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