Eat Like an Athlete: Proper Nutrition Will Give You a Leg up on the Competition

Eat Like an Athlete: Proper Nutrition Will Give You a Leg up on the Competition

Let me tell you a story.

It’s 5 a.m. You’ve pressed snooze a couple of times and are now rolling out of bed and running out of the house in a hurry. You’ve got to get to the showgrounds to prep your horse for the long day of showing. As you make the frantic, sleepy-eyed drive, your tummy starts to growl and you realize you left the house without eating or packing anything to eat — and you are starving.

What are your options? There’s a really good food truck on the grounds that serves deliciously greasy bacon and fried egg sandwiches, and that fried goodness will go really well with your venti caramel macchiato with extra whip.

You finish your morning classes and see somebody has made another coffee run. (frappuccinos for the whole barn!), and yet another parent brought a box of donuts for all to share. As the afternoon wears on, your energy drains and you turn to the barn cooler full of pop and energy drinks for a quick pick-me-up.

The show ends late and by the time you get home, all you want to do is have a hot shower and hit the sack. You decide the only effort you can make for dinner is a bowl of cereal combined with a couple of episodes of your favorite Netflix show before lights out!

Does any of this sound familiar? If so, you have fallen into the horse show trap of bad nutrition!

Fuel Your Ride

If you’re a rider, you are an athlete, and eating properly and minding your nutrition is a key part of being an athlete. How much time, money, and energy do you spend ensuring your horse eats the proper foods and supplements at the proper time so they can perform at their best? Why wouldn’t you take the same time to care for yourself to enable you to do the same?

Photo by Dani Maczynski for

Let’s look at the reasons why proper nutrition is important:

  • Provides increased energy throughout the long show days and weeks of showing
  • Encourages optimal recovery from training and showing stress — adequate intake of the various macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fats) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) aids in muscle growth and repair
  • Enhanced mental acuity and focus — proper nutrition feeds and fuels your brain
  • Improved heart health, bone strength, and lean muscle mass
  • Weight control
  • Improved performance

As an athlete, you need to start paying attention to how you are fueling your body to achieve your optimal level of performance.

You Are What You Eat

On a show day, you already want to be as prepared as possible. You typically have a general idea of timing of classes, so you can plan your meals and snacks accordingly.

So what kinds of foods should you eating? Here are some tips with help from the Coaching Association of Canada. Overall your meals should:

  • Consist of moderate to higher carbohydrates (carbs are not the enemy!), with moderate lean protein, and lower fat choices
  • Consist of 3-4 major food groups for larger meals, and 2-3 major food groups for snacks
  • Be easy to digest (especially when show nerves hit!)
  • Include foods and fluids that are familiar to you, you can tolerate, and you enjoy
  • Take into consideration timing (if you are having a large meal, you generally would want to wait 3-4 hours for the meal to digest before engaging in intense physical activity). You don’t want your food or fluids to be sloshing around your belly during a jumping round!

Europeans do horse show food right!

Photo by Leslie Threlkeld for

To ensure you're getting the nutritional intake you need, planning and preparation go a long way. Instead of swinging by the food truck (which can be unhealthy and expensive), pack a cooler with power-packed snacks like:

  • Fruit
  • Veggies
  • Sandwiches or wraps with lean meats
  • Granola bars
  • Trail mix
  • Water! (limit caffeinated drinks)

      What is Dani Goldstein's favorite thing to cook?

      Hydration is key, especially on those long hot and/or humid summer show days. Just as your horse is susceptible to dehydration and muscle cramping, so are you. Dehydration will deplete you of energy, focus, and diminish your performance. To avoid any heat related issues, follow these steps:

      • Drink before you are thirsty
      • Keep your fluids chilled
      • Drink between 0.4-0.8 L per hour
      • Add a sport drink to your cooler, like Gatorade
      • Add a little salt to your meals or eat some salty foods, like nuts, pretzels, pickles
      • Limit alcohol

      Thirsty? Try Rider Aide by Equestrian Wellness, found in the summer NF.edit subscription box.

      I get it. It's one thing to talk about eating healthy at home, when you have a full fridge and time to meal-prep. It's another to eat healthy on the road, when you already have a lot to think about, friends want to eat out, and the on-site food vendors are so convenient. Here are some ways to help you combat the bad nutrition trap.

      • Pack a second cooler.
      • Try to book a hotel room with a kitchenette for easy food preparation & storage.
      • Hit up the local grocery store and stock up your cooler, hotel kitchen, or rental home kitchen.
      • Make wise restaurant and fast food choices
      • Don’t experiment with new foods the night before your show or on show day. Keep it simple and familiar to avoid any gastrointestinal disasters!

      Staying away from the common pitfalls of horse show nutrition and fueling your body appropriately can make a significant difference in sustaining your energy, stamina, strength, and focus for long horse show days and seasons. Remember, you are an athlete; treat your body like one!

      Read this next: Refreshingly Simple Ways to Train & Eat Smarter With Polo Player Naomi Schroeder

      Feature photo by Dani Maczynski for

      Written by Meryl Wheeler

      Meryl Wheeler is a former equestrian athlete who has a passion for physical fitness and health. She offers effective online strength and conditioning programs designed to help clients realize the power, opportunity, and potential they have to reach their own health and wellness goals.