Mushing Explained Video: Feeding the furnace of elite Iditarod sled dogs

The lives of the 1,300 sled dogs running now to Nome have led up to this moment as they race to against the world’s best dogs and wiliest mushers. Years of training come down to a couple short weeks of elite performance, sometimes running more than 100 miles per day.

“The dogs are supreme marathon athletes,” according to Dr. Stuart Nelson, the chief Iditarod veterinarian. “To have a great athletic performance, you need genetics, conditioning, and you need nutrition.”

To fuel the long miles, mushers feed their team a finely-calibrated mixture of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Iditarod musher Kristy Berington maintains a frozen trailer full of different meats for her hungry team.

“We’ve got fish, chicken, beef, tripe, there are probably seven different types of meats in here,” said Berington.

Nelson says many mushers feed roughly half the diet as meat products or fish, and half kibble. The 50-pound dogs need 10,000 to12,000 calories per day to run at a top-performing level. To put that in perspective, a human who weighs roughly three times as much as the average racing sled dog would need 30,000 calories.

“You would have to eat 50 Big Macs per day,” said Nelson.

Some musher feed their dogs frequently and “snack” their dogs along the trail. Others go longer distances and feed bigger meals when they stop in checkpoints.

Alaska Public’s Mushing Explained video series will have new episodes throughout the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

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Eric is a video producer for Alaska's Energy Desk. While he never learned the proper way to ride a horse while growing up in Wyoming, he did manage to become a proficient video cable wrangler thanks to a volunteer gig at Wyoming PBS. After graduating from Ithaca College with a Bachelors degree in Television-Radio Production, Eric spent a couple years traveling around Oregon and Washington as a Multimedia Producer for a regional newspaper company, covering everything from sand sculpting competitions to sled dog races. From there, he transitioned to a more stationary gig in Portland, where he developed and managed a team of video editors at a startup news production company. The call of the road sent Eric north, where he’s happy to once again be producing video and audio in the field. Outside of work, Eric is hoping to spend as much time as he can exploring Alaska (it’s so close to Anchorage), climbing around on rocks, and perhaps finally learning how to ride a horse. eketo (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8494 | About Eric