Training and nutrition for racing pigeon

If you want to run the marathon, you will have to train, otherwise you will not arrive at the finish line in time. This we can all understand and accept. To develop this ability, a plan is required, one that will lead to your goal. It will take many months of training, building up to first running 5 km or so and slowly building up to a half marathon race and eventually running the entire marathon in an acceptable time .

What time? That depends on your technique, your clothing, your shoes, your weight, your type of muscling, and don’t forget your “talent”. There are people who train till they drop, but will never reach any significant racing ability. They will, however, be able to improve their times greatly. How is this done? You hire a personal trainer and you join an athletic club. They know how to prepare you and how to improve your athletic abilities. In this article I will regularly switch from training people to pigeons. Not in order to compare them, but to gain specific insights.

Burning energy takes place on the basis of the available oxygen supply (in order to let the muscles work). Breathing is what keeps the oxygen supply at the ready. There is a balance between used waste products and the cleansing of the blood by the organs. In this way an oxygen deficiency will not be reached and you can train for a long time. Think about playing soccer, if you are well trained, you can complete the entire game at top efficiency.

When training using the anaerobic system, then oxygen shortages will be built up. This means that lactic acid is produced and this will weaken your legs. This can be done consciously in order to build a “tolerance” to lactic acid and learn how to handle it. This can lead to an increase your athletic prowess. The main effect of anaerobic training is that you will come into competition form.

To acquire form you will have push yourself to the limit several times (4 to 6) by sprinting 500 to 800 meters. If you want to compete in half marathon races, this is a good way to reach form in the last phase of your preparation. You can’t and shouldn’t do this daily. These sprint repetitions will be attainable at a maximum of only once per week.

This is an excellent way to reach top condition just before a competition. In other words: this kind of training should not make up more than 6 to 10% of your total training. This type of training in technical terms is called “VO2 max”. You teach your body to utilize 100% of its available oxygen supply; this is what helps you reach “top form”. You can imagine that “ornithosis” (a cold) will throw a lot of sand into the gears.

pigeon racing Training:
It is foolish to send pigeons directly to a 500 km race at the beginning of the season. This we can certainly all understand. We have to build up the pigeon’s condition, gradually, several weeks before the races begin, we increase their training from 15 minutes to an hour and then to an hour and a half etc.Those that can handle this and during this time fly hard are the one we need for racing.

We know that humans have to follow a training regimen in order to deliver a top performance at a specific time, then I find it strange that some pigeon combines will jump from 250 km to 550 km. Perhaps the really well trained pigeons can handle it, but this is the ideal, what about the less trained pigeons?

Fanciers with a lot of time on their hands will take their pigeons for training tosses themselves in these situations. At the beginning of the week they will take their pigeons as far as 400 km. Yes! They will drive through Belgium and sometimes into France just to release a few pigeons, and you keep suggesting that they are using a product that shouldn’t be used.

I don’t know if that perhaps is still the case. The fact is these fanciers are willing to take the time and effort and do whatever it legally takes to achieve racing success. Often they are the fanciers that specialize at specific distances. For them it’s all about the Teletext races. How fast the pigeons come home on the shorter distances is not important to them.

They are allowed to easily fly along in their “winter condition”. They want to peak on a number of races chosen beforehand. That of course is their choice. If they succeed in preparing their pigeons and keeping them healthy, it will be difficult to defeat these fanciers at their “specialty”. Do they have better pigeons? I don’t know. In any case they are making other choices. homing pigeons

Nutrition for Humans:

Untrained humans will burn their body fat first. Trained humans will burn a lot more carbohydrates. The story in pigeons is completely different and I will come back to this later. If you want to train well, as a trained athlete you will require between 8 and 10 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight.

This means that an athlete weighing 70kg: needs a maximum of 700 gram. That is a lot!! Someone who doesn’t participate in sport would not come close to this. At the most they would reach about half.

An athlete doesn’t burn only carbohydrates, the fats and proteins are also called on. In our western culture we eat far too much fat and eat far too few carbohydrates then are required to achieve top athletic performances. It is also important to take in enough fluids (water). You certainly should not eat 2 to 4 hours before a competition.

