AskHQ: Feeding for muscle

Q: How do I feed my horse to build muscle for eventing using nutrition?

A: It goes without saying that building muscle requires correct work, so nutrition is not going to be the only piece of the puzzle. Eventing is also a ‘multi-discipline’ sport so your horse is going to need to cross-train to really start developing the muscles he needs.

From a purely nutritional perspective, however, the main ingredient for building muscle is protein. Horses obtain protein from various sources in their diet including grass, forage and concentrate feed.

Protein is made up of amino acids. Some amino acids can be manufactured by the body, but others must be taken in in the diet. These amino acids that cannot be manufactured by the horse, are called essential amino acids. Of these essential amino acids, lysine is particularly important as it is a ‘limiting’ amino acid. This means that if your horse does not have sufficient lysine, protein synthesis and subsequent muscle development is limited.

Grazing and forage can help to meet most of your horse’s protein requirements and some grasses, like lucerne, are particularly good sources of protein. However, feeding a balancer or supplement on top of this can help to ensure that your horse has sufficient essential amino acids, particularly lysine, available in the diet. To understand exactly what protein your horse is already getting, and to see where deficiencies may lie, you should chat to your equine nutritionist. They will be best placed to help you in establishing whether or not a deficiency exists.

Note: It is important when trying to build muscle in your horse, that you check that he is being provided with sufficient energy for the work he is doing. Adding protein, or specific amino acids, will not help if your horse is burning more calories than he is getting, as muscle development is a secondary priority for the body. First and foremost the body will use calories to fuel exercise, so if there are insufficient calories available, muscle development will not occur. To assess if your horse is getting enough calories you should look at his body condition score – this will tell you if your horse is in poor condition, good condition or overweight.