Carbs and Homing Pigeons
Health Fitness

Carbs and Homing Pigeons

It’s the time of year when we can turn the stove back on at night. That is the wood stove or fireplace instead of the central heating system. Cozy, those dancing flames in the living room. To light the fireplace I first have to gather some wood, wood ignites easily and burns quickly. Then we added larger pieces of hardwood. Sometimes these large pieces of wood won’t even fit on the stove. Reluctantly, I put on my coat to go outside and chop and cut these large pieces into smaller ones. When cut to the proper size, it will fit on the stove.

Actually, our bodies are a kind of stove that keeps us warm. Firewood can be composed of carbohydrates, proteins or fats. Above all, carbohydrates are fast-acting fuels. They can be compared to the wood we use to light the fireplace. Carbohydrates are sugars, which originate in large amounts in plants. They are produced during the process of photosynthesis. The bodies of humans or animals can only burn monosaccharides. These