The nutrition that you do take in should contain sufficient carbohydrates. The “loading” of carbohydrates that takes place before a competition is best done via the “tapering method”. The amount of training is reduced and the amount of carbohydrates consumed is increased, food such as noodles, pasta, cornflakes, muesli, toasted white bread etc.

Correct, white bread because the last 3 days before a competition as little as possible fiber should be consumed. Why? High percentages of sugar in the blood will result in higher amounts of insulin in the blood. This will result in a large amount of glucose being assimilated.

During the event: If a competition last longer than 45 minutes you can improve your performance by eating carbohydrates. But which carbohydrates are best suited? The most suitable nutrients are glucose, sacharose (cane or beet sugar) or dextrin-maltose combinations. These will almost directly enter the blood stream.

These help immediately. These provide for high plasma glucose levels and are burned almost completely by active muscles. Fructoses (fruit sugars) are less valuable as they are not assimilated as well as the previously mentioned sugars.

However, during the sporting event you can’t eat unlimited carbohydrates. Why not? The body can only assimilated 60 to 65 grams of carbohydrate per hour. You can imagine that consuming too much will have a disruptive effect (oxidation). But a drink containing about 7% carbohydrate will provide at a volume of 850 ml/hr an ideal supply of 60 grams carbohydrate per hour.

The chances of stomach or intestinal upsets are only increased if you consume too many “Red Bulls”. There is still a lot to tell about nutrition and the endurance sports for humans. But I don’t want to confuse you, because the story about nutrition in our pigeons is quite different. Humans, use during a sporting event lasting 1 ½ hours, (+/-) 100 to 250 grams of glycogen and fats. Besides this energy use, they easily lose more than a litre of fluids, depending on the air temperature.

pigeon feedNutrition for pigeon racing:
pigeon racing sweat far less than humans during a flight. They also can’t drink, at the very least; it is our duty to make sure our pigeon racing don’t suffer from thirst. If they drink on the way home, firstly the question is what kind of water (healthy or contaminated) did they drink and secondly the pigeons that take the time to drink will arrive home later then we had planned. That’s why I am a proponent of using electrolytes during periods of warm temperatures. They help retain moisture and that is of great importance.

Pigeons like humans should not begin their competitions with a full stomach in order to prevent stomach and intestinal upsets. All the needed nutrients should already be “stored” and digested when the competition begins. Pigeon racing like humans can store only small amounts of glycogen in the “white muscle” fibers.

Firstly a pigeon racing has very few white muscles and in the second place the fuel for our pigeon racing are principally fatty acids (3 to 3 ½ grams per hour of flying). During the first 10 minutes of flight the glycogen stored in the white muscles are used. After this the pigeon can fly a maximum of 45 minutes on the glycogen present in the blood and the liver.

Often the pigeon has already switched over to fat (stored in the red muscles) as fuel in only half an hour. When fats burn they don’t leave any waste products. Therefore there is little or no lactic acid build up during a flight. That is also the reason pigeons can fly for a long time without getting “weak legs”.

Naturally there is a point where exhausting is reached and they hit the wall. That moment lies somewhere between 400 and 500 km. At that point the pigeon becomes tired and finds it difficult to keep a constant flying tempo. Approximately a half hour to an hour later this effect will disappear and a more constant tempo is again reached. We have learned from simulations in wind tunnels and by fastening GPS units to the backs of pigeon racing, that this renewed flying tempo will gradually decrease.


When arriving home after a long hard flight the pigeon’s first requirement will be for glycogen. It is required to allow the brain to function properly. In fact, without glycogen the brain cannot function at all.

That is why it is necessary directly after a hard race to provide a carbohydrate rich food, such as dextrose (and electrolytes) in the drinking water and a carbohydrate rich mix. Naturally this mix should be so rich and varied in grains and seed that the pigeon can make the choices that will fulfill its own particular requirements.

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racing pigeon
racing pigeon