Race Distance Impacts Endurance Horse Metabolism

Horses that exert energy for extended periods of time tend metabolically swap from carbohydrate consumption to lipid consumption during lengthy rides. Lipid metabolism helps horses maintain energy as their glucose level falls.

To better understand the effects of exercise on metabolic pathways, researchers studied 40 horses competing in 50-mile, 75-mile or 100-mile races in France, which all took place on the same day. Interestingly, the researchers found that the horses that competed over longer distances didn’t have as much fluctuation in their blood glucose levels as they had expected. This was a surprising finding as endurance racing places very high demands on horse’s metabolism.

Drs. Laurence Le Moyec, Céline Robert, Mohamed N. Triba, Nadia Bouchemal, Núria Mach, Julie Rivière, Emmanuelle Zalachas-Rebours and Eric Barrey took plasma from each horse the day before the race and after completion of the race. They used the samples to determine when the metabolic shift occurred and then compared the changes to the distance each horse raced.

It was determined that the horses switched to lipid metabolism as the distances raced grew longer. The signs of protein breakdown were highest in horses that completed the longest race. Though blood glucose levels were lower in all plasma samples post-race, glucose didn’t contribute as much to the 100-mile horses as was anticipated. The researchers think this might be because these horses compensate for glucose losses through muscle and liver glycogenolysis.

The thought is that these horses are better trained and therefore more fit, increasing their muscle and liver glycogen reserves, saving their glucose to stave off fatigue. The scientists called for more research to understand the metabolic shifts horses go through in different types of exercise.

Read the study here.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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