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Part I: Performance Boosting Supplements- What are they and do they work?

How do we get that last 1% of speed, stamina, scope, strength or special WOW factor from our performance horses? Is it possible to "scoop and see" a difference? Can we reliably feed for that split second faster, that inch higher, the bonking later, or that first place ribbon? It turns out that a substantial amount of research exists on these special performance boosting nutraceuticals in both human and horse athletes. This is likely due to capital driven incentives from high profile human athletics, the Equestrian Olympic games and thoroughbred racing. Lucky for us amateur equestrians, there might be some clues as to whether or not our competitive goals can be influenced by such supplementation. Let's take a look!


I've been thinking about performance enhancing supplementation for several reasons; first, my horse and I just completely our first 2* CCI event and we were looking for ways to boost confidence in our endurance and recovery. Secondly, my husband has decided that long-distance mountain bike races are his jam, and we're considering ways to optimize HIS performance. Lastly, our fall guest lecture lineup is all about the equine immune system which may be influenced by some of these nutraceuticals. For more about that fall guest lecture lineup CLICK HERE.


In last week's article, I pulled apart the three major areas in which we may discuss your horse's energy level. If you have not read that article, HERE IS THE LINK. We must always start in terms of basic input and output, or need versus intake. The language of energy in this sense is calories. We can't optimize for performance if our horses are terribly skinny or terribly fat, so they first and foremost need the right amount of calories. Then, we can discuss energy in terms of behavior. We have the potential to manipulate horses' behavior depending on the types of energy sources we blend together. Finally, once those basics are solid and sound, we can turn to the "cherries on top" list of nutraceuticals that have the potential to influence your horse's final energy output (in terms like ATP) and recovery. Today, I am going to deep dive into this category of supplements that I'm calling "performance boosters" and shake the proverbial bucket into what's out there, their theories, cost, and efficacy. Here we go!


INTRODUCTION

The first step is to define what we mean by "performance boosters". In my discussion of performance boosters, I have decided to WILDLY ASSUME that the horse is already on an excellently balanced diet complete with the right amount of calories, protein, vitamins, minerals and water. (I shudder slightly here, because that's not often the case in my line of work.) I need you, the reader, to understand that many of the supplements I found under a simple Google search of "equine performance supplements" were just different combinations of the basics. I'm NOT talking about these.


The best way that I can define the performance boosting supplement category is this; nutraceuticals specifically targeted at increasing production energy (in the form of ATP) or decreasing the performance limiting by-products created by that energy. Basically, we're going to talk a lot about nutrients/chemicals that flow in and out of mitochondria which are the energy engines of muscle cells. Inside these mitochondria is where the Krebs Cycle takes place. Raise your hand if you ever had to memorize the Krebs Cycle in a BioChem class! What performance boosting nutraceuticals are trying to influence or improve, is this cycle of energy production and waste that occurs in the mitochondria. Ok, enough sciencey stuff for now.

I'm also going to limit my discussions to performance horses. In my mind, that means that they are, at the very least, in moderate work and likely working towards a high level in their competitive sport. That means working 4-6 days per week, at least 20% canter (likely more), with some high intensity workouts such as hill climbs, sprints, long-slow-distance work and lots of sweating each week! This could be the upper levels of dressage, eventing, jumpers, barrel racing, reining, racing, competitive endurance and many more.


Here is a list of the performance boosting nutraceuticals that I'm going to cover in two parts.

  1. Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone)

  2. Dimethylglycine (DMG)

  3. Creatine

  4. Gamma Oryzanol

  5. Branched Chain Amino Acids

  6. Other Amino Acids (i.e. glutamine, beta alanine, carnitine)

  7. B-Vitamins

  8. Colostrom and Plasma

  9. Vitamin E

  10. Omega-3 Fatty Acids


COENZYME Q10 (Ubiquinone)

  • Products Containing This Nutraceutical: Kentucky Equine Research Nano-Q10, PlusVital EnerGene, Foran Equine "For-recovery" *Note that PlusVital replied to my email questions, but Foran Equine and KER did not.

