The Stables

Top Five Tips for a Healthier Life in The Saddle

1: Hydration:

How many of us get up and immediately have a cup of coffee or tea? How often do you get to lunchtime and realise all you have had to drink all day is that cup of coffee before you left the house? 

Hydration is often overlooked, many symptoms people suffer from daily could be linked to dehydration; headaches, fatigue, muscle aches and pains, poor concentration and physical performance. 

Government guidelines suggest around 1.2 litres of water a day. This is the standard recommended amount based on the average person on a non-exercise day. Throw in a riding lesson, three stables to muck out, two acres to poo pick and a muck heap to fork up and you’ve already increased your daily need through physical exertion and sweating. 

Tips for increasing hydration: 

  1. Buy a good quality 1 litre water bottle, take with you when you leave home in the morning. This is a good way of monitoring how much you have drunk throughout the day. 
  2. Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning, stick some sliced citrus fruit in it to get an added vitamin c boost. 
  3. Food – we get around 20% of our water intake from food, especially fruit and veg. 
  4. Limit caffeine. Caffeine does not dehydrate you but can increase the need to urinate. 2-3 cups a day is fine, caffeine increases cortisol levels (the stress hormone), which isn’t really conducive around horses! 
  5. Energy drinks are not a good option. Yes, they would count towards fluid intake, but the side effects of these drinks are not worth the risk. They usually contain lots of sugar (calories) and stimulants. We get enough of these from food and coffee/tea. Same goes for sports drinks, these are designed for professional athletes that are pushing their bodies to the limits. 

2: Whole Grains: 

Swapping from refined white varieties of bread, pasta and grains to the whole grain alternative have huge health benefits. Whole grains have been shown to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, bowel cancer, stroke and weight gain. The fibre content in these grains aid digestion, keeping bowel movements regular. They also help regulate blood sugar levels as they do not hit the bloodstream as quickly as the white varieties. Another benefit of this is that they make you feel fuller for longer. 

Wholegrains contain b vitamins, essential for energy production and a whole host of other minerals; zinc, selenium, magnesium, iron. The refined grains have had the husk, germ and bran removed, this are where most of these great nutrients are. 

  • Grains – brown rice, wild, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, oats, rye, millet, spelt.
  • Pasta – rice, quinoa, buckwheat, whole wheat, lentil.
  • Bread – seeded, brown, rye, wholegrain, whole wheat, sourdough.

3: Preparation:

Time is never on your side when you own horses! The best way to stay on top of the nutrition game is preparation. This is making sure that there is something in the fridge/cupboard/freezer ready to go when you come in ravenous ready for a full-on kitchen raid. 

  • Meal plan: I’m not talking counting calories and macro’s, decide on at least 5 evening meals and make sure you have all the ingredients for each. 
  • Shop sensibly: internet shopping helps massively with the above point. If you go into the store, make sure what you buy equates to a meal. When you’re in a rush and hungry it’s very easy to buy a whole lot of food that doesn’t really go together. Not only is this expensive, it can leave you dissatisfied with your dinner. 
  • Make more than you need: Freeze the leftovers in portion sizes, this way you’ve always got something available if you don’t feel like cooking. 
  • Par cook and freeze vegetables in portion sizes: This works really well for cruciferous veg (sprouts, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage). Bring a pan of water to the boil, add veg for 1-2 minutes (also works with a steamer), remove, drain and rinse in cold water, freeze immediately in portions. Then all you have to do is chuck a portion/s in boiling water or a steamer for another few minutes when needed. 
  • One pot cooking: the slow cooker is a horsey persons best piece of equipment (after the motorised poo picker). Put all the ingredients of a stew, curry, etc in the morning and come home to a cooked dinner. If you prep the ingredients the night before, it is as easy as tipping them from a bowl to the slow cooker before you leave the house. 

4: Omega 3 

There is a reason omega 3 is all over the media, I don’t like to categorise foods into good/bad/super/clean etc, but this is one of the few I do, it really is super. It has been proven to help brain health, cognitive function, improve risk factors for heart disease, eye health, depression and anxiety, improve bone and joint health, the list goes on! Omega 3 is found in oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines, anchovies), and in lesser amounts; nuts and seeds (flax, chia, hemp, walnuts), some beans (kidney, soy, edamame). 

It is classed as an anti-inflammatory food, this doesn’t mean you only need to eat it when you’ve fallen off or a bit muscle sore. There are a number of inflammatory pathways going on inside the body that are constantly working to control systemic inflammation, your body’s natural response for fighting threat; disease, infection, toxins, injury. What’s important about getting omega 3 into your diet is the fact that our body cannot make it from scratch. If you don’t eat the above listed, I would suggest taking a supplement. Omega 3 is also available in vegan form (made from sea algae). If you are going to buy omega 3 make sure it has EPA and DHA in it, both are important as they work on different things. Bare Biology, Lion Heart Omega 3 has a good ratio of EPA to DHA. 

5: Eat the Rainbow:

Free radicals, the things that can cause damage to DNA in our cells. You’ve probably heard of these, and that they can lead to ageing, cancer, Alzheimer’s, asthma, diabetes….. It isn’t all doom and gloom though, our bodies produce them all the time through normal processes such as breathing, eating and exercising, but our bodies also produce antioxidants to help neutralise them. When you put your body under more stress, such as riding, you may need more antioxidants than usual. The simplest way to do this is to eat the rainbow.

Colourful plant foods contain high levels of phytochemicals, many of these are antioxidants. There are over 10,000 types of phytochemicals and they are mainly found in wholegrains, fruits and vegetables. The different colour of food is due to their pigments and those pigments contain different phytochemicals. Eating a diet with a varied amount of colour ensures that you are getting a wider variety of antioxidants. Not only do they help mop up free radicals, but they also help support our immune system and aid muscle recovery.

by Hannah Funnell

Nutritionist at Optimum Muscle Care

Image credits: Pixabay