It’s that time of year when equestrians everywhere rejoice as spring showers are replaced with the long, lazy days of summer. Many will be taking off vacations and others will spend more time working on the farm. Regardless of your summer destination, body composition is one component of fitness that often receives more attention in the summertime.
The term body composition is often viewed as synonymous with body fat. Although related, that assumption is not entirely accurate. Body composition is actually the ratio of lean mass to fat mass and is a component of fitness. Fat typically has a negative association, but the reality is you need fat to survive. The following include health traps I see equestrians fall into, as well as some facts about body composition.
Eating too much or not enough
I don’t know a single horse person who isn’t busy. We get up early and stay up late. The majority of our “leisure” time is spent performing manual labor around the farm. This means we burn calories—a lot of them! Unfortunately, many equestrians fall into the “grab and go” trap, scarfing down the closest edible items throughout the day until stumbling inside (often later than planned) and ravenously eating a large meal. This trap encourages your body to spend all day in “fight or flight” starvation mode while you’re busy burning calories. As a result, your body hangs on to each calorie and fat cell it can while converting muscle to fuel—muscle you need to be an effective rider.
- At the beginning of the week I prepare enough gallon freezer bags filled with snacks and lunches to take with me each day. That way, I know I’m eating enough and don’t binge on junk when I get hungry. By grazing all day I also avoid binge eating at night.
- I’m not saying you need to become an herbivore, but increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables provides your body with the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients it needs to perform at its best. You’ll feel better, and also have more energy.
- Most of us are very careful what we feed our horses; let’s remember to do the same for ourselves. I constantly read labels and I try to avoid processed foods as much as possible. If it’s not real food, if I can’t pronounce the ingredients or that list is longer than the Sunday paper, I won’t feed it or eat it!
Not drinking enough water
I cannot emphasize this enough—drink water! Your body needs water to function properly and body composition plays a part in the amount of water you need. During these warm summer months reach for a glass of water before grabbing a sugar-laden sports drink or other beverage. Once you’re thirsty, your body is already on the path to dehydration.
- Use one water bottle to help monitor intake. I prefer a 32oz reusable one that’s easy to travel with. I’m always visiting the sink, fountain, or nearest water hose to make sure I stay hydrated.
- Remember the 60+ rule: Your body needs to refuel with a sports drink after engaging in 60 minutes or more of sweat-inducing physical activity, following appropriate hydration with water. Since I live in a humid climate and work outdoors the majority of the summer, my trick is to drink ½ a bottle of sports drink mixed with an equal part of water to every 32oz of water. If necessary, I alternate my water/drink mix.
- Aim for half of your body weight in ounces of water per day. For many, that is much more than the standard 64 oz/day recommendation. Not only does this ensure your body is adequately hydrated, but it will also help flush toxins. You may be surprised at how much more energy you have if you gradually begin increasing your daily water intake.
Caring too much or not enough about numbers on a scale
If nothing else, please keep in mind that body composition is only one component of health and fitness. It’s part of the big picture that includes longevity and wellness. Body composition is not about how you look on the outside, it’s about balancing the material your body is made of on the inside. Weight is only a snapshot of health, along with BMI, body fat percentage, waist-to-hip ratio and body measurements. Together, these measures provide valuable information regarding risk for disease and premature death. If we want to ride well into our golden years a healthy body composition is vital.
- Stay off the scale! I encourage clients to ditch the scales completely. Instead, I record multiple fitness measures periodically because weight fluctuates daily. Set aside a specific time/day at bi-weekly increments to track your progress.
- Use multiple measures of body composition. I encourage everyone to visit a physician or certified trainer to record a variety of body mass indicators (e.g. body fat percentage, BMI, etc.) to provide a more inclusive picture of body composition.
- Focus on improvement, not perfection. Set small and achievable health-oriented goals and reward yourself when you reach them. Go on a relaxing trail ride or picnic with your horse, and don’t forget to pack a lunch you can share.
I look forward to hearing success stories of reader’s health and fitness achievements this summer.
Emily is the owner of ATF Wellness and the creator of Bootcamp4Breeches: Functional Fitness for Equestrians. She coordinates the Health & Physical Education teacher education program at Louisiana State University, is past president of the Louisiana Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, teaches Yoga classes, and researches how women of all ages can develop a positive physical self-concept. She spends her free time eventing with her OTTB, Titan, and TB/Cleveland Bay cross, Bean, in Baker, LA where she and her husband share a small farm with four dogs, three cats, and three horses. You can reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow her on Twitter @DrBLovesPE; or like her Facebook page, Bootcamp4Breeches: Fitness Training and Wellness Consulting.