  • Theory Behind Its Use: An antioxidant involved in ATP production in muscle cell mitochondria and cell walls.

  • Dosage for 1,100 lb Horse: 750- 800 mg per day; research on thoroughbreds went up to 1,900 and 3,400 mg per day of supplementation.

  • Cost: $2.34 for a 770 mg serving of KER Nano-Q10, $7.67 per 200mg serving of PlusVital EnerGene

  • Research Grade (Quality and Quantity of Peer Reviewed Research) = 3.5/5; Kentucky Equine Research has spent a lot of time researching and writing about this ingredient. Generally, we know that supplementation is SAFE and will increase the amount of coenzyme Q10 in the serum of horses especially when combined with Vitamin E Supplementation (Svete et al., 2021; Sinatra et al., 2014). It also appears to have proven health effects for humans suffering from heart disease, myopathy, and even periodontal disease (Crandell and Duren, 2007).

  • Will I try this on my 3 Day Event Horses or Recommend to Clients? Possibly, but only in very intense performance situations or severe myopathy.


DIMETHYLGLYCINE (DMG)

  • Products Containing This Nutraceutical: VitaFlex DMG 3,000, Smart + Simple DMG Maintenance, Gateway Products SU-PER DMG 3,000, MedVet Pharmaceuticals In-Sync, Animed DMG 2,000

  • Theory Behind Its Use: Dimethylglycine is an intermediary amino acid involved in choline production. The idea behind feeding DMG is to reduce lactate concentration after exercise and speed recovery. Research results are mixed as to its efficacy.

  • Dosage for 1,100 lb Horse: 1,500 to 4,500 mg per 1,100 lb horse per day

  • Cost: $0.75 -1.30 per day for 3,000 mg

  • Research Grade (Quality and Quantity of Peer Reviewed Research) = 3/5: Per usual, research conclusions are mixed. A study of four Arabian horses found that DMG supplementation can lower lactate concentrations in equine muscle after hard work (de Oliveira et al., 2015). However, a study of 12 endurance Arabians showed no performance improvement (Funari, 2011). A study in thoroughbreds showed mixed results for lactate concentrations after exercise depending on the horse's fitness during the study (Warren et al., 1999). Human supplementation has not been proven effective in performance enhancement, autism or epilepsy, but may boost immunity.

  • Will I try this on my 3 Day Event Horses or Recommend to Clients? Not likely if the horse is well conditioned. However, there is a small chance that it could benefit horses with myopathy AND immune suppression.


CREATINE

  • Products Containing This Nutraceutical: AniMed Creatine Powder; Peak Performance Creatine Power Nutrients 5,000, SmartMuscle Mass Pellets

  • Theory Behind Its Use: To increase creatine phosphate in muscle and ultimately ATP production.

  • Dosage for 1,100 lb Horse: 50-140 grams from research experiments (Teixeira et al., 2015; Ferraz et al., 2006; Schuback et al., 2010); most products only offer 2-5 grams of Creatine Monohydrate

  • Cost: $1.39- $2.81 per day

  • Research Grade (Quality and Quantity of Peer Reviewed Research) = 3/5; I give creatine supplement research a grade of 3 out of 5 due to the quality of research being done. However, there is little evidence that creatine supplementations improves performance. There are a handful of studies between 1995 and 2015 that have looked at creatine's potential in Arabians, thoroughbreds and standardbreds. One study, looking at long term supplementation over 90 days, found one performance parameter, the speed at which horses reached a specific blood lactate level, showed significant improvement over placebo horses (Schuback et al., 2010), but it is unclear if there are conflicts of interest in this study. The majority of studies found no significant performance benefits, and there are several questions about the digestibility of creatine monohydrate in the horse.

  • Will I try this on my 3 Day Event Horses or Recommend to Clients? No


GAMMA ORYZANOL

  • Products Containing This Nutraceutical: Naturally occurring in rice bran oil (1.5-3%), Body Builder by Equiade, Inc, Platinum Performance Gamma Oryzanol, Corta-Flx Muscle Mass Solution, SU-PER Muscle Builder Liquid, and many, many more with Gamma Oryzanol as a secondary ingredient. AniMed Gamma Oryzanol (I'm not going to link them, because their feeding directions were so god awful that I don't want to promote them.)

