Food for thought 

Preparing your horses feed in the morning takes some serious focus – the molasses free chaff, scientifically formulated mix, unbelievably expensive joint supplement, mint powder to disguise the unbelievably expensive joint supplement, new additive with the advert featuring that pony that wins everything, one apple carefully cut into 6 pieces then exactly 145mls of luke warm water mixed together with the lucky spoon in a clockwise direction. Then you grab a black coffee and two chocolate digestives for yourself. Familiar?

Horsey people notoriously put their horses first and nutrition is no exception. But is that fair? If you don’t eat before you ride, will you truly be at your best?

Every yard I have had involvement with has had the same diet – coffee, white toast and jam, more coffee, biscuits, sugary cereal, more coffee and maybe a bacon sandwich. At shows, so many competitors don’t eat or eat badly before competing. Plus dietary options are generally limited to burgers, hot dogs, bacon sandwiches, chips with or without cheese. Not the traditional diet of athletes and sports people.

I asked Emma-Jane Taylor of NutritiousWorks about diet and exercise:

-What effect would eating nothing before riding have? “Eating the right foods can energise you. We need to nourish our body / brain with the good stuff and keep a good constant weight.”

– What about a bacon sandwich before exercise? “Avoiding greasy foods is important before exercise, you want to keep your brain focused, your body energised and your body fat low during any sporting activity. Bacon Sandwiches that are fried and in white bread are going to be a heavy saturated meal and best avoided. Fat trimmed bacon in a wrap with a salad, no sauce is a better option but there are much better & healthier options available to eat before you exercise.”

– What would be the best thing to eat? “Bagels, wraps, bananas, healthy eating bars, vegetables, cous cous, lean chicken, fish (full of good fats), toast with peanut butter, seeds/nuts. You need good quality carbs, lean protein and healthy fats/fluids.”

– She also raised the issue of hydration. “Keeping hydrated is vitally important for optimal performance for any athlete whatever your sport. When you are hydrated your body transports nutrients and oxygen to working muscles, this in turn will help to repair muscles/removes lactic acid build up & eliminates waste whilst regulating the body temperature. Losing as little as 2% of your body weight through sweat can have a negative effect on any athletes performance. Sports Drinks are an alternative to water for serious performing athletes. The drinks give good carbohydrates, electrolytes and fluids that promote energy in the muscles. Caffeine is a diuretic so best avoided for cardio workouts.”

I have always been aware of the importance of good nutrition – from my Grannie feeding me fish to help my brain during exam week to my Mother marching me to the restaurant for “at least a little scrambled egg” before competing. Then a stomach issue led me to see a nutritionist who made me aware of my high sugar and low protein diet. Despite knowing what I should do, I am no angel and still occasionally ride after eating nothing but a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. But I try with little changes or a simple swap. Porridge rather than Frosties, a banana rather than a biscuit…

Breakfast is always a tricky one with early starts so I bought a Breville blender and some Whey protein powder – it takes two minutes to blend a banana, milk, Greek yogurt and some powder. I drink it en route to the stables and I’m set up for the morning. Simples!

If it’s important you will try, if it’s important you will make the time and effort. Improving your diet can improve your performance – you might react 2 seconds faster and not have the fence down, you might be a little stronger and more stable in the saddle… Worth grabbing a glass of water and a bagel for?

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