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Eat Well (at the Horse Show): One Rider’s Survival Guide

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Finding time to eat three healthy meals in the horse show world? Ain’t no one got time for that.

Unless, of course, you’re Olivia Minicucci.

The amateur equestrian/fitness blogger is currently completing her master’s in nutrition and exercise physiology at Columbia University—while juggling a competitive riding career. If you are one of her 9k+ followers on Instagram, you’re probably wondering how Minicucci always seems to find time to squeeze in a workout and healthy meal between classes at the horse show and a flight back to New York.

Same!

I sat down with Olivia to learn more about her healthy meal planning and to hear a play-by-play of how she schedules her meals during a typical competition day. (Spoiler: it does not include copious amount of coffee and sugary foods, accompanied by long periods of fasting, aka “the horse show diet”.)

Here are some helpful tips straight from the horse’s mouth.

From Minicucci:

My schedule is somewhat dictated by when my class is, but this is generally what my day consists of.

I wake up around 6:30–7:00am and have my morning coffee. I like sweetened coffee but I use (the natural no-calorie sweetner) stevia as an alternative.

My breakfast usually consists of an individual container of plain Greek yogurt with ¼ cup of berries, 1 tablespoon of chia seeds, and 1 teaspoon of almond butter.

I buy the plain Greek yogurt since it has significantly less sugar (there is no added sugar—the only sugar in it comes from lactose in the actual yogurt). I add chia seeds for both fiber and omega-3 (fiber keeps you feeling full for longer). I add the berries for antioxidants (to help with muscle recovery) and sweeten the bitter taste of the yogurt in a natural way, and almond butter for healthy fats (healthy fats increase satiety). Finally, I use Greek yogurt instead of plain yogurt since it has much more protein (great for recovery following exercise).

I usually go to the gym in the morning if I am competing in the afternoon. On days that I compete, I work the muscles that I typically do not work much while I ride in order to prevent peripheral fatigue. I usually start by running a mile (the run warms up my leg muscles). Then, I work either my chest, arms, or shoulders. I end my workout with some stretches to get my muscles loose for competition.

After my workout, I typically only have a couple hours before I need to be at the competition ring, so I keep my meals light. I will either have a small salad with hard-boiled eggs (post workout protein), avocado (satiety for fullness), chopped vegetables (vitamins), and some quinoa/rice cakes (complex carbs). I make sure to eat quality and balanced meals that won’t leave me bloated nor overly full before I have to go ride. There is nothing worse than competing on a full stomach!

After I compete, I have a scoop of whey protein blended with a cup of unsweetened almond milk (low sugar source of calcium), half a banana (carbs), and 1 teaspoon of almond butter (healthy fat). Sometimes I will substitute a Quest bar or other low sugar protein bar.

After competing, I usually stay at the barn or watch everyone compete, until the day is over.

Dinner is generally fish or meat, with a variety of vegetables. I typically end my meals with some dark chocolate or a small portion of ice cream (since I do in fact have a sweettooth, and I do not believe in depriving myself).

In general, with the exception of certain items (protein bars and powder), I try to avoid eating processed food. I am a strong believer in eating a high protein diet filled with healthy fats. While fats may be higher in calories, they keep you satisfied, and provide essential nutrients to the brain. Also, as long as your calories are within a normal range, eating fats will not make you fat (this is a common misconception).

After dinner, I usually do homework for my university courses. Then, I do some stretches to keep my back and legs from tensing up as a result of the competition day. Typically, I go to bed around 10:30pm during competitions (or at least I try to!)…and usually fall asleep watching Netflix.

Huh! Turns out, it is possible to eat well at the horse show. (Wipes chip crumbs off jeans.)