Rider Fitness | The Sleepy Equestrian Athlete


It DOES affect YOUR Riding Performance!

You spend 1/3 of your life doing it? I would say then that this ‘thing’ is pretty damn important!

You can get good quality sleep or poor quality sleep.

You can influence the quality of sleep you get.


Why Sleep Is Important For All Equestrian Athletes

Inadequate sleep has been linked with insulin resistance and poor blood sugar management.

Remember this one of the primary reasons that exercise is so effective for performance and also fat loss.

An interval based approach like that in the Equestrian Athlete Plan (EAP), that minimises cortisol levels

after training is what works so well for my  equestrian clientele.

Elevated cortisol levels due to excessive long steady state exercise are a primary reason for many equestrian athletes entering the world of ‘no results’ and becoming disillusioned by ANOTHER GENERIC training programme!!!

Good Quality Sleep

Good Quality Sleep

In 2001, at the Annual scientific meeting of the American Diabetes Association, researchers demonstrated that poor sleep lead to increased blood sugar levels, higher cortisol levels (stress hormone), poor satiety and fat gain! These same researchers found that those who slept for 7.5-8.5 hours produced 50% less cortisol and insulin than those who slept for longer. The knock on effect for any equestrian athlete, regardless of competition level or recreational frequency, is that excess weight takes its toll when you are essentially in an unnatural position (on a horse).

The only time you really want your cortisol levels to be high, are in and around training, because your brain needs the cortisol to function. One of the reasons the Hot to Trot Nutritional Plan (that comes with the EAP)  is having great success with reducing cortisol is because we deal with the problem of excess sugar in the diet straight away. But in order for the total stress to be reduced I ask all my equestrian clientele to get to bed by 10pm 5 nights per week.

One of the most common mistakes people make when trying to achieve performance, fat loss and well being is to neglect their sleep. I wish health, well being, performance and fat loss were as simple as move more, eat less! I would have created a programme and sold it to millions of people by now. Unfortunately anyone who tells you this has been living in a cave for a long time!!


Cave Man

Cave Man

Hormones have a major role to play in the reduction of body fat, as part of an exercise and nutritional strategy. Human Growth Hormone (HGH) production and sleep go hand in hand with recovery from exercise and mental stimulation. There are other key hormones involved such as testosterone, oestrogen and cortisol (mentioned earlier), but I will save them for a latter article.

Firstly, it is important to understand what a hormone is. According to the Collins dictionary online,

a chemical substance produced in an endocrine gland and transported in the blood to a certain tissue, on which it has a specific effect

It is also important for us to understand their individual roles within the body. HGH is produced in the pituitary gland and is sent to the liver to where IGF-1 is produced. IGF-1 (insulin like growth hormone) is required to repair cells, aid brain function and enzyme production and improve bone strength.  This substance is mostly produced during the early hours of sleep (between 10pm and 2am), hence why getting to bed by 10pm most nights of the week is so important. Shippen and Fryer (2007) attributed the decreased speed of healing and brain function to a decline, in middle age, of IGF-1 production. Hence a good night’s sleep often results in a more alert rider and better performance in and out of the saddle.

To stimulate HGH production you should first of all increase load bearing exercise. This doesn’t have to be extreme weight lifting but you need to use weight, which incidentally can be your own! This action will help to increase calcium production in the bones leading to increased bone density.

Net result is increased human growth hormone. Oh and by doing this you will more than likely reduce the likelihood of osteoporosis or at least delay the process. Increased HGH is linked with performance, that why athletes use it (illegally) to gain an athletic advantage over their competitors. You don’t need to inject it; you can just follow a few simple principles and boost it naturally.


1.       Exercise for  up to 30 minutes per day (3-5 x per week), with anything that is load bearing. Resistance training is best as it stimulates our bones to lay down calcium. In combination with some aerobic exercise to reduce body fat , this will help us to minimise oestrogen storage (this is where our fat is stored).The pull of the muscles on the bones at the tendon attachments helps to improve tendon and connective tissue strength, which helps in the prevention of injury.

2.       Secondly we can reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption as these are known nutrient robbers!  Law et al (1991) reported higher incidences of osteoporosis and hip fractures for those who consume alcohol and smoke. This is due to a loss of calcium, which is excreted in the urine (Rezvani et al, 1991). From an exercise point of view calcium is hugely important in the muscle contractions that lead to the shortening (concentric) phase of the muscle action. If this chemical reaction is being inhibited, you will decrease the speed of movement achieved, thus reducing the total reps you achieve before failure and the effectiveness of your workout. Some research does suggest that you can add a small amount of caffeine pre workout in the form of black coffee to increase stimulation and alertness, but I suggest just cutting out the crap! I wake up every morning feeling awesome; I put it down to not eating rubbish before bed! Oh and these little tips below.


Here’s 3 More Things You Can Do To Help Improve Sleep.

–          Supplement with Zinc / Magnesium-

The zinc will help with muscle repair and regeneration, whilst the magnesium will help with muscle relaxation.  I recommend that all of my riders take this to help relax the over worked back muscles at night. Try taking this two hours before bed. If you want more information on where to get these please feel free to email me .

–          Lummi Light- I have one of these and waking up to the natural light particularly in the dark months will help to make you feel alert when you wake. So then you don’t feel like you need a pair of matchsticks to keep your eyes open first thing!

–          Pre Bed Snack- I know I know all the literature says that you shouldn’t eat food before bed as this will get stored as fat. Well if you are struggling to sleep, try snacking on peanut butter/almond butter with raw carrot/celery. A lot of people suffer with poor sleep due to low blood sugar levels, as the insulin response from food intake actually helps you to sleep. It’s also worth noting that banana’s (high sugar) contain tryptophan that helps with sleep.


Ok that’s it from me for today.

Have a great evening.

Matt :)

Author of The Equestrian Athlete Plan

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