When You Feed Affects Energy Levels

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Do you have in mind what your horse will be doing that day when you plan your feeding regimen? You might want to do that based on information from Kathleen Crandell, PhD, of Kentucky Equine Research.

Have you ever felt that your horse lacks energy during daily training? Has he run out of gas over a course of jumps and struggled to finish? Would you ever suspect that it might have something to do with the horse’s last meal? 

The problem might not lie in what is fed but when it is fed.

Timing of feeding can affect the horse’s energy level during exercise and can be critical to performance. Feeding a grain meal has some metabolic consequences that may influence how your horse feels during exercise. After a grain meal, there is a rise in blood glucose that causes insulin to be released. Insulin removes glucose from the bloodstream and introduces it into cells for use or storage.

Blood glucose and insulin levels peak about two hours after a meal. If the horse starts exercising when the insulin level in the bloodstream is high, the horse will use glucose for muscle contractions while insulin is simultaneously storing glucose. The result can be extra low blood glucose, which can cause fatigue in the horse. Therefore, it is advisable to feed a grain meal well before a bout of exercise--at least three or four hours.

The type of energy the horse derives from forages does not have a significant effect on blood glucose and the same effect on fatigue is not usually seen. Therefore, forages can be fed at all times, even leading up to a training session or competition.