Many ”performance” supplements have hit the market. What exactly is a ”performance” supplement’ In the broadest sense, it should be something that will help your horse perform better. Turns out, though, that manufacturers have some widely differing ideas about what ingredients are necessary to accomplish that.
Common sense alone will tell you that if something is beneficial for the performance of a racehorse, it might not be what you’re looking for to support an endurance horse.
Because this category of products contains such a wide variety, we have to recommend that you look at them product by product. The products we included are by no means the only ones advertised as ”performance supplements,” but they are examples of common categories, including:
• General vitamin and mineral products labeled as ”performance.” Dietary deficiencies can certainly have a negative impact on how the horse handles the physical stress of performance, but should be approached by correctly balancing the diet appropriate to his level of work. There’s no evidence that megadosing vitamins or minerals will make the horse perform better.
• Antioxidants: Exercise does increase antioxidant requirements. You’ll want to make sure the horse is getting at least 2000 IU/day of vitamin E, 2 to 4 mg of selenium and could add a little vitamin C, 1 to 3 grams/day. Horses under particularly heavy stresses may also benefit from some the plant-based antioxidants.
• Muscle builders/protectors: We covered muscle-building problems in depth in January 2006. Some of the best products in that category, including glycogen-loaders and branched-chain-amino-acid (BCAAs) products, are included again here. Working muscle do require high levels of branched chain amino acids, which are broken down as energy sources during work and must be replaced to prevent muscle loss and build more muscle tissue. Decreasing levels of BCAAs in the blood during prolonged/endurance exercise may also lead to higher concentrations of tryptophan in the brain, causing fatigue.
• Energy boosters: Energy basically means calories. When it comes to hard working muscles, this means fats, carbohydrates (the premier fuel) and branched chain amino acids. Fat can only be efficiently utilized for slow work, since it is metabolized too slowly to meet the energy demands of moderately high and high speed. Hard-working horses having trouble maintaining their weight on adequate grain and hay rations may benefit from the inclusion of small amounts of fat in their diet, to spare other energy sources when they’re not working hard, but feeding too much, or substituting too much fat for carbohydrate, may negatively impact performance. Burning fat also requires intermediates that are derived from carbohydrate metabolism. Fat has its place, but carbohydrate is the king of exercise fuels.
• Adaptogens: Ginsengs and some other herbs are adaptogens that have been proven to moderate the cortisol response to exercise or stressful situations so that it’s more like that of a trained animal and to avoid exaggerated responses. It probably does this by being structurally similar to the mammalian hormones. Horses that are sour, have poor energy levels and appetites often show a favorable response to adaptogens, which includes Ginseng.
Equine-exercise research is finally starting to catch up with human. Studies have now shown that either intravenous or oral glucose supplementation improves glycogen levels in muscle compared to conventional feeding regimens. So, if you’re looking for a true performance enhancer, we’d probably start with muscle builders, including glycogen loaders like maltodextrin, and BCAAs.
Because it’s important to choose the product based on your horse’s particular needs, it’s difficult for us to make a No. 1 pick here. That said, we think the standouts in our chart include: APF, Power Pak, Blitz, BCAA Complex, Carbo Load, CarboCharge, Glycogen Loader and Advanced Glycogen Loader.