Nutrition For Horsewomen: Excerpt from Riding For Life

As an equestrian, you know the importance of your horse getting good nutrition. You realize the quality of the feed and forage is key in determining how he looks, feels, and performs. You probably invest in high-quality grain, hay, and nutritional supplements to maximize your horse’s health. If your non-equestrian friends ever caught a glimpse of your feed bill, they might shake their heads in disbelief. Not only do you pay close attention to what your horse eats, you're also careful about when he eats. You feed him on a schedule, and you wouldn't dream of asking him to skip a meal. You’d never intentionally underfeed or overfeed your horse, nor would you give him anything detrimental.

While you're working hard to ensure that your horse eats a perfectly balanced, nutritionally complete, and irresistibly tasty ration, is it possible you're fueling your own body with foods full of fat, sugar, and empty calories? This isn't an uncommon occurrence. Many perfectly sensible, highly intelligent women who obsess about every single micro-nutrient that passes their horses' lips think nothing of filling their own bodies with burgers, fries, and soft drinks. If you fall into this category, it's time to rethink your nutritional strategy.

Fueling the Female Athlete
The female body is a miracle in motion. As the owner of such a miraculous machine, you have an opportunity to improve its performance and increase its longevity by supplying it with wholesome, nutritious foods. Nutrition dramatically impacts not only your health but also your ability to function, both intellectually and physically. To a large extent, your diet dictates the way you look and feel. The foods you eat determine your weight, your moods, and your energy levels. A substandard diet can leave you irritable, zap your energy, and rob you of strength and stamina. Even if you're not competing in equestrian events, the fact that you're riding, handling, or caring for horses qualifies you as an athlete, with specific nutritional needs. Your diet can either enhance or impede your motivation to ride and, ultimately, your ability to ride effectively.

Fuel or Filler?
When you fully appreciate the importance of good nutrition in all areas of your life, you realize that every bite matters. Because you can consume only a finite number of calories each day, it's essential to make those calories count.

This strategy may require you to analyze your eating habits. Many women-ever conscious of their weight--have trained themselves to evaluate foods only in caloric terms. Frequently, this leads us to adopt a mentality in which we consider low-calorie foods to be good and high-calorie foods to be bad. In reality, many relatively high-calorie foods are extremely healthy, making them well worth the caloric investment. The opposite also is true. Many low-calorie foods are hardly worth eating. While there’s no harm in snacking on a serving of pretzels or a handful of animal crackers, there’s also no benefit. These foods may fill your stomach to some degree, but they offer little more than empty calories because neither is a rich source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, or high-quality protein. A serving of fruit or vegetables or a handful of nuts would be a far better choice because these foods contribute to your health.

As you're making decisions about what to eat to optimize your health, it’s a good idea to look closely at some of the foods you normally choose. Before you dig in, ask yourself whether the food you've chosen is merely filler or if it truly a source of high-quality fuel, worthy of consumption.

If your diet and eating habits are less than desirable, it's time to start choosing foods that support you as a hard-working female athlete, so that you’ll feel and perform better, in and out of the saddle. Even better, you'll increase your chances of living a longer, healthier, and happier life.

The Three Key Nutrients
No matter what foods you eat, your diet contains varying amounts of the three nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Although each is necessary for good health, it is the balance of these three nutrients that is of primary importance. By getting the proper proportions of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in your daily diet, your body is better able to ward off common ailments and illnesses, while keeping you as strong and energetic as possible. As an added bonus of eating a nutritious, balanced diet, you'll notice that your hunger is suppressed, your food cravings are quieted, and your metabolism is maximized. You'll find it far easier to achieve and maintain an appropriate weight than you might have thought possible.

About the Author

Rallie McAllister, MD

Rallie McAllister, MD, grew up on a horse farm in Tennessee, and has raised and trained horses all of her life. She now lives in Lexington, Ky., on a horse farm with her husband and three sons. In addition to her practice of emergency and corporate medicine, she is a syndicated columnist (Your Health by Dr. Rallie McAllister), and the author of four health-realted books, including Riding For Life, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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