Protein Requirements of Performance HorsesBy Dr. Joe Pagan · September 25, 2012
The protein requirement of the mature performance horse is fairly low, primarily because protein requirements don’t increase as quickly as energy requirements in the exercising horse. There is some thought that higher-quality protein in the equine athlete’s diet may improve performance.
If the protein intake of a performance horse exceeds its requirement, then the extra protein can be used as a source of energy. The amino acids from this extra protein are broken down by the liver, and the nitrogen from the protein is excreted as ammonia. The carbon “skeletons” that are left can be oxidized to produce ATP or used to make glucose or fat.
However, excessive levels of protein intake should be avoided in the exercised horse for a number of reasons. First, water requirements increase with increased protein intake. Second, urea levels increase in the blood leading to greater urea excretion into the gut, which may increase the risk of intestinal disturbances such as enterotoxemia. Third, blood ammonia increases causing a number of problems such as nerve irritability and disturbances in carbohydrate metabolism. Increased excretion in the urine may also lead to respiratory problems because of ammonia buildup in the stall.
By using a feed formulated for performance horses and following recommended feeding guidelines for the horse’s level of activity, owners can feel confident that they are providing all the protein their horses need for training, performance, and general health.