I’m not a PhD exercise physiologist, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, or Board-Certified Animal Nutritionist, but I have traveled and presented alongside Purina’s Senior Scientist, Dr. Arleigh Reynolds, who is all three, for the past 30-plus years.
Let me share some helpful information that I’ve learned from Arleigh that can help your dog recover from a day of long bouts of exercise, and be better prepared for more work the following day.
When your dog is working hard during training, hunting, or competition, one of the fuels it uses is called glycogen, which is made up of glucose. Stores of glycogen in muscles and the liver influence endurance. It is important for us to try to replete the glycogen lost during intense exercise.
Extreme exercise alters the way the muscle replenishes its energy stores. There is a narrow window of 15 to 30 minutes after exercise, during which energy can be restored to the muscle without passing through all the hormone-regulated pathways. Normally, the hormone insulin regulates how much glucose can pass into individual muscle and liver cells. However, during this 15- to 30-minute window, the cells can readily accept glucose without waiting for insulin to dictate the passage.
If glucose is made available during this window, 50 percent of the glycogen lost during exercise can be recovered within four hours, and 100 percent after 24 hours using the proper carbohydrate-replenishing regime. Compare those results to only 75 to 80 percent of original stores after 24 hours if you feed your dog a normal meal.
The speed of recovery can be very important during multiple days of hunting, as well as between bouts of exercise on the same day. The question to answer is how we apply this information to help our hard-working dogs.
The key is in the glucose source we choose. Arleigh recommends maltodextrin, a polymer that can be found in most pharmacies and health-supplement stores.
Cooked rice could be used, but the amount required to be effective is usually more than a hot, thirsty dog is willing to eat. Other carbohydrates used in the past—like bread—also contain fat and protein, which can delay the absorption of the carbohydrates from the gut into the bloodstream and muscle. Another source often used post-exercise is honey. Honey contains a sugar carb called fructose. The dog must convert this sugar into glucose before it is used in the muscle and liver. This conversion requires time and energy, and can contribute to energy loss rather than helping.
Bottom line: Maltodextrin is our best option. But how much, and how do we make it available to our dogs? In general, Arleigh recommends maltodextrin at a half-ounce per 20 pounds of body weight. As a guide, one ounce of maltodextrin powder is equal to a heaping 1⁄3 cup.
- 20-lb. dog, mix ½ oz. maltodextrin in 1 cup of water
- 40-lb. dog, mix 1 oz. maltodextrin in 2 cups of water
- 60-lb. dog, mix 1½ oz. maltodextrin in 3 cups of water
- 80-lb. dog, mix 2 oz. maltodextrin in 4 cups of water
We recommend you have the water and maltodextrin solution mixed and ready before beginning exercise, so it’s available 15 to 30 minutes post-exercise. At that point, all you need to do is shake the container to be sure maltodextrin is in solution and pour the contents in the dog’s water pan.
Along with providing energy to the muscles, this allows replenishment of liver glycogen stores. As a result, your dog will feel much better after work and more motivated to eat their regular meal later in the day, and more eager to work the following day.
More than the recommended amount of maltodextrin will not benefit your dog. It is also recommended hard-working dogs be fed once a day, and that meal be at the end of the day after they’ve rested. Our goal is that by morning, the dog has had time to digest and empty. With nutrients digested and less bulk in the gut, your dog will be comfortable during work and able to focus on having fun and finding birds.