend of human athletes consuming protein-rich diets. However, recent research has shown that diets excessive in protein do not provide any significant benefits and might even have detrimental effects on athletic horses.

One of the main drawbacks of excessively high-protein diets is their high cost - protein is an expensive source of dietary energy, making it less attractive for horse trainers.

Moreover, excessive protein intake can lead to elevated heart and respiratory rates in horses and potential electrolyte imbalances. This can negatively impact their overall performance and well-being during strenuous activities.

Most importantly, if protein replaces carbohydrate in the diet of horses in heavy work, it can affect glycogen storage. Glycogen is an important energy source, particularly during intense exercise. Disrupting glycogen storage may negatively impact the horse's ability to sustain high levels of physical activity.

Protein is critically important for the equine athlete - however it is the QUALITY not the QUANTITY of protein that is important. Diets must supply adequate levels of essential amino acids from good quality protein sources for optimal muscle synthesis and repair.

Overall, the feeding of unnecessarily high-protein diets to horses in work is not considered advantageous. Understanding the potential drawbacks and focusing on the right type of protein can help ensure the well-being and optimal performance of athletic horses.

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