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Providing electrolytes: better before or after training?

Now that temperatures are rising again and both horses and riders are sweaty from training, supplementing mineral deficiencies with electrolytes may be wise. In what situations is it a good idea to replenish electrolytes? And when and how best to give the electrolytes: before or after exercise? A sweaty horse loses a lot of salts and other minerals. On warm days, a horse can produce as much as 10 to 15 liters of sweat per hour when performing work. Horse sweat is also very salty. Where people get used to warm weather they excrete less salt in their sweat, this is not the case with horses. They continue to lose large amounts of minerals through their sweat. To replenish all those lost minerals you can give (liquid) electrolytes to your horse.

What do electrolytes do?

Electrolytes include: sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, phosphate and bicarbonate. These minerals are critical for the nervous system and muscles. In addition, the body needs electrolytes for various processes, including acid-base balance and fluid balance. Electrolytes are used in sports drinks for humans in combination with a little quick-absorbing sugars, such as dextrose. You can also find this combination in electrolytes for horses. This composition is important. The use of such 'sports drinks' before, during and after exercise can maintain the blood glucose concentration (and therefore the energy level) and reduce the chance of dehydration and salt shortages.

Optimal absorption of electrolytes

An electrolyte supplement must be easily and quickly absorbed and that is why you feed it in liquid form. The electrolytes are then quickly absorbed into your horse's bloodstream. The best are liquid supplements, which are specially mixed for horses. The absorption of minerals is most efficient when the number of dissolved particles per liter is equal to that in the blood of your horse. It is also wise to use an electrolyte supplement to which vitamin B2 has been added. Vitamin B2 ensures an even better absorption of the electrolytes.

Body does not make a reserve

Since the bodies of mammals such as horses and humans do not stockpile minerals, it is essential that they are fully up to the mark prior to heavy performance. In addition, research with human athletes shows that it is important to have the moisture balance in order before a major effort in warm conditions. This means that one or two days in advance, up to a maximum of four hours in advance, must be properly supplemented with moisture and electrolytes. This also applies to horses. Electrolyte supplements can maintain the fluid balance and electrolyte levels and keep it that way. They ensure better performance, especially during prolonged efforts, such as a multi-day race or a long outdoor ride. Not only do the electrolytes replace the minerals that come out with the sweat, but the thirst feeling is stimulated by the electrolytes, which makes the horse drink better.

Stimulating a thirst stimulus

Human studies show that fluid and electrolyte levels are crucial for optimal performance. Therefore, aim for your horse to start the competition or training in a fully hydrated state. This will only work if he has drunk more in advance and absorbed more electrolytes than he will lose from sweat. Human athletes also often have to learn to drink extra before and after exercise. The same applies to horses. So if you can encourage them to do that, that's a good idea. Stimulating the thirst stimulus by electrolyte supplements is therefore very important.

Promote post-workout recovery

Research also shows that the use of electrolytes after exercise provides a better recovery of performance than when only water is offered. A horse then gets less muscle pain and is less tired. It is therefore recommended to use the electrolytes before and after the effort during heavy exertion in warm weather! For example, start the supplement one or two days in advance and also give it immediately after exercise, with some concentrates for energy supplementation.

Conclusion: Both!

Horses lose a lot of salt and other minerals during training and competitions in warm weather conditions. Because the body of horses does not stock these salts and minerals, it is wise to restore them before training. This ensures that your horse does not start with a shortage of training. Therefore, start with electrolytes a day before work in warm weather and give it after training. The horse consumes these salts and minerals during training. That is why it is always wise to restore them even after training. Giving electrolytes after training or competition gives a faster and better recovery, with less muscle pain. It is important to provide a good horse-tuned supplement that is quickly absorbed. The correct concentration of minerals is important for this. Research also shows that electrolytes are better absorbed in combination with vitamin B2. So choose an electrolyte supplement that is tailored for horses and contains vitamin B2. Sources:
  • Rehrer, N.J.. Fluid and electrolyte balance in ultra-endurance sport. 2001. Journal of Sports Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11547892
  • Maughan, R.J., J.B. Leiper, S.M. Shirreffs. 1997. Factors influencing the restoration of fluid and electrolyte balance after exercise in the heat. British Journal of Sports Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9298549

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