Fooding for Life

Fooding Working Dogs ..

Fooding our Canine Athletes
For an athlete dog, nutrition is as importance as the training activities to be carried out. In fact, only when the physical preparation reaches an appropriate level and is supported by an equally adequate diet, your canine athletes will be able to obtain their goals. We discuss some of the requirements of fooding your athletes.

Run Floyd, Run!

We can all agree that diet makes a huge difference in the ability of our fur kids to perform well, have increased stamina and be at their absolute best. Indeed, diet makes a huge difference in ANY dog, even the constant couch potatoes. For active working dogs, or “canine athletes”, it becomes possibly the single most important aspect of their training. Poor or inappropriate diet, can make your athletes more vulnerable to injury and most certainly will affect their performance overall. 

Unfortunately, not many validated studies have been published regarding the fooding of working dogs and athletes. What we have learned to date, is that the fooding requirements depend on what you want your dog to do. A sled dog, such as a Husky, or racing dog such as a greyhound, will need more protein to keep going. However, a service dog (for example, detection dog), tend to exercise in shorter bursts and need to recover quickly and smell well.

Irrespective, you need to remember that kibble is DRY, and as a result, the water intake for your working dog can increase by a factor of 8 when using kibble as the basis for feeding. Raw, real food, on the other, contains up to 70% moisture, is more bioavailable, digestable and does not make use of food fragments for nutrients. In some instances, kibble is added to the the raw diet to increase the fiber content of the diet, but we prefer more natural ingredients.

One of the recent studies published, was done by veterinarians at the University of Florida and subsequently published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research ​1​ (PDF). The study consisted of feeding greyhounds either a high protein, high fat food or a low protein low fat food. At the conclusion of the study, it was found that “racing greyhounds ran faster when fed a diet containing higher fat and protein and lower carbohydrate contents.” Your dog does not have to be a greyhound nor a racer for these conclusions to hold true. Quality food means energy – its that simple.

Canine athletes have greater capacity of fat oxidation than humans, both during the rest and during the exercise. During a sled dog race, in fact, most of the energy comes from the dietary lipids (real fat), and the second comes from glycogen and as a last source comes from the amino acids. Thus, a high fat content in the diet allows increasing the resistance and maximizing the production of energy. Rich protein content helps to prevent the formation of anemia induced by exercise.

However, there are different types of competitions and it’s important to distinguish the characteristics for the right nutritional approach.

  • in the long distance races, the production of energy comes from the exploitation of total aerobic metabolism (Wikipedia).
  • in the medium distance races or stages, the team may temporarily increase their speed (in the aerobic and anaerobic (Wikipedia) transition) and overcome their anaerobic threshold for short periods.
  • in the speed race, from 7 – 20 km: the anaerobic lactic (anaerobic glycolysis) can play significant role, which is estimated to provide 10 – 15% of total energy costs.

When the length of the race increases, the fat content of the diet takes a significant increment. Most dog sledding professionals recognize the importance of high protein and high fat diet, and both require the use of raw materials with high biological value, high digestibility and ready to use.

A raw natural diet offers your athletes the building blocks that they need to do their best and to be healthy enough to do anything. Athletes who eat foods with higher protein levels are less likely to be injured in training and therefore in competition or the working environment. One of the best food sources to food prior to working your athletes in any manner, is beef. The amino acid score for food, which measures the amount of amino acids in the food as compared to the need for the amino acids, gives beef high marks. Any number over 100 is considered a quality protein, but beef comes in at a whopping 142. If you really want the best protein source, then you would consider quail, with an amino acid score of 156, but fooding on this source might become expensive. Chicken and turkey are right behind at 129 and 139 respectively. While close, beef has other features that make it just a bit better.

High in iron, beef is a great food to counteract the rigors of exercise. Even a slight iron deficiency can cause fatigue in  your athletes (canine or human!)  Red meat, such as beef, keeps that iron level exactly where it should be and allows the dog to go longer without a dip in iron which can result in tiring more easily. Low iron can also be a factor in mental as well as motor skills, and can impair a body from doing physical work. Iron helps muscles to store and utilize oxygen, and in its capacity as a part of hemoglobin, iron is instrumental in helping blood carry oxygen to the rest of the body. Taken as a whole, iron is one of THE most important nutrients that a body needs in order to function at its highest level for athletes.

As for proteins in general, a recent study ​2​ showed that for prolonged exercise regimes that a typical sled dogs is subjected during the training, they would require an increasing need of amino acid; therefore if you feed them on a low protein diet, your athletes will not obtain sufficient amount of amino acids to cover their needs. Your athletes would therefore have less capacity to exploit the amino acids for the energy production and protein synthesis.

So what does a typical canine athlete diet look like?

The following is used by many endourance racers (mushing) in Alaska for their canine athletes. Expert muschers typically use heavy fuels (beef) during winter months and on-seasons, and lighter proteins for off-season or summer. One should be aware that for working dogs are typically fed once a day, usually two hours after exercise so that they run on empty stomachs. Why you ask? Running your fur kids with a full gut is dangerous, as they can vomit while running and the bits can get into their lungs, or their stomachs can turn during extreme exercise, which results in bloat and death. Many expert muschers will tell you that they feed their dogs well in advance of the race (at least 4 hours before), and will typically wait until the end of the day before the next meal is served.

Working (Winter) Mix – with added fat

  • Ground beef (24%)
  • Beef fat (6%)
  • Chicken fat (6%)
  • Ground liver (3%)
  • Added Fiber (either kibble or natural alternative) (1%)
  • Egg (2%)
  • Blackstrap molasses (1%)
  • Vegetable oil (1%)
  • Bone meal (1%)
  • Zinc powder (0.5%)
  • Water (55%)

The summer mix includes (lean mix)

*Blackstrap molasses is used as a bone- (due to high levels of calcium and magnesium), glycogen-, iron-, and potassium booster in the diet.

For an athlete dog, nutrition is as importance as the training activities to be carried out. In fact, only when the physical preparation reaches an appropriate level and is supported by an equally adequate diet, your canine athletes will be able to obtain their goals, whether it’s a run of only 5 kilometers or the whole of the Iditarod race (1850 kms!).

References and Research

  1. 1.
    Hill RC, Lewis DD, Randell SC, et al. Effect of mild restriction of food intake on the speed of racing Greyhounds. American Journal of Veterinary Research. June 2005:1065-1070. doi:10.2460/ajvr.2005.66.1065
  2. 2.
    van L. Is there a need for protein ingestion during exercise? Sports Med. 2014;44 Suppl 1:S105-11. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0156-z

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