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The performance of an equine athlete is vitally important whether if we are talking Dressage, Jumping, Western Pleasure, Barrel Racing or on track TB or QH racing. One of the biggest determinants of performance is stamina.  Without stamina, almost always, performance is reduced on various levels.  So, what determines one or the other? What dictates performance in that equine athlete and considering that stamina is involved, what options do we have to improve the outcome?

Stamina is defined as the ability to sustain prolonged physical or mental effort.  In almost every equine discipline, both physical and mental stamina are in play, which is true as well for most human sports.  An athlete can have the physical stamina to compete, but many times, the mental aspect comes into play, with reduced stamina, then impacting the end performance of that athlete.  

So, let's look into stamina. What factors contribute?

One of the key factors in stamina is energy production by the body.  Energy is stored in the body in a compound called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). As energy is needed, the ATP molecule is broken down into ADP and inorganic phosphate, to yield measurable energy. This is the basis for energy production within the body, no matter the species. However, there are many factors that can contribute not only to ATP production, but also ATP utilization and overall cellular function within the body.

Means of Directly Enhancing Energy Production:

  1. Carbohydrates are used by the body to readily make ATP or store them as glycogen, which is a readily available precursor to glucose.  Simple sugars can be used to aid in boosting glycogen stores, however, more complex carbohydrates are viewed as a better option for long term building of glycogen. The use of high carbohydrate meals or carb loading is an option in some horses, just as it is in human athletes, however, there are limitations, especially just before a competition as loading the stomach with a meal can alter blood circulation, induce cramping, poor digestion and actually impair performance.
  2. Creatine is an inorganic acid produced by the liver and kidney from amino acids glycine and arginine.  One of the main roles of creatine is in the recycling of ATP, through conversion of ADP back to ATP.  Creatine is stored in muscle tissue and its use has been noted to provide increased energy, muscular strength and improve performance in some athletes.  
  3. Co-Enzyme Q10 is an enzyme associated with the TCA or Kreb's cycle, which inevitably produces NADH and FADH2, which then assist in the production of ATP down the line.  Usage of CoQ10 can assist in energy production and reduce fatigue in many cases.

Energy production by the body is essential for any 'work' performed by the body, whether if this is mental or physical.  There are several things to consider when it comes to the equine athlete, above and beyond energy production as a whole.  

First, we have to look at overall fitness and oxygen utilization.  Oxygen is needed by almost every cell in the body to do work and the more work put on a body, the more oxygen that is required.  In order to meet these goals, the body must be capable of not only taking in the oxygen from air (respiratory tract), but also moving it about to the right areas of the body (heart and circulation).  Thus, any impairment to one of these two areas, including disease, will limit oxygen intake and therefore performance to some degree.  The more fit a body is, the more efficiently it takes in and utilizes oxygen and energy.  Fitness, which implies gradual training and acclimation, is required of any athlete, horses included. Impaired oxygen utilization by the body is one limiting factor to stamina, resulting in anaerobic metabolism and lactic acid production.

Second, we have to factor in the process of inflammation and free radical production, which are a normal part of any intense exercise regimen. Oxidative stress through free radical production is a normal part of oxygen utilization by the body.  The free radicals are produced, which if they accumulate in high enough levels, will impart cellular damage, even to the mitochondria or powerhouse of the cell.  Inflammation usually goes along with oxidative stress but can occur secondarily due to tissue damage, including muscles and tendons/ligaments, which occur with intense exercise.  In reality, we cannot expect a muscle to grow bigger without hypertrophy, which is really a damage and repair type of cycle to the tissue.  Both inflammation and oxidative stress can not only limit stamina and performance, but if uncontrolled can lead to long term tissue damage and even health consequences.

Third, we have to evaluate any concurrent limitations on that patient.  In most, these limitiations are either in the form of a medical condition or a lameness.  As an example, a lung condition (COPD or IAD) may actually impair oxygen exchange within that patient, thus impacting peformance and stamina.  Likewise, a sore foot or even a sore joint due to arthritis, will also limit the natural abilities of that horse.  If we have concurrent health or lameness conditions, performance and stamina will be negatively impacted. Thus, we need to address these conditions primarily and correct them if possible.

Fourth, we have to take into consideration genetic potential of that athlete.  Genetics impacts cellular function, oxygen utilization and other factors of energy production, but also can directly enhance performance due to conformational abilities or honestly, just the right mental attitude or desire to excel. Some have it, while others do not.

Enhancing Energy Utilization and Reducing Fatigue Onset:

  1. Protein consumption directly impacts cellular function, enhancing cellular health, energy production, utilization and repair of tissues including muscle and tendons.
  2. Whole food diet full of natural nutrients and antioxidants also can enhance cellular energy production, utilization, cellular health and tissue healing post exercise.  
  3. Glutamine, an amino acid, can reduce of slow fatigue onset by decreasing the buildup of ammonia due to protein metabolism in the body.  Glutamine is also beneficial to cellular health on many levels, improving antioxidant protection, and also participates in ATP production via the Kreb's cycle.
  4. Nitric oxide production by the body is essential for improved blood flow, which can then directly impact circulation to muscle tissue, having a direct impact on cellular function, stamina and performance.  Increased consumption of L-arginine in the diet or via supplementation can directly improve nitric oxide production within the body. In some cases, however, this arginine-nitric oxide pathway is not functioning correctly, so alternatives are needed.  In these cases, utilization of foods that are rich in bioavailable nitrates can be helpful, as the nitrates can then be converted to nitric oxide.  
  5. Managing ongoing inflammation and protecting against oxidative stress to help reduce cellular damage and improve tissue repair.
  6. Enhancing and supporting digestion, which equates to improved ability to extract and utilize nutrients from the diet, equating to higher energy production and tissue repair.

As you can see, performance and stamina are fairly complex, involving many factors and those factors can be unique to every horse.  Energy production by the body is one thing, but utilization of that energy in the best manner possible, is an something entirely different.  The limitations present in any given horse can vary and be a matter of simple fitness, the diet not providing the proper substrates (protein/nutrients), but many also involve reduced cellular function due to inflammation and oxidative damage.  

Cur-OST® Equine formulas that can assist with energy production and overall performance based on target:

There are many possible solutions that can aid any given situation, but which one is right for your horse is the million dollar question!  This all depends on what factors need to be corrected or enhanced for the optimal outcome. At Nouvelle Research, Inc, we are here to help!

 

Author:  Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH

 

 

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