Top rider urges ‘treat yourself as an athlete’ after low blood sugar may have contributed to fall *H&H Plus*

  • Eventer Imogen Murray believes low blood sugar may have been a factor in a cross-country fall in which she suffered concussion. H&H speaks to Imogen and a nutrition expert to find out how we should be fuelling ourselves for competition

    A FIVE-STAR eventer who suffered concussion in an innocuous fall is encouraging riders to treat themselves as athletes and take nutrition seriously.

    Imogen Murray, who has top-10 finishes at Badminton and Burghley, strongly suspects a lack of rider fuel was a “contributing factor” to her fall from Strandhill Boy in a novice section at Little Downham X (22 May).

    She has since taken a serious look at her nutrition and has shared her story to show others how important this is for performance – and the safety risks associated with not taking it seriously.

    “The horse didn’t do anything hugely wrong, he caught a knee and twisted a bit in the air, but it was nothing drastic,” Imogen told H&H.

    She added that she has watched the video and it wasn’t something that would normally result in her falling, but her reactions did not look as sharp as normal.

    “I didn’t appear to make much effort to stay on,” she said.

    She added that she wondered whether this was blood sugar-related, given how much she had done that day and whether she had eaten enough and the right foods to support that.

    “I’d ridden five horses that day, he was my fourth cross-country round and all the [15] phases were within about four hours, which is a lot to do in a not very long period of time,” she said, adding that she had had breakfast, but it was perhaps not enough.

    “We are classed as athletes and when you look at athletes in other sports, their diet and nutrition to prepare for games and matches is a big part of that.

    “I would like to say I can ride my first horse around the cross-country and be just as on top of my game for my fourth or fifth horse and not be letting them down. We put a lot of time, effort and money into this sport, to then do something silly like fall off because you haven’t eaten enough.”

    She has since passed the concussion assessment required by British Eventing and has been signed back on to compete, and has also taken a hard look at when and what she eats both at home and on competition days.

    While Imogen was speaking from the perspective of a professional with multiple rides in a short timeframe, the message of being properly fuelled applies to all.

    Performance nutritionist Daniel Martin, a chartered sport and exercise scientist and director at Combine Performance Limited who works across multiple sports including equestrianism, told H&H it is great to hear a rider raising awareness.

    “Riders pay a lot of attention to treating our horses like athletes, but it is a partnership at the end of the day, and the horse is only going to be as good as you are performing. And if you are not fuelled, you are going to be letting your horse down,” he said.

    He added that although falls can have many variables, there is scientific evidence on the links between performance and what people are putting into their bodies.

    Dr Martin said studies from Liverpool John Moores University, where he is a postdoctoral researcher, involving jockeys showed that by being just 2% dehydrated can lead to a measurable decrease in performance, as can not being properly fuelled, all of which have been shown to affect strength, reaction times and decision-making.

    “We can borrow a lot of practices from other sports – in most other sports, athletes do most of the fuelling the day before and equestrian athletes can learn a lot from those. My advice would be, whether you’re an amateur or a five-star eventer, is to do your fuelling the day before with a carb-rich diet. A general rule of thumb is between 6–8g of carbohydrates for every kilogram you weigh.

    “On competition day itself, it is just about topping up the energy from what you did yesterday. Comfort is king on competition days, so not necessarily vast quantities but instead a carb-rich breakfast followed by small intakes of foods that you enjoy, are familiar with and are going to feel comfortable in your stomach around your rides.”

    He added that it is easy for people to be persuaded by so-called “quick fixes”, but for those looking for professional, evidence-based advice, he would recommend consulting a professional registered with the Sport and Exercise Nutrition Register.

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