Part 2: Micronutrients, Antioxidants, and Other Buzzwords
Last time we talked, we went over the main macro nutrients a performance horse needs: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Now, let’s go over micronutrients. When nutritionists and veterinarians speak about micronutrients for horses, they are referring to vitamins and minerals. All horses, just like humans, need specific amounts of individual vitamins and minerals to live. These nutrients are essential for proper function of everything from eyesight, hoof health, muscle function, bone strength, and more, even though they are only needed in very small amounts (grams and miligrams).
Different Needs for Different Lifestyles
Comparing an idle horse to a horse in moderate work, not only does their energy requirement increase, so do their nutrient requirements. The idle 1,100-pound horse needs 20 grams of calcium and 14 grams of phosphorous. In contrast, the working 1,100-pound horse needs 35 and 21 grams, respectively. That’s a 75% increase for calcium! Looking at other nutrients, the working horse needs 22% more protein, 50% more vitamin A, and 80% more vitamin E! When we compare this to the increased demand for energy (↑40%), we can see that things aren’t changing linearly or equally. So, although carbohydrates are the main nutrient of concern for performance horses, it is also important to feed enough calcium and other minerals and vitamins.
Vitamins can be either fat-soluble or water-soluble. The four fat-soluble vitamins include D, A, K, and E. I remember this because it rhymes with cake. Water soluble vitamins include vitamin C and the B-vitamin group. The neat thing about horses and their hindgut microbiome is that horses can actually produce B-vitamins. Remember that fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body, and therefore, can be over-fed to toxic levels, whereas water-soluble vitamins are flushed out with urine.
Minerals are inorganic nutrients that horses need for all functions throughout the body. Unlike protein or the total amount of feed, horses need very small amounts of minerals. Macro minerals like calcium will have requirements expressed in grams, while trace minerals like copper will have requirements expressed in milligrams. Minerals must be supplied in your horse’s diet, because they cannot produce any minerals on their own, unlike certain vitamins. High quality feeds such as Woody’s Performance and Sales Prep already have a complete vitamin and mineral package built in. As long as you are feeding the minimum amount, your performance horse will be getting the right nutrients.
What else can I do to give my horse an edge?
In today’s competition world, every tenth of a second matters. Beyond feeding adequate nutrition to meet needs, we are increasing our knowledge every day of ways to truly optimize health and performance. One of the most common additives, or “goodies,” included in horse feed, especially performance horse feed, are probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms that have a beneficial effect on the hindgut. Researchers found that probiotics support a healthy immune system, improve feed digestion, and can even help a performance horse recover from events, like trailering and deworming. The challenge with probiotics is getting a large enough dose of viable organisms to the hindgut. It’s not just mouth to cecum; the probiotics must survive the feed manufacturing process, sitting on the dealer’s shelves, into your barn, and finally your horse’s feed tub. Luckily, Woody’s uses a heat-stable form of probiotics, scientifically proven to survive the journey to your horse’s hindgut.
What about prebiotics?
Prebiotics act as a food source for the existing microflora, without introducing new bacteria. More good news for Woody’s fan’s—ingredients high in soluble fiber such as beet pulp and soy hulls naturally function as prebiotics. This means that your performance horse has been consuming prebiotics all along! We love to talk about our love for beet pulp—it’s more than just fuel for hard work.
What about postbiotics?
Postbiotic is a new term, not just in horse circles, but also in human and companion animal health circles as well. We feel that the difference between pre- and postbiotics is the effect outside the hindgut. Prebiotics are specifically designed to feed microbes within the hindgut, while postbiotics are compounds that positively effect the body. Postbiotics are not live organisms, rather they are biologically active compounds. Studies at Texas A&M University and the University of Florida have found that postbiotics increase fiber digestibility, decrease stress levels, support the immune system and more!
To give a quick summary of the “biotics” world: most horse people are very familiar with probiotics. However, focusing on a feed with plenty of prebiotics (i.e. beet pulp based) and adding a postbiotic will have much more tangible benefits to both your horse and your wallet.
Stress in Horses
Stress is a natural mechanism in horses and is a large part of how they survive in the wild. The “flight” reaction provides the ability to explosively sprint away from predators. While domestic horses don’t have to worry about their next meal or predators around the corner, the work we ask of them is similar to the “flight” response. Cortisol (the stress hormone) increases during exercise, and in turn reduces inflammation, stimulates movement, and causes blood glucose to rise. A problem occurs, however, when cortisol levels don’t drop back to normal levels postexercise. Elevated levels of cortisol can lead to immune suppression and muscle wasting.
Physical stress is also called “oxidative stress.” Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are unstable molecules produced through normal body functions. These ROS, also known as free radicals, damage cell membranes. In excess, this can result in serious tissue damage within the horse’s body and lead to poor performance and health. Don’t let this scare you—the body is pretty good at fighting back. Antioxidants intercept the free radicals and stabilize them into a molecule that is less aggressive and damaging. Vitamins E and C, along with beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A) and selenium function as antioxidants to combat free radicals.
Luckily, we have a solution. Recovery Plus is a supplement designed to support recovery from all forms of exercise and physical stress. Every ingredient serves a purpose, including a unique postbiotic, whey protein, and a powerhouse combination of antioxidants including those mentioned above. It’s designed to complement our feeds and give you the edge you need for competition!
Looking for more help with your performance horse’s diet? Drop us a note here and we’ll be in touch!
As always, see you at the barn!