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Rider Nutrition for Optimum Performance

It is such a privilege to welcome Licensed Massage Therapist and Certified Yoga Teacher, Bryony Pullin, to blog this week! In addition to massage therapy and yoga, Bryony practices healing rituals such as Ortho-Bionomy and Reiki, which led me to becoming one of her clients. An avid equestrian originally based out of Ocala, Florida, Bryony's articles were found throughout the quarterly publication, Florida Sporthorse Magazine. I am blessed to have her as a friend, as her excitement about living the healthy, balanced lifestyle is contagious. Her services are available at Coastal Wellness in Corpus Christi, Texas, and you can read more about Bryony here.

Much attention is given to nutrition for our equine athletes, but what about the other half of the equation: the rider? We know that nutrition can make a difference in our horses’ dispositions and attitudes, their muscling and top lines, their energy and ability to perform well. Yet many riders fail to recognize that we humans are equally affected by what we eat. The foods we eat affect not only our bodies, but our minds and emotions as well. By optimizing our own nutrition, we can perform our best, and our time with our horses can be more rewarding for both horse and rider.


Most of us have varying degrees of muscular weakness and postural misalignments, which can be further exaggerated by nutritional imbalances and deficiencies. This causes us to have to work harder than necessary while riding. (Working harder, of course, creates tension, making the experience even less pleasant for ourselves and our horses.) Proper nutrition can make it easier for you to maintain good posture and to use your body with least effort and greater effectiveness in the saddle.


The foods we eat also have an enormous effect on our mental focus, our thought processes, and our attitudes. Dietary indiscretions and excesses, blood sugar imbalances, and processed foods containing chemicals and preservatives can cause even the nicest person to become aggressive, impatient, emotionally reactive, fatigued, or unfocused. A well-balanced, clean diet will not only help you think more clearly but will also promote a calmer, more patient attitude- very important attributes when working with horses.


While there are many different diet fads and no one diet works for every body, there are some basic principles of good nutrition that do apply to us all...

Bryony's passion for overall wellness includes yoga that is specifically tailored for the equestrian.

Photo by Carlee Gould

1. Eat foods in as close to their natural form as possible. For example, instead of applesauce eat a whole apple. Foods that are in their natural, whole form generally do not come in packages! (An exception would be something like baby carrots). If it is packaged, it’s likely highly processed, which means nutrients have been lost and the food is less usable by your body; instead of supporting your body for optimal functioning, these foods burden your body with things it cannot use, leading to toxicity in both body and mind. The body, as part of nature, is designed to digest and process foods in their natural form. The vitamins, minerals, and enzymes in natural foods are more potent as well, and are balanced with other factors that make them more easily assimilated by the body.

2. Focus on fruits and veggies. These nutrient-rich, high-water content foods should make up the largest percentage of your diet. More concentrated foods, such as meats, eggs, nuts, and grains should be eaten in smaller quantities.

3. Combine foods properly for optimal digestion and assimilation. Just as some foods make better combinations than others for a casserole or stew, the same is true for efficient digestion and functioning of your body. When your body has to work hard to digest the food you eat, energy is diverted to the digestive process and can cause fatigue and foggy thinking, as well as bloating and abdominal discomfort. Proper food combining helps your digestive system to work efficiently, freeing up energy for other things (like riding!) There are 2 general rules of food combining: a) fruit should be eaten alone and on an empty stomach (in the morning, or at least 3 hours after previous meal), and b) do not eat proteins and starches at the same meal (DO eat plenty of veggies with either of these foods.)

4. Limit your consumption of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. These foods cause extreme reactions in the body, leading to blood sugar imbalances that can manifest as light-headedness, weakness, foggy thinking, fatigue (after the initial jolt from the caffeine or sugar), aggression, and impatience, as well as setting you up for more cravings. These effects sometimes may not be felt until days after consuming these foods, making it difficult to recognize the cause-and-effect relationship. If your aim is optimal performance, these foods should be limited (or eliminated) in your diet.

5. Drink plenty of pure water. Your body is made up of about 70% water and depends on it to carry out all basic functions and metabolic processes. Don’t wait until you are thirsty, at which point you are already dehydrated. Dehydration can cause stiffness in the joints, tight muscles, fatigue, lack of mental clarity, and many other problems. For the average person, daily water intake should be ½ ounce per pound of body weight. (Divide your body weight by 2- that is the number of ounces of water you need daily; so, a 120 lb person would need to drink 60 ounces of water.) If you consume caffeine or alcohol, you need an additional 8 ounces of water for each cup of caffeine/alcohol you drink, to counter the dehydrating effects of those liquids. If you dislike the taste of water, a slice of lemon or orange in the water can give it a nice flavor without adding chemical flavorings that are harmful to the body.

Photo by Carlee Gould

You will need to do your own experimenting to find the particular foods that work best for you and give you the results you want. It can be helpful to keep a journal, noting what you ate and the time of day, as well as anything you notice about your state of mind, your energy level, and your physical body throughout the day. Keep in mind that if your diet has been less than ideal for some time, you may experience an exacerbation of symptoms at first while your body rids itself of toxins; in this case, make changes slowly, drink plenty of pure water, and give your body extra rest. The effort you make will be well worth it when you experience the vitality, energy, positive attitude and happiness that come from an improved inner well-being, and every aspect of your life- including your riding- will be better for it.


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