The Crucial Role of Amino Acids in a Horses Diet

by | Oct 21, 2023 | All Posts, Equine Health

The crucial role of amino acids in a horses diet.

Horses require a balanced diet to maintain optimal health and performance.  Among the essential components of their diet, amino acids stand out as vital building blocks for the body.Amino acids play a crucial role in the overall health and well being of the horse, influencing everything from muscle development to immune function, to a glossy coat.    Lots of feeds advertise as having amino acids, but more often then not it is the ingredients of the feed that naturally contain small amounts of amino acids and not something that has been added, and is usually below daily requirements.  So what are the main functions of amino acids that make them so important?

  1. Protein Synthesis – Amino acids are the fundamental units of protein.  Proteins are essential for growth and development as well as the repair of body tissues, especially muscles, ligaments and tendons.  Horses, particularly sport horses require a substantial amount of protein to support muscle development and repair after physical exertion.  Most diets are actually lacking in adequate protein, and these especially need to be supplemented with additional amino acids.
  2. Muscle Development – Amino Acids, especially essential amino acids which the horse cannot produce naturally, are vital for muscle growth and strength.  Lysine, methionine and leucine are all examples of essential Amino Acids that play a key role in promoting muscle development through aiding the development of muscle fibres and recovery after exercise.
  3. Energy Production – Amino acids also serve as a source of energy when the horse is eating insufficient fats and carbohydrates, or in intense exercise when the horse lacks adequate energy sources.
  4. Improved Immune Function – Amino acids are essential for the production of antibodies which are components of the immune system.  A diet well balanced in Amino acids can help horses fend off disease and infections more effectively.
  5. Enhanced Coat and Hooves – Amino acids contribute to the production of keratin, a protein that gives the horses coat it’s strength and lustre as well as strengthening hooves.
  6. Optimal Reproductive health – Amino acids are involved in the production of hormones and enzymes necessary for reproductive function and regulating neurotransmitters in the horses brain.

Two of my particular favourite amino acids are Lysine and Methionine.

Lysine not only contributes to everything described above but also aids in the absorption of essential nutrients such as Calcium and regulates serotonin which is a neurotransmitter that influences mood and behaviour.  It is regarded as the number one limiting amino acid for horses and is often too low in hay and grasses in Australia.

Methionine is often referred to as the precursor to other essential compounds and can be found in all proteins in the body. It supports the livers function by promoting the production of glutathione a powerful antioxidant, and aids in the absorption of essential minerals such as zinc and selenium.  It is also essential for the production of cysteine which is a component of hair and skin protein.  Horses cannot produce methionine and it must come from their diet therefore additional supplementation is often required.

Threonine and Leucine are two other limiting amino acids that are commonly added to feeds.  Threonine is important for supporting a healthy gut and digestive function, as it is crucial for the production of mucin proteins which form a protective barrier in the intestines.  When there is inadequate threonine in the diet it will be utilised specifically for this and not for other protein synthesis. It is an added component of most gut supplements.  Leucine is a Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) which still play a crucial role in protein synthesis.  Horses can obtain them naturally from sources such as Soybeans, however additional supplementation has been reported to improve muscle recovery, reduce fatigue and improve body composition.  This is because rather then being broken down in the liver they are metabolised directly by the muscle cells.

I think it’s clear from this how indispensable Amino acids are for a horses overall health and well being.  Horses need a diet that includes high quality protein sources to ensure that they get adequate Amino acids, but a lot of the time this is not possible due to weight, exercise, feed ingredients etc and therefore additional supplementation is required.

Equine Therapy Products in conjunction with Equestricare has developed an Amino Acid and essential salts mix aimed at muscle health.  It can be purchased online here Mo’s Muscle Mix and there is 10% off your first order with the coupon code muscle10.

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