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Performance dogs are dogs that frequently engage in performance-based competitive and recreational activities. This ranges from flyball to sled pulling to agility, and nutrition is increasingly used to maximize an animal’s potential and stamina.

Each canine activity has unique requirements for performance, which influence the caloric requirements and metabolism of individual animals. These dogs are athletes with the corresponding caloric requirements that go along with the elevated energy and activity levels.

Calorie source matters. Many athletic dogs need up to 10,000 calories per day. This is remarkable when compared with the estimated 800 calories needed by a medium-sized dog with moderate activity levels. Dogs receive calories from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and the proportion of each affects performance.

Special attention should be paid to the type of food given, the portion size and the intervals between meals. Foods with higher levels of carbohydrate have been known to produce skin without suppleness and coat without shine, bulky lower-bowel contents, trace mineral deficiencies, and smelly gas. They rarely succeed as a diet for performance dogs.

Nutritional Needs of Performance Dogs


The energy density of dietary fat helps boost the energy density of dog food and thus primes a dog’s active metabolism. Active dogs need more calories from an energy-dense food to provide the greater energy required to maintain a stable body weight and support their active lifestyle. Dogs fed a high-fat food have more capacity to burn fatty acids and a greater capacity to perform at an optimal level.


Carbohydrates are broken down into sugars like glucose and are stored in the muscle and liver cells as glycogen. These stores provide energy for canine athletes during periods of increased intensity in exercise. Once glycogen stores are depleted, the body will shift to fat as an energy source. It is important to find a complete and balanced diet. It will help to meet a hard-working dog’s carbohydrate needs when it comes to exercise.


Athletic dogs require more protein than sedentary ones. This is because their muscles undergo a natural process of building and breaking down muscle protein, called protein turnover. This is why active dogs should be fed a food containing high-quality, highly digestible protein. During and after exercise, protein turnover increases to meet the metabolism needs of working dogs.


The most important nutrient for performance dogs is often overlooked: water. Water is essential for all biological activities, and it helps tissues absorb concussive forces during physical activity. In order for your dog’s body to cool itself appropriately during increased activity, evaporation from the respiratory tree occurs which quickly drops the body’s water stores. This is why you must have water available at all times during training.

Feeding Performance Dogs Before Excercise

Regardless of how you might view working out yourself on an empty stomach, a dog that has fasted is likely to perform far better than a dog that’s been fed too recently. As dogs will store energy, feeding 6-12 hours before an extended work period is going to give you the best results. This allows for full digestion so your dog can store energy. It also helps reduce the risk of physical issues like twist, or bloat.

Feeding Performance Dogs After Exercise

Exercise is a natural stress that challenges the immune system and accelerates the body’s protein metabolism and muscle breakdown.  Not eating the right sorts of foods and/or not having enough time to recover from exercise can impair a dog’s immune system. Muscle breakdown continues after exercise until a dog is fed. It is important to rehydrate and feed after exercise, as it aids in fuelling a dog’s recovering body. The nutrients in the food provide the building blocks to allow the muscles to switch from breakdown to rebuilding.


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