Bird Dog Nutrition: Prime ‘Em for Optimal Field Performance

According to Purina Research Nutritionist Brian Zanghi, Ph.D., nutritionally priming your sporting dog for performance is just as important as using periodization conditioning to train your dog. 
“Diets enriched with the right nutrients can help drive adaptation,” Zanghi says. “You can improve your dog’s athleticism during hard work by feeding a performance food. A high-protein/high-fat performance food is optimal for hardworking dogs because it metabolically primes them to use these fuels for exercise.”
Dog Nutrition 101
Zanghi was one of four experts who presented talks on ways to enhance canine performance at the 2014 Purina Sporting Dog Summit held in July. The two-and-a-half day program, titled “Achieving a Performance Edge,” was held at the Purina Event Center in Gray Summit, Missouri. Some of the country’s top dog handlers and trainers, as well as sorting dog journalists, attended the Summit.
The harder canine athletes work, the greater their fat and protein metabolism. Fat is the preferred source of energy during exercise. A high-fat diet increases the number of mitochondria in muscle cells, which promotes burning fat for energy. Protein helps to support strong muscles and maintain the body-protein balance during hard work when exercise activates protein breakdown.
Sporting dogs ideally should be fed a performance food that provides from 28 to 30 percent protein and from 18 to 20 percent fat to sustain their high energy demand. Examples are Purina Pro Plan SPORT Performance 30/20 Formula, which contains a minimum of 30-percent protein and 20-percent fat, and Purina Pro Plan SPORT Advanced 28/18 Formula, which contains a minimum of 28-pecent protein and 18-percent fat.
Nutritionally Prime Year-Round

Zanghi advises feeding a performance food year-round. “Switching to a maintenance diet in the off-season is like metabolically detraining your dog,” he says. “Maintenance foods deliver high levels of carbohydrates, which decrease the metabolic capacity to use fats, and ultimately result in reduced endurance. It’s best to reduce the portion fed in the off-season and monitor body condition to keep a dog healthy and fit.” 
Supplements – Not Just for People

A tool to help minimize protein breakdown and aid in muscle conditioning is feeding a high-protein/high-fat nutritional supplement 30 minutes before training and competition. “After one hour of working hard, a dog has a drop in the blood leucine level,” Zanghi explains. “Leucine is a protein building block and most significantly triggers protein building. Feeding a supplement with fast proteins containing high leucine that are easily digested and absorbed is optimal for cell function and recovery.”
The Purina Pro Plan SPORT PRiME nutritional supplement bar is designed to help decrease protein breakdown, build strong muscles and promote muscle cell health. It also helps reduce some markers of oxidative stress that increase during normal exercise training. The concentrated nutrients provided in the recommended portion are based on a dog’s weight to minimize digestion activity and the release of insulin. 
Nutrition Means Water, Too
Maintaining healthy hydration for hardworking dogs is also essential, in addition to using the dog’s daily food and pre-exercise supplements to support exercise metabolism. Dehydration can occur rapidly. Dogs that exercise 30 to 60 minutes at 70 to 80 degrees can experience mild to moderate dehydration, depending on the activity and intensity. 
To help maintain hydration, or at least slow dehydration, a dog should be given small amounts of water every 15 to 20 minutes during events longer than 60 minutes. It also helps to mix a few food kibbles with water or add a little chicken broth to boost water consumption. At the end of an event, make sure a dog has access to water, but allow time for panting to slow down before drinking a large volume of water. 
Signs of heat stress include shade seeking, lethargy, heavy panting, and lack of coordination. A dog that appears in distress should promptly be examined by a veterinarian.