How to burn 12,000 calories a day

Coast Guard sponsored Iditarod musher Ken Ande...

Image by U.S. Coast Guard via Flickr

Sorry – you have to be a sled dog racing in the Iditarod

To do this run, these elite canine athletes burn up an incredible 12,000 calories a day, whilst they race across Alaska in the annual Iditarod dog sled dog race.

Mind you , their mushers don’t do too badly – they probably burn around 6,000 calories per person per day. 

If you are serious about losing weight, going mushing locally might be an option.
Racing in long distance races in North America, such as the Iditarod, the Yukon Quest, or in Europe on La Grande Oddysée, the dogs’ diet has increased for this year’s racing.  About five years ago it was normal to give dogs around 10,000 calories per day.  But times have got faster, helped by scientifically-planned nutrition, and now, for the Iditarod,  they get an extra 2,000 calories to keep them running around 7 – 9 hours a day, around 14 hours a day, over the 1100 mile course.

Even a sled dog kept in a European kennels, running fewer hours a day taking visitors on rides, can burn up 6,000 miles a day – and humans who go dog sledding can certainly find this sport makes a very effective slimming regime.

So if you want to get fit, enjoy outdoor sport and love dogs – going dog sledding could be a way of shedding the pounds.

And this is easy to do, all over the world.  Even in Britain, without much snow, enthusiasts have adapted sleds to run on wheels, and every weekend during the winter sees events happening up and down the United Kingdom.

What do the dogs eat?

Their bodies require protein, fat, carbohydrate and fibre, with fat being the most calorie-dense. To cover their caloric needs, more fat may be temporarily added to their diet, especially when temperatures are most bitter. This is done gradually over several days as too much fat added suddenly can cause diarrhea.  Often these dogs run at night, when the temperature drops to a dog-friendly minus 30 – 60 degrees (yes, the colder the better they like to run), but this increases their calorie consumption – and the musher’s as well.

Each musher calculates his/her own dog food diet but most feed a premium power-packed dog food with added options of lamb trimmings, poultry skins, hamburger, moose or salmon steaks, occasionally corn oil, and for some, seal oil or mink mixture, in addition to vitamin, mineral, and probiotic supplements. The musher aims for a food that is about 2500 calories per pound. Water is important too, and although the food is usually fed frozen and raw, snow may be melted for making a stew.

After their rest and sleep, the musher will mix up their first meal of their day, and this will probably be a sloppy mixture of the packs of food they give normally, plus lots of water or liquid.  This the dogs must take on board, as it helps to keep them dehydrated – you can’t pour water out of bottles for them at minus 30 degrees.

Originally when dog sledding was in its heyday, mushers would carry all the dog food in their sleds, or else expect to pick it up at homesteads along the way.  But now, with 60 – 70 teams of 16 dogs descending on the small villages along the way,the food is ready-packed before the race, and dropped by small planes at each checkpoint.

What do mushers eat?

Everything and anything that keeps out the cold and keeps you going.  They all carry their favourite snacks in little packs that they can grab as they are running along, and these will contain anything they like.  If they run out of human food, it hasn’t been unknown for them to grab a handful of doggie snacks.  Yes, the dogs get snacks along the way too.

But you burn up so many calories that no-one worries too much about calories;  it’s energy you need and your food is providing this – you hope!

So I want to lose weight – how to I start if I live somethere like Britain?

First, go see.  If you go onto the Siberian Husky Club website  (there will be similar ones all over Europe for local clubs), and look for Events, forthcoming races, etc. there will be a list of what’s happening in the next months.  Turn up in warm clothes and boots you can run in, and if you offer to help – stewarding, recording, etc. you will be welcomed with open arms.

Just watching can be fun, but if you are involved with ‘holding’ on to the dogs whilst they are waiting to run – you burn up the calories.  Those dogs are powerful and they don’t want to wait for anyone – just get running.

The picture on the left was taken by noted dog sledder Alan Bowering, and shows just what strength is needed to get these dogs harnessed up.

Then, once you are hooked, ask to go on a run.  Many of those running will offer runs to enthusiasts, for a fee, and you start with a couple of dogs – to see if you like it.

Kennels are all over Britain, mostly from Watford north up to the tip of Scotland, so you are bound to find an enthusiast near you.  Again, if you can’t find anyone go to the club website to find contacts.


If you want to learn more about sled dogs, a book written by an amateur takes you through the history of sled dogs, and gives background information about these incredible hard-working canines.  999 and Other Working Dogs – published by WSN.  Buy it off Amazon or Police Dog Equipment site

Has a long chapter giving basic history, details of different husky breeds, and anecdotes about famous sled dogs and their exploits.

AND IF YOU ARE INTERESTED, go back to HOME page and click on Iditarod for more about the race, its incredible history, and some of the mushers who have overcome cancer to finish this 1100 mile race.

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