A gray dog standing in a grassy field.

Refuel and Rebuild: Nutrition’s Role in Performance Dog Recovery

Your hard-working performance dog has finished a physically-demanding day of hunting, herding, sledding, detecting or some other arduous activity. So what can you do to help them recover and keep them in peak condition to perform again tomorrow? Rest is important for recovery, of course, but the right nutrition is another key component to ensure working and sporting dogs can fully recover from their busy day.

The Right Nutrient Profile Is Key

Performance dogs need adequate nutrition to maintain optimal body condition and weight, prevent fatigue and injury, build and repair muscles, and fight infection. The nutrient profile of their diet should include the right mix of protein, fat and carbohydrates, a mix which depends on the type and duration of the activity your dog participates in, as well as their breed and specific needs. These nutrients also need to be easily digested and quickly absorbed.

Fat and Carbohydrates Fuel Energy

Fat and carbohydrates are the main sources of energy for dogs, but which one is utilized more depends on the type of activity performed. Fat is the preferred energy source for dogs performing low-intensity aerobic (oxygen-fueled) exercise like search and rescue, sled pulling and hunting. Whereas sprinting and other activities of increased intensity require muscles to shift to more anaerobic (oxygen-free) metabolism that uses muscle and liver glycogen stores for energy. Dietary carbohydrates are used to help maintain and replenish these glycogen stores. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy during activities that require short bursts of energy because they can be quickly and easily converted from food to energy.

Protein to Build and Repair

A performance dog’s requirement for protein increases as the intensity and duration of their activity increases. Veterinary nutritionists estimate that 5 to 15 percent of a dog’s energy is provided by amino acids (the building blocks of protein), depending on the level of activity and the duration of the exercise. Amino acids are also needed to make enzymes, blood proteins and new muscle tissue, as well as repair exercise-related damage to muscles, ligaments, tendons and other connective tissues.

When adequate carbohydrates are provided in the diet, protein remains available to provide essential amino acids, repair and build tissues and support a healthy immune system, instead of being used for energy. Using amino acids for energy is less efficient than dietary carbohydrates because the body needs to process and remove the nitrogen waste formed after amino acids are broken down.

High-Quality Protein Is a Must Have

Most of the amino acids that are used for energy during exercise are that can only be obtained from food. That’s why it’s important to feed your performance dog a food containing high-quality protein that’s well balanced in essential amino acids. Animal protein sources, like those found in Diamond Pro89 Beef, Pork & Ancient Grains Formula for Adult Dogs and Diamond Naturals Extreme Athlete Adult Dog Chicken & Rice Formula are rich in amino acids that help your dog thrive and maintain muscle after a hard day’s work. The real meat in the formulations helps build strong muscles and supports healthy body function, endurance and performance.

Water Is Essential, Too

When considering how to help dogs recover from exercise, we can’t forget about the most important nutrient — water. Exercise produces heat, and dogs cool by panting, which causes water evaporation from the respiratory tract. Dehydration can reduce performance and lead to injury or illness. Ideally, water should be supplied during exercise — not just afterwards — to keep dogs hydrated.

Choosing an Appropriate Diet for Performance Dogs

Dogs performing endurance activities can benefit from a high-protein, moderate- to high-fat and low-carbohydrate food. Service dogs, sprinting athletes or dogs performing other moderate-intensity activities lasting 30 minutes or less can benefit from moderate amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrates. Your veterinarian can help you choose the right diet formulation for your dog, which may include evaluating your dog’s body condition and determining how much energy (how many calories) your dog should be consuming daily based on their activities. Some dogs are susceptible to bloat, so no matter what diet you choose, it’s recommended that you wait at least an hour after vigorous exercise to feed your dog.


Performance dogs work hard. To help them recover from a grueling day and perform again the next day, it’s important to feed them a diet formulation that is appropriate for their increased nutritional needs. And don’t forget plenty of fresh, clean water throughout the day.


RELATED POST: Debarking Pet Myths: Canine Athletes and Pet Dogs Can Eat the Same Dog Food


The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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