There are texts dating from the seventeenth century, books written by Scandinavian monks based in Greenland, which describe attempts to improve the diet of sled dogs to give them more strength and endurance in work!
This says a lot about the good understanding that Eskimos, Indians, explorers and sportsmen had about nutrition in physical performance and prevention of specific diseases, and had at heart to work on this subject.
Feed them well they will run well
Remarkable biological 'machine' (running 200 km per day is quite exceptionnal), the sled dog has been the subject of numerous scientific research conducted by veterinarians from U.S. universities or French veterinary schools.
This research, conducted in collaboration with the musher, allowed to better adapt the food to the needs of these dogs, but also to prevent certain frequent affections (musculoskeletal disorders, stress diarrhea). And results obtained from these impressive athletes provided many improvements in the nutritional knowledge for regular dogs: energy quality, improving digestion, soluble and fermentable fibers or clay to prevent diarrhea, antioxidants delaying aging, L. carnitine preventing certain heart conditions, etc.
Proteins and fats to meet the great cold
A sled dog racing is now systematically fed with a "nutritional" dry complete food (croquettes), high in proteins (30 to 40%) and fat (his fuel energy for effort - 20 to 30%). These croquettes are hyperdigestible (meaning that their digestion is very easy). They contain higher concentrations of essential elements (called essential nutrients, they are 50!).
Depending on the type of competition and the outside temperature, the daily energy requirement varies between 2000 and about 12 000 kcal on the Iditarod (or, for a dog of about twenty kilos, no less than six times more than an 80 kg adult male engaged in heavy physical work!).
We also know now pace the meal and the best ways to replenish the muscle energy reserves of these dogs quickly. Which could inspire a lot of sportsman on their nutrition.
A very balanced diet
On nutrition, three sets of factors are shown to have an impact on the nutritional need of the sled dog:
- induced energy expenditure, varies quantitatively, but qualitatively fundamental to consider (all fats, for example, does not have the same nutritional value);
- stress, as long as it is induced by the training and competition, requires nutritional adaptations (protein, antioxidant nutrients);
- dehydration, which can, in no small measure, be prevented through nutrition.
In doing so, in practice, a food suitable for sled dog will be to:
- provide optimal quality energy in adequate amounts,
- minimize as much as possible the volume and weight of intestinal contents,
- help maintain a proper hydration status of the animal,
- help to optimize the results of a well conducted workout,
- fill gaps induced by physiological stress.