What is protein and why is it an important part of my horse’s diet? Briony Mitchell, Nutritionist at Baileys Horse Feeds, gives us the lowdown
Proteins are complex compounds made up of building blocks called amino acids, that are joined by peptide bonds. It is thought that protein makes up 15-19% of a horse’s total body mass and it’s found in almost every cell, with muscle containing the largest concentration.
Protein can be found in various forms and has many roles in the body…
• Structural – for example, muscle, skin, hair and connective tissue
• Transport in the bloodstream and across all cell membranes
• Regulation of metabolic function
• Defence – for example, antibodies
• As a buffer to minimise fluctuations in body pH
It is important to be aware that, although a certain amount of energy can be derived from excess dietary protein and some amino acids, this generally only happens in abnormal circumstances, such as during starvation, when tissue protein is used as a source of energy.
There are 21 amino acids and they can be divided into two types – essential and non-essential. Eleven of the amino acids are non-essential, which means that they can be synthesised in the horse’s body, so they don’t need to be included in his diet. The remaining 10 amino acids are known as essential and must be provided in the diet, because they cannot be synthesised in sufficient quantities to meet the horse’s nutritional requirements.