One of the greatest joys of having a dog is being able to go on runs with your pup. Whether it’s a busy city sidewalk, a tranquil trail, or a wide open road, nothing beats running with your best friend. I’ve been slowly working up Kaipo on the miles. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to run with him every day of the week, so our long runs are mainly limited to the weekends. As a special treat I like to take him for long hikes in the woods as we lose ourselves among the trees. He loves it; I love it–it’s my perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
One of my biggest concerns with him is nutritional requirements. My goal is to work him up on the miles so that he can eventually accompany me for long runs up to 20 miles. But how do you feed a dog to run long? With humans, it’s rather easy. I know that I burn roughly 100 calories per mile, so on days I run long I up my calorie intake. And on weeks when my training is extra high, my body craves larger amounts of protein. But how does it work with dogs? Does he need extra fat, protein or carbs? How do I make sure I’m fueling my dog properly to be my lifetime running companion? So far, I’ve just been giving him a peanut-butter filled Kong on days we run long. But I realized that if I wanted to make sure I was giving him the right post-run treats, I’d need to do some research.
To get answers, let’s look at perhaps the greatest endurance dogs of all time, the sled dogs. At rest, a sled dog at the weight of my dog (56 lbs) burns approximately 1450 kcals/day. But while racing (up to 80 miles per day), these dogs can require up to 11,000 kcals/day. To put it in perspective, that’s about twice my caloric burn the day I race an Ironman.
Although it’s comfortable for us to always look at things from a human perspective, we can’t make direct comparisons between human metabolism and canine metabolism. Canine muscle is different from human muscle and contains different proportions of the various types of muscle fibers. In comparison to humans, canine muscle is better adapted to burning fat. Perhaps that explains why dogs fed a high fat diet (53-67% fat) could run more miles to exhaustion than dogs fed a lower fat diet (29%). If you look at most dog food, you will find relatively low fat composition (the brand I feed Kaipo, for example, has 16% fat). This is because the majority of pet dogs are not running high mileage; in fact, they’re lucky to get walked around the block. So, according to the results from the fat diet study, I should be supplementing my dog’s diet with some extra fat if I want to train him to run long. So it looks like the peanut butter filled Kong was the right decision after all!
Right now Kaipo’s running limit is around 7 miles and his hiking limit is around 10 miles. Once I start working him up in miles I’m definitely going to do even more research and consult with my vet. Remember, it’s just as important to pay attention to your dog’s nutrition as it is to pay attention to yours. Here’s to happy and healthy running partners!