Improve Your Horse Show Diet, Part 1

Horse showing takes a lot of energy. Eat right to keep yourself fueled for success.

Let’s talk about horse show food.

If you’re like many competitors, you wake up long before dawn and skip breakfast on your way to the show grounds. You grab a cinnamon roll from the concession stand when your stomach reminds you it’s 10 a.m. After riding through lunch, you might pick up a plate of nachos and a soda to tide you over through an afternoon of classes. By the time you bed your horse

down for the night, you’re ready to pig out at a restaurant and fall into bed. In addition to feeling hungry and weak for most of the day, you’ve ridden a rollercoaster of energy highs and lows.

However, if you make a few changes to your diet, you can sustain your energy and focus and perhaps even improve your performance in the pen. With a little preparation and the following tips, you’ll be ready to compete fully fueled.

Interval Eating

At horse shows, we tend to focus on the health of our equine partners. We make sure they’re fed top-quality feed at scheduled times, and we ensure that they have access to fresh water at all times. It’s just a given. Why don’t we do the same for our own bodies? Registered dietitian and all-around amateur competitor Christine Sceets says the schedule at shows can make eating properly difficult.

Exhibitors can all relate to the irritable feeling you get when you haven’t eaten,” Christine says. “Skipping breakfast, or other meals for that matter, and expecting to have a peak mental performance is a tall order.”

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Christine says eating at least three small meals per day at regular intervals will help minimize swings in blood glucose levels while also stabilizing your mood and ensuring peak mental performance during competition.

“Eating more frequently will help you avoid becoming absolutely ravenous at the end of the day. You’ll feel miserably stuffed after eating everything in sight at a late-night dinner,” Christine says. “Remember, eating is not a timed event. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to recognize that it is full.”

These meals should encompass more than just a heavy dose of sugar or salt, Christine says. “Strive for a balanced meal with carbs for energy, lean protein and healthy fats.”

Fitness model and certified nutritionist Monica Brant knows first-hand the value of proper diet and several small meals a day. She says good nutrition is 80 percent of how she looks and feels.

“I take with me on the road pretty much the same things I eat at home,” Monica says. “Our bodies do really well with routine, and if you can figure out a routine that works for you, I would try to stay on it as best you can while you are gone.”

Don’t Skip Breakfast

Monica and her husband, AQHA Professional Horseman Brad Jewett, start their mornings with a protein shake and finish the breakfast meal with a mixture of oatmeal, liquid egg whites and protein powder. No matter where they are, this is their breakfast of choice.

“Every once in a while, we’ll get Mimi’s Café or have breakfast out, but that’s not the norm,” Monica says. “We eat that ‘porridge’ most days.”

Whether you eat out or pack your food, Christine recommends creating a balanced plate with meals from the major food groups. At your hotel, you might have some good options to get your day started besides a doughnut and coffee.

“Breakfast could be an English muffin with eggs and Canadian bacon to get your carbs and protein, along with an apple or banana,” Christine says. “You could follow that up with milk or yogurt.”

Another breakfast option could be cereal with milk, fruit and a boiled egg. And don’t be afraid to take a few items from your hotel to go.

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“I am totally guilty of grabbing an extra bagel and peanut butter from the hotel breakfast, or taking apples and bananas back to the tack stall for a snack later,” Christine says.

Why is breakfast so important? Skipping breakfast increases the possibility of overeating at lunch or at dinner, she says. “Your brain needs glucose to function,” she says. “Eating breakfast is a great way to jumpstart your metabolism and give your brain the necessary fuel and energy to function at the highest level possible.”

Avoid the Concession Stand

Wolfing down a chili dog might seem like the best way to satisfy your hunger in the short run, but unhealthy concession food has several downsides. If you’re looking to maintain your weight - purchasing new chaps isn’t fun - you’ll probably want to pay attention to your caloric intake.

“If weight gain is a concern, definitely watch out for the fried foods and giant desserts at the concession stand,” Christine says. “You can choose wisely though - choose grilled instead of fried options. Go for a piece of fresh fruit instead of a slice of pie or a cookie. Avoid foods with names such as ‘crispy,’ ‘rich’ or value sizes that give large portions for a small amount of dollars. Most are loaded with extra calories that could sabotage your diet plan.”

If you’re going to pick an item from the concession stand, Christine suggests splitting it with a friend to offset the typically large portions.

Monica suggests choosing the least-processed items on the menu, such as grilled chicken or teriyaki chicken - hopefully foods that are cooked right in front of you.

In addition to helping pack on pounds, the cost of concession-stand food can deplete your funds surprisingly fast. Monica’s husband spends much of his time at horse shows, so packing his own food goes a long way to save both time and money.

“The concession stand has very few items that are healthy,” Monica says. “It’s all processed, and just getting over there takes time. If you have some food with you at your stalls, you don’t have to go look for something to eat at the last minute when you’re starving, because at that point you’ll probably end up choosing something that will fuel you quickly - like nachos - but won’t
feed your brain or give you longevity for the show.”

Check back for Part 2, which will cover packing healthy foods and eating smart at horse shows.