  • Theory Behind Its Use: Antioxidant, muscle builder, reduce fatigue

  • Dosage for 1,100 lb Horse: 2,000 mg in Mösseler 2010 study and 3,000 mg in Ostaszewski 2012 study; 331 mg in Body Builder, 3,000 mg in 2 scoops of Platinum Performance

  • Cost: $1.05-3.90 for 3,000 mg serving, Body Builder would cost over $10 per day to feed 3,000 mg

  • Research Grade (Quality and Quantity of Peer Reviewed Research) = 2/5; The one study that found performance parameter improvement, a 32 week study of racing thoroughbreds by Ostaszewski (2012), was confounded by the dual supplementation of β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate (HMB) and gamma oryzanol together. Therefore, it's not clear if gamma oryzanol supplementation by itself will have a positive effect. According to a review of gamma oryzanol by Szcześniak et al. (2016)"Although so far its effectiveness remains ambiguous, the Federation Equestre Internationale unit governing rules of fair play in equestrian competition, listed GO as a prohibited substance (medication class BY ) https://www.usef.org/documents/drugsMeds/FEIVetRegs.pdf).

  • Will I try this on my 3 Day Event Horses or Recommend to Clients? No


BRANCHED CHAIN AMINO ACIDS (LEUCINE, ISOLEUCINE, VALINE)

  • Products Containing This Nutraceutical: Purina SuperSport, Platinum BCAA, UltraCruz Equine BCAA, Equinety Horse XL, Hygain Super Amino 66

  • Theory Behind Its Use: Improve recovery and reduce immunosuppression after extreme exercise (Baakhtari et al., 2022; Vineyard et al., 2013)

  • Dosage for 1,100 lb Horse: 4,000-12,800 mg each from UltraCruz BCAA, 400 mg each from 1 serving of Equinety Horse XL; 20,000 mg of supplementation used in Hauss et. al. (2021) study and 9,000-12,000 mg each amino acid in the Casini et al. (2000) study.

  • Cost: $1.63- $4.94 per serving

  • Research Grade (Quality and Quantity of Peer Reviewed Research) = 3.5/5; There is a wealth of evidence that branched chain amino acid supplementation of human endurance athletes is beneficial for recovery and the immune system. In horses, the research is not as crystal clear, but it does exist. Purina has good quality research on their SuperSport product, but it is confounded with multiple ingredients in the product.

  • Will I try this on my 3 Day Event Horses or Recommend to Clients? Possibly, but only in cases of intense performance and/or myopathy.

My husband was considering branched chain amino acid supplementation for his long distance mountain bike races.


SUMMARY

I think that the most important point to clarify in this discussion, is that time after time, researchers concluded NO performance improvement in either humans or horses in terms of distance, speed, or placings. This means that performance boosting supplementation will NOT keep my horse from hitting rails on stadium day (darn it). They will NOT make an average bred, moderate performer an Olympian. They are not the ticket to blue ribbons. However...there is reason to believe that some of them will improve the metrics around that exercise. For example, immune support (very big deal), slightly better recovery after exercise, and act as an antioxidant during energy production and waste removal. Those are all good things. As usual, use OCEN's methods for trialing a new supplement should you consider one of the above. Here is an article about "How to Trial a New Supplement".


I'll continue this discussion next week with other Amino Acids (i.e. glutamine, beta alanine, carnitine), B-Vitamins, Colostrom and Plasma, Vitamin E, and Omega-3 Fatty Acids.


REFERENCES


Baakhtari M, Imaizumi N, Kida T, Yanagita T, Ramah A, Ahmadi P, Takebe N, Iwamoto Y, Korosue K, Tsuzuki N, Yasuda M. Effects of branched-chain amino acids on immune status of young racing horses. 2022. J Vet Med Sci;84(4):558-565. doi: 10.1292/jvms.21-0529. Epub 2022 Feb 24. PMID: 35197413; PMCID: PMC9096041.


