Equine Nutrition for Faster Muscle Recovery

Aug 24, 2020

Written by Dr. Dana Tomlinson, Zinpro Corporation
When horses are exercised or trailered long distances, naturally their muscles fatigue. While the speed at which horses recover varies, there are things you can do to help them recover faster and more completely.
What happens when a horses are exercised? Essentially, they’re utilizing vitamins and minerals in addition to burning energy — glycogen and fatty acids needed for muscle contraction and propulsion. The burning of glycogen produces lactic acid which in turn introduces soreness and fatigue.
Horses are incredible athletes, but we ask a lot of them. The good news is their bodies have physiological adaptations that allow them to better withstand the workloads we impose. For example, horses have a large reserve of red blood cells in the spleen that give them an athletic advantage over other animals of similar size. They’re designed to endure these workloads — but when they do, we need to be more aware of the time they need to fully recover from their activity.
These equine nutrition tips are great ways to positively impact your horse’s recovery after strenuous exercise:
Water is necessary
First and foremost, proper hydration (water) is important for muscle recovery and performance. If horses are dehydrated, it likely negates anything else you do to try to help them recover. Without water, blood circulation is compromised, and nutrients can’t get where they need to go to aid in the healing/repair/recovery process. Water is second only to air — always ensure horses have access to plenty of fresh water. Dehydration causes fatigue and slows down the recovery process.
Consider condition
Another point to consider is proper conditioning with respect to muscle strength and endurance for horses to withstand their workout. Horses that are well conditioned suffer less muscle fatigue and damage and require shorter recovery times. Part of the conditioning process is ensuring nutrition is well-balanced and based on a forage intake of 1.5 to 2% of body weight supplemented with sufficient protein, energy, vitamins, and Zinpro Performance Minerals® to meet their workload. Recovery is all about how good conditioning and preparation were prior to the event. If horses aren’t properly conditioned, exercise can lead to increased inflammation, which redirects energy to heal damaged tissues and fuels the immune system. Inflammation, particularly chronic inflammation, will slow recovery.
Monitor minerals
As horses encounter greater physical activity and their workload and energy demands increase, their need for key trace minerals increases. Zinc, manganese, copper, and selenium are the primary minerals needed for production of strong muscles with high cellular integrity.
Consider their trailer time
When horses are hauled or transported over a long period of time, they may become fatigued by the journey. When they stand in a trailer that’s in constant motion, horses have to continually use muscles to maintain balance. Even though they are not moving, they’re being forced to use core muscles and whole body to stay upright. Therefore, it’s important to realize transported horses may burn significant energy simply through the trailering process.
Diets make a difference
Some equine enthusiasts have begun to focus on low-starch diets. For horses that are maintenance-level, easy keepers, it’s perfect — these horses aren’t doing a lot, and a low-starch diet may help maintain normal weight. However, when considering horses with higher work intensities, low-starch diets may not be sufficient. Horses with greater work or exercise intensity have increased energy demands requiring greater glycogen stores and thus a need for sugar and starches to rapidly supply and replenish this key muscle energy source.
For more information on equine nutrition reach out to your local Co-op representative!

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