Mushing Explained Video: Feeding the Furnace of the Iditarod’s Elite Sled Dogs

The lives of the 1,300 sled dogs now racing Nome have led to this moment as they race against the world’s best dogs and the most cunning mushers. Years of training boil down to a few weeks of elite performance, sometimes covering over 100 miles a day.

“Dogs are the ultimate marathon athletes,” says Dr. Stuart Nelson, the Iditarod’s chief veterinarian. “To have great athletic performance, you need genetics, conditioning, and nutrition.”

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

“We have fish, chicken, beef, tripe, there are probably seven different types of meat here,” Berington said.

Nelson says that many mushers feed about half the diet as meat or fish products, and the other half as kibble. 50 pound dogs need 10,000 to 12,000 calories per day to run at peak performance. To put that into perspective, a human who weighs about three times as much as the average racing sled dog would need 30,000 calories.

“You should be eating 50 Big Macs a day,” Nelson said.

Some mushers frequently feed their dogs and “snack” their dogs along the trail. Others travel longer distances and feed larger meals when they stop at checkpoints.

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

Bette C. Alvarado