Ask a Pro: What Makes a Feed a Performance Feed?

We sat down with Dr. James Lattimer, ADM’s nutrition expert, to better understand what makes a feed a performance feed and how they work to support a horse’s nutritional needs.

With many kinds of performance or discipline types in the equine industry, the many horses that compete in them require a different diet than the average horse, or horse in light work. This is known as a performance diet regime, where performance feeds are sought out to better support the horses advanced nutritional needs.

Dr. James Lattimer, ADM’s nutrition expert

“First off, nutritionists will reference a bag of grain or feed as a “concentrate.” Where horse owners will call it a bag of grain or feed, just in case there are questions over terminology.” Dr. Lattimer begins.

“There are a handful of things that would set a performance feed apart, from other feed options. The biggest one is the energy content. Performance feed is going to have more digestible calories than a maintenance feed. A maintenance feed is for the horse that is standing around not doing much. Such as a retired hose or trail riding horse that only gets ridden once a week. A performance horse is working diligently through the week and/or going to events often. Because we are asking more work from them, their body needs more calories. Just like a human athlete compared to someone sitting on a couch all day. That’s part of the additional calories that are needed.”

“Then they must recover from the work asked. That’s something that is commonly forgotten. The recovery requires more calories than the work itself. Take a weightlifter for example. They lift weights for an hour in the gym, and shockingly they don’t burn that much during the workout. They burn significantly more calories after the gym when the muscles are repairing and rebuilding. Strenuous exercise causes damage to the muscle and we must recover from that stressful event.”

Dr. Lattimer continues, “With that, we also need high-quality protein to repair the muscle. Proteins are made up of a long chain of amino acids and the quality of a protein is defined by the concentration of essential amino acids. Horses require 10 essential amino acids within their diet. They cannot make those endogenously. Meaning, they cannot make them within the body. Meeting a horses essential amino acid requirement is crucial as every cell in their body uses them. All proteins are not equal. Let’s compare soybean meal to corn gluten meal or distiller grains (corn milling protein). Soybean meal is a high-quality protein because it has higher concentration of essential amino acids, such as lysine and methionine, which are the first two limiting amino acids. With distiller grains, even though the crude protein is high, the lysine and methionine concentration is much lower. Therefore, you would not want that as the only protein source in a performance feed.”

“Then we need to consider the vitamins and mineral content. These should always be elevated in a performance feed. As an example, the micro-minerals copper and zinc should be greater than a maintenance feed. Typically, we would like our performance feed to contain at least 40 mg/kg copper and 160 mg/kg zinc. Similarly, vitamin E should be elevated over 100 IU/lb.”

“Naturally sourced vitamin E is significantly more bioavailable; however, it’s also expensive. Therefore, you only find it used in super premium products such as POWERGLO®. Synthetic vitamin E is the most commonly used as it’s more economical. The reason we like vitamin E so much is because it is a powerful antioxidant. It protects the body against oxidative damage due to free radicals which are produced during exercise. Free radicals are essentially unstable atoms within the body that cause damage to our cells. If we don’t help support a horse through proper diet, oxidative damage can wreak havoc on their ability to perform and their overall well-being.”

Those are general things that would separate a performance feed from a maintenance feed.

“We can now look at additional ingredients such as direct fed microbials or probiotics. Live organisms, like bacteria, that are beneficial to the gastrointestinal environment. We know that exercise is a stressful event, we know that stress can hamper the immune system, we also know that the micro biome of the gastrointestinal tract (all the microbes that live in the gut) are directly related to the immune system. Research shows that a healthy gut microbiome correlates to a more effective immune system, and vice versa. So, in a nutshell – a performance horse is under a lot of stress and if we can provide these microbials, then we can support the microbiome, thus supporting a healthy immune system.”

POWERGLO® and InsideTract: A Feed Developed for Performance Horses with a Special Ingredient

POWERGLO® is a specially developed feed (concentrate) that supports the needs of performance horses. It contains the supplement Inside Tract that specifically supports the digestive tract through probiotics, prebiotics, and dietary nucleotides. Prebiotics are the preferred food source or substrate of the probiotic. If we give the probiotics the food they prefer, this helps them populate the gut more efficiently. We want them to grow because they are good for the digestive tract. “It’s a good bug plus it’s good food!” states Dr. Lattimer.

POWERGLO is a specially developed feed (concentrate) that supports the needs of performance horses.

Dietary nucleotides are the precursors to DNA and RNA. Although the body produces nucleotides endogenously, research shows that during periods of stress they are not produced in sufficient amounts. Therefore, we term dietary nucleotides as “conditionally essential.” As such, providing dietary nucleotides to a performance horse which is consistently under stressful conditions, provides an immunomodulatory effect. For example, data shows we can increase immunoglobulins in horses through supplemental dietary nucleotides.

POWERGLO® also contains postbiotics, it’s a new term not many have heard of yet. It’s one of the new groundbreaking discussions in equine research. Postbiotics are the product that the probiotic (bug) makes. In POWERGLO’s case its known as butyrate. It’s a volatile fatty acid that’s produced naturally in the hindgut in the horse. Data that shows its beneficial to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. The first big effect will be in the small intestine, butyrate supports the health and length of the villi. This in turn helps support proper absorption of nutrients, like proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Butyrates other function is to help support tight gap junctions, or the space between the cells of the GI tract. We want these cells very close and tight together to act as a protective barrier. We want the nutrients to come across and be absorbed but we don’t want toxins or pathogens. During stressful events space can occur between those cells (the barrier), which is termed “leaky gut syndrome.” It’s essentially the failure of that barrier. If toxins or pathogens get through and become systemic, then we have a whole slew of problems. Butyrate helps strength that barrier and protect and against leaky gut syndrome.

POWERGLO®: Why is it a great choice for performance horses?

“POWERGLO® is ideal for the performance horse because it contains 12% fat through ingredients such as flaxseed, stabilized rice bran, and vegetable oil. It uses soybean meal for a high quality protein source and is also fortified with essential amino acids. It contains elevated vitamins and minerals and utilizes sourced vitamin E. POWERGLO also contains marine derived calcium, which is the key ingredient in Forage First® GS. It helps support a healthy gastric pH. We know up to 60-90% performance of horses suffer from gastric ulcers or discomfort and it’s important to do what we can to support and aide in a healthy stomach. Lastly, it contains the supplement Inside Tract.” concludes Dr. Lattimer.

To find out more about POWERGLO or ADM retailers, click here!   

To read about more topics we cover with ADM’s Equine Nutritionist, Dr. James Lattimer head back to the pro’s page here.