Accueil 9 Locomotion 9 Equine athletes: how nutrition boosts their performance

Nutrition is a critical component that contributes to the success of horse athletes. It is essential for the development and maintenance of their performance. These athletes require a balanced diet specifically tailored to their physiological and energy needs. As a result, a horse’s diet has a significant impact on its physical condition, endurance, recovery, and overall health.

But what are the specific nutritional needs of these equine athletes? How can different types of food support their health? What effect does diet have on their performance?

Nutritional needs of equines athletes

Essential macronutrients

Macronutrients, such as proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids, play a fundamental role in the diet of equine athletes. They provide the energy needed for intense physical activity and support muscle development, cellular function, and metabolic regulation.

Proteins are composed of essential amino acids that contribute to tissue construction and repair, including muscles. Racehorses have higher protein requirements due to their intense activity and constant muscle development. Good protein sources include legumes – such as clover and alfalfa – as well as certain grains.

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for racehorses. Horses are herbivores, and their digestive system is adapted to break down complex carbohydrates found in plants into simple sugars, such as glucose. Cereals like oats and corn are common sources of carbohydrates for horses. A carbohydrate-rich diet helps support the energy reserves needed during intense exercise.

Lipids, also known as fats, provide a concentrated source of energy. They play an important role in maintaining body temperature, protecting organs, and absorbing fat-soluble vitamins. Vegetable oils like soybean or flaxseed oil can be added to the diet to increase lipid intake.

Key Micronutrients

In addition to macronutrients, horses need various micronutrients to maintain optimal health and support their athletic performance. Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, and trace elements.

Vitamins are essential organic substances required in small quantities for the normal metabolism of horses. Fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin E, are stored in adipose tissues and the liver. Water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C and the B vitamins, need to be regularly supplied through the diet as they are not stored in large amounts in the horse’s body.

Minerals play a key role in many physiological processes in horses. Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium are essential minerals for bone health, muscle function, water regulation, and electrolyte balance.

Trace elements are required in very small quantities but are essential for proper equine metabolism. Iron, zinc, copper, selenium, and manganese are some examples of important trace elements for horses. They play a essential role in the formation of enzymes and co-factors, as well as immune function and overall horse health.

By understanding the specific macronutrient and micronutrient needs of each horse, it is possible to formulate a balanced diet that supports performance and maintains optimal health.

Horse feeding

Basic foods

To meet the nutritional needs of horses, it is essential to choose appropriate basic foods that provide necessary nutrients.

A racehorse’s diet is mostly composed of high-quality hay. It supplies the fiber required for healthy digestion and promotes optimal digestive system function in horses. The hay should be of good quality, free from dust and mold, and meet each horse’s specific nutrient content requirements.

Cereals such as oats, corn, barley, and wheat are often used as an additional energy source. They provide easily digestible carbohydrates that can be quickly utilized during intense exercise. It is important to choose the appropriate cereals and introduce them gradually into the diet to avoid digestive problems and imbalances.

Some vegetables, such as carrots and beets, can be included in the diet to provide additional vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Fresh vegetables should be cleaned, chopped, and given in appropriate amounts based on the individual horse’s needs.

Nutritional Supplements

In addition to basic foods, some nutritional supplements can be used to support the health and performance of racehorses.

Vitamin supplements can be used to complement the diet and ensure that horses receive all the necessary vitamins for optimal function. These supplements can be particularly useful when the basic diet does not provide sufficient essential nutrients.

Joint additives, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, can be used to support the joint health of horses subjected to intense stress. These supplements can help maintain mobility and prevent joint injuries.

Probiotics are supplements containing beneficial bacteria that promote optimal balance of intestinal flora in horses. They can improve digestion, nutrient absorption, and strengthen the immune system.

Best practices and mistakes to avoid

To ensure optimal feeding, it is important to be aware of some best practices and common mistakes:

It is essential to plan balanced meals that meet the specific needs of each horse. This involves providing adequate amounts of hay, cereals, and vegetables, taking into account individual energy and nutritional requirements. Providing appropriate quantities is important to avoid overfeeding or underfeeding, which can have detrimental effects on health and performance.

Horses require gradual adaptation when changes in their diet are made. Sudden dietary transitions should be avoided as they can disrupt digestion and cause stress.

Nutritional supplements should be used selectively and on an as-needed basis for each horse. Excessive use of supplements can lead to nutritional imbalances and health complications.

Lastly, hydration is vital, so it is important to ensure that horses always have access to fresh and clean water. Daily water consumption varies from 20 to 60 liters and increases with physical activity or temperature.

The impact of nutrition on the horse performance

Nutrition plays a key role in the performance of equine athletes, influencing their physical condition, endurance, recovery capacity, and overall health.

In athletic horses, a balanced diet tailored to their needs contributes to maintaining optimal physical condition. Macronutrientsproteins, carbohydrates, fats – provide the energy needed to support intense physical activity and muscle development. Proteins assist in tissue building and repair, while carbohydrates provide immediate energy used during exercise. Fats play a role in metabolic regulation and organ protection. Adequate macronutrient intake promotes muscle strength, endurance, and overall performance in horses.

Nutrition also plays a role in endurance. Carbohydrates, in particular, provide the energy needed to sustain prolonged effort. A diet rich in carbohydrates helps maintain sufficient energy reserves for extended periods of training and competition. Furthermore, a balanced intake of essential nutrients promotes faster recovery after exercise, reducing the risk of excessive fatigue and injuries.

More generally, proper nutrition is essential for maintaining overall good health and preventing diseases. Micronutrientsvitamins, minerals, trace elements – are crucial for metabolism, immune support, and preventing nutritional deficiencies. Vitamins and minerals contribute to strengthening the immune system, aiding horses in fighting infections and maintaining optimal health. They also promote healthy bones, joints, and muscles, reducing the risk of performance-related injuries and illnesses.


Nutrition plays a key role in the performance and health of horses. A balanced and tailored diet promotes good physical condition, increased endurance, and faster recovery after exertion. Additionally, proper nutrition helps prevent diseases and maintain overall well-being in these equine athletes.

By taking a proactive approach and paying special attention to nutrition, it is possible to maximize horses’ potential and optimize their well-being. Each horse has specific needs that can vary based on age, activity level, and physical condition, so it is recommended to consult a veterinarian or equine nutritionist for personalized advice.


Bergero, D. and Valle, E. (2007). A multi-factorial approach to the nutritional requirements of sports horses: critical analysis and some practical applications. Italian Journal of Animal Science, 6(sup1), pp.639–641. doi:

Coenen, M., Kienzle, E., Vervuert, I. and Zeyner, A. (2011). Recent German Developments in the Formulation of Energy and Nutrient Requirements in Horses and the Resulting Feeding Recommendations. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 31(5-6), pp.219–229. doi: (2023). Available at: [Accessed 27 Jun. 2023].

Key words: nutrition, feed, nutritional requirements, equine athletes, performance, health, equine well-being