A discussion with Prof Hugh Dunstan

  • D. Phil. (Oxford)
  • School of Environmental and Life Sciences
  • Faculty of Science and Information Technology
  • University of Newcastle

Prof Dunstan is also a Founding Director of Innovaate

What happens to the digestive processes in a horse during exercise?

When a horse is exercising, the digestive capacity is greatly reduced, because the blood is primarily diverted away from the digestive tract to the muscles. As a result, the capacity to digest proteins is impaired. The nutritional resources required to sustain exercise are thus obtained from endogenous sources within the body.

Will the provision of protein supplements help recovery of the horse if they are provided immediately after exercise?

Digestion remains impaired for some hours after the exercise, depending on the duration and intensity of the exercise. Providing protein feeds for the horse immediately after exercise will provide no immediate advantages because they need to be digested to release the amino acids., but these will ultimately lead to replenishment of stocks over time.

Why do proteins need to be digested?

Proteins are very large structures which are built by linking amino acids together in a specific order. As an example, albumin, one of the main proteins in blood, is made from 585 amino acids, linked together in a specific order and folded in a special configuration.

The ingested proteins must first be digested before they can be utilised in the body. This means that the proteins need to be broken down to release the individual amino acids that can then be absorbed into the body. These absorbed amino acids can then be used by the body to build new proteins.

The protein supplements will ultimately provide some benefit after exercise, but this will take some hours before the proteins can be digested to release the amino acids for uptake by the body.

What is the need for providing amino acids straight after exercise?

During exercise, obviously the horse cannot eat and digest food, and so the body has evolved a process known as “the catabolic response”. During the catabolic response, certain body proteins, primarily in the muscle tissues, are broken down to provide amino acids to support the exercise.  The body essentially sacrifices its own proteins to provide the amino acids required to support energy metabolism, recovery and repair.

Generally, the proteins broken down to support the exercise are not structural proteins – ie they are not the muscle fibres. However, if there are extended periods of high intensity training and racing, the non-fibrillar sources may become depleted and then some of the muscle fibres themselves may be broken down. This can be associated with muscle soreness and the poor performance linked with over-training.  

After exercise, the body is generally in a protein deficit or negative nitrogen balance.

If we can provide “free” amino acids immediately after exercise, then we can reduce the demand for the body to break down its own proteins.

Why would we want to reduce the protein breakdown in the body?

If we can minimise the need for protein breakdown in the body, then there is a better capacity to maintain and build muscle mass.

This can be linked to reducing muscle soreness, fatigue and reducing the risk of injury.

Reducing the amount of protein breakdown, means less work has to be done by the body to replace it. Recovery from exercise should be quicker and more efficient.

Is this what the branch chain amino acids (BCAA) do?

Providing the BCAA as free amino acids has certainly been beneficial in many applications. These are key amino acids in the muscles. This has been a key step in advancing our understanding of amino acid biotechnology.

However, we are much more advanced now in our understanding of what happens to amino acids in the body. We can now offer a new generation of amino acid supplementation products.

What is the basis to the new Recovery BOOSTAA products?

Our research has taken us to understand that the body loses six key amino acids at faster rates than other amino acids. This is because they are used in a wide range of metabolic processes and are continually drained from the supply system.

To add further demand, these amino acids are lost in very high abundances in sweat and/or urine at disproportionately faster rates than other amino acids.

The key strategy to the new BOOSTAA product range is simply to replenish this key group of amino acids which are lost at faster rates than others during exercise.

Why can’t the amino acids be made by the body to meet demand, if the horses are provided with a good diet?

Some of these key amino acids are “essential” amino acids which means the body cannot make them and we need to take them in from the diet. Our research has found that two of these amino acids are lost in higher proportions than they are delivered in the plant proteins provided in the various feeds.

Some of these key components can be made by the body, but under certain conditions of high intensity exercise and training, the body can’t make them sufficiently quickly to meet demand.

  • Under these conditions these amino acids become “conditionally essential”.

What happens if the body cannot make them fast enough to support the exertion?

The body instigates the “catabolic response” to break down the body proteins to provide what it needs when it needs it. For example, the amino acid serine is lost in great abundance via sweat and general metabolism. If the body needs to top up supplies of serine during exertion, then the catabolism of endogenous proteins in muscle can release what is required.

The down side of this is that many of the other amino acid components present in the protein that is broken down are not required in the same quantities, and thus get utilised as an energy source or converted to fats.

If we can supply precisely what is needed at the critical time that it is needed, then we can minimise the requirement for catabolism in the body and reduce wastage of other amino acids.

Does this product include the BCAA?

The original Recovery BOOSTAA formulation includes one of the BCAA which is lost at a faster rate than the others. The BOOSTAA product is designed to replenish the key amino acids that are lost in greatest abundance during exercise.

  • The aim is to reduce the internal demand for these amino acids and in doing so, reduce the process of muscle catabolism.
    • As a result there will be smaller losses of the BCAA
    • Less wastage of other amino acids.

Can this product be taken prior to, or in between exercise events?

Yes. The product contains the key factors required to support exertion.

Because the amino acids are in a free form, they do not need to be digested and can be rapidly absorbed for effective use by the body.

Are any of these components illegal for competition?

The amino acids are normal dietary components that are found in feeds. There are no drugs or banned substances.

Whilst the product contains no banned substances, the timing of using the product may be restricted – for example, the Rules of Racing prevent any such supplement being administered on race day. Be sure to check the rules relevant to the sport your are competing in.

What is the difference between an amino acid, a polypeptide and a protein?

Amino acids are joined together via linkage called a peptide bond. When two amino acids are joined together, this is called a “dipeptide”. If three amino acids are joined together, this is called a “tri-peptide”. When multiple amino acids are joined together, this is called a polypeptide.

A protein, by definition, is thus a polypeptide. Proteins are often very large, like the example of the albumin protein with 585 amino acids joined together. Some proteins are much smaller, and some of these small proteins are hormones – for example growth hormone and erythropoietin.

These are sometimes referred to as peptide hormones or polypeptides, and there is often great confusion in the use of these terms.

  • The Recovery BOOSTAA products only contain amino acids
  • There are no peptides or polypeptides in the formulations

Why haven’t these amino acids been discovered before?

Amino acids have been known to exist in sweat for several decades. However, little research has been done to understand why they are there and how they could impact health and performance.

Our research has quantified the potential losses of amino acids in sport and then modelled these losses to determine the key factors in demand during exercise.

This required a research background with investigations in sweat and urine losses and a deep understanding of amino acid metabolism in relation to fatigue.

Our BOOSTAA range of products emanates from ground-breaking research since 2014, where we adopted a new approach to measuring sweat losses during exertion. We then developed computer-based models of protein turnover and amino acid metabolism to arrive at a product line that is built totally on science.

This is the next generation of Amino Acid Biotechnology that will reduce fatigue, improve recovery and enable your horses to perform at their best for longer.

For more information on Recovery BOOSTAA click here

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