rider nutrition

Competitive riders always ensure their horses are looked after at shows, but often neglect their own nutrition and hydration during the day. Here’s how to make some positive personal changes.

Imagine if we expected horses at a competition to do without adequate water or food for the day? Someone would be sure to complain about inhumane treatment. Yet riders sometimes treat themselves inhumanely when they put their nutrition second and skip breakfast, eat junk food on the run, and don’t drink enough water. Studies conducted on schoolchildren have shown that their brains don’t function well when they skip breakfast. Riders and trainers are no different!

How can you improve your nutrition during a show to help yourself think more clearly, enjoy more energy, and keep your nerves settled? And do you value these things enough to change bad habits?

It starts with breakfast

The first issue is finding time to eat breakfast – horse show mornings can be early, and hectic! The ideal breakfast is one that balances carbohydrates, protein and fat. I find breakfast is better digested if it’s real food – not a highly processed protein bar. For example, eggs, potato and spinach cooked together the night before can be chilled and eaten on the go next morning. Add something like orange slices and you have a nice balance. I would encourage a warm beverage to round out the meal.

If you take even ten minutes to sit down and eat, your digestion is greatly improved. When you are in a stressed state, digestion becomes a low priority for the body. Foods that you can prepare the day before include wraps or a vegetable frittata. Some people find protein smoothie drinks easier to digest under pressure. Regardless of what you select, you will need to prepare or buy the food the night before, enjoy eating it cold, and make some quiet time during the first several hours of the day to actually eat it. You’ll be glad you did!

H2O on the Go

The next point to focus on is hydration – it is essential for top functioning. Preparing bottles of water the day before will help you gauge how well you are doing on water consumption. If you have four 16-ounce bottles set out to drink during the day, then you will have a clear visual reminder if you fall behind. If you like, you can add various flavor powders to the bottles when you’re ready to drink them. You may need to experiment with protein powders and vitamin C boosters (like Emergen-C) to determine which flavors suit you best. Do this ahead of time – it’s not something you’d want to do for the first time at a show!

A Different Take on Fast Food

Improving the foods you eat throughout a show day is important. I recommend bringing a cooler of fast and easy finger foods such as apple slices, sliced melon, hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks, nuts and nut butter, celery, carrots and cucumbers. Any of these can be a great supplement to the “fast food” options most vendors offer at competitions. If you buy a hamburger from a vendor and add some of the carrots, celery and apple slices you brought along, it will greatly improve the overall nutritional value of your meal. Fruits and vegetables are easy to digest, have enough fiber to prevent blood sugar spikes, and help maintain electrolyte balance. Watermelon is a crowd favorite – it tastes great and replenishes your electrolytes after you have been working hard and sweating.

If you eat a good breakfast within a couple hours of rising, and drink plenty of water through the day, your body will let you know when it is hungry. Your cooler of food will allow you to sit down for a few minutes between classes and make good food choices.

Settling the Nerves

The last area to discuss is calming your stomach – shows can be nerve-wracking and that results in poor digestion. Our bodies aren’t made to endure prolonged and intense stress. Calming the nerves is important for good health and performance. If your stomach is upset it can also affect your mood – most of our serotonin and melatonin are manufactured in the gut. Keeping your stomach happy keeps you happy!

Yoga breathing can calm the whole system without intruding on the limited time available during the day. It can be as simple as taking in deep breaths and letting out equally long full breaths, with a slight hold when the lungs are full and empty.

I especially like the herb Bacopa from India for competition situations. It calms and clears the mind. Two capsules the evening before a show, and then every four hours as needed after that, can be very helpful for keeping things in balance. Bach Rescue Remedy can also help keep you effective without any drowsiness or negative effects.

Create a plan for your own personal care that’s equal to the one you have for your horse. He can’t compete to his best potential if you’re not also at your best.

Dr. Valeria Breiten is a licensed naturopathic physician and registered dietitian. She is excited to now be offering in her office Scenar therapy for healing and pain relief. Scenar is an affordable and effective treatment developed for the Russian astronaut program. Her office is in Chandler, Arizona and her website is DrValeria.net for more information.