Casini, L., Gatta, D., Magni, L. and Colombani, B., 2000. Effect of prolonged branched-chain amino acid supplementation on metabolic response to anaerobic exercise in standardbreds. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 20(2), pp.120-123.


Crandell, Kathleen and Duren, Stephen. 2007. Nutraceuticals: what are they and do they work. J Biotechnol, 34(3), pp.29-36.


de Oliveira, K., Fachiolli, D.F., Watanabe, M.J., Tsuzukibashi, D., Bittar, C.M.M., Costa, C., Poiatti, M.L. and de L. Meirelles, P.R., 2015. Dimethylglycine supplementation in horses performing incremental treadmill exercise. Comparative Exercise Physiology, 11(3), pp.167-172.


Ferraz, G.D.C., Teixeira-Neto, A.R., D’Angelis, F.H.D.F., Lacerda-Neto, J.C.D. and Queiroz-Neto, A.D., 2006. Long-term creatine supplementation improves the aerobic capacity of horses. Ciência Rural, 36, pp.514-519.


Funari, S., 2011. Evaluation of dimethylglycine supplementation on athletic performance in endurance horses. Evaluation of dimethylglycine supplementation on athletic performance in endurance horses.


Hauss, A., C. Loos, A. Gerritsen, K. Urschel, and J. Pagan. 2021. Effect of branched-chain amino acid and N-acetylcysteine supplementation post-exercise on muscle mTOR signaling in exercising horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 100:103524.


Mösseler, A., Licht, S., Wilhelm, L., Kamphues, J., Ellis, A.D., Longland, A.C., Coenen, M. and Miraglia, N., 2010. Can oral intake of gamma-oryzanol (experimentally given orally as pure substance) result in doping relevant testosterone levels in the urine of mares and geldings?. The Impact of Nutrition on the Health and Welfare of Horses. Wageningen Academic Publishers, 128, pp.293-296.


Nemec Svete,A.; Vovk, T.; Bohar Topolovec, M.; Kruljc, P. Effects of Vitamin E and Coenzyme Q10 Supplementation on Oxidative Stress Parameters in Untrained Leisure Horses Subjected to Acute Moderate Exercise. Antioxidants 2021, 10, 908. https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3921/10/6/908.


Ostaszewski, P.; Kowalska, A.; Szarska, E.; Szpotański, P.; Cywinska, A.; Bałasińska, B.; Sadkowski, T., 2012: Effects of β-Hydroxy-β-Methylbutyrate and γ-Oryzanol on Blood Biochemical Markers in Exercising Thoroughbred Race Horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science32, 542–551.


Schuback, K., Essen‐Gustavsson, B. and Persson, S.G.B., 2000. Effect of creatine supplementation on muscle metabolic response to a maximal treadmill exercise test in Standardbred horses. Equine Veterinary Journal, 32(6), pp.533-540.


Sinatra, S.T., Jankowitz, S.N., Chopra, R.K. and Bhagavan, H.N., 2014. Plasma coenzyme Q10 and tocopherols in thoroughbred race horses: Effect of coenzyme Q10 supplementation and exercise. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 34(2), pp.265-269.


Szcześniak, K.A., Ostaszewski, P., Ciecierska, A. and Sadkowski, T., 2016. Investigation of nutriactive phytochemical–gamma‐oryzanol in experimental animal models. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, 100(4), pp.601-617.


Teixeira, F.A., Araújo, A.L., Ramalho, L.O., Adamkosky, M.S., Lacerda, T.F. and Coelho, C.S., 2016. Oral creatine supplementation on performance of Quarter Horses used in barrel racing. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, 100(3), pp.513-519.

Vancouver


Vineyard, K.R., M.E. Gordon, P. Graham-Thiers, and M. Jerina. 2013. Effects of daily administration of an amino acid-based supplement on muscle and exercise metabolism in working horses. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, Vol 33(5).


Warren, L.K., L. M. Lawrence, K. N. Thompson, The influence of betaine on untrained and trained horses exercising to fatigue, Journal of Animal Science, Volume 77, Issue 3, March 1999, Pages 677–684, https://doi.org/10.2527/1999.773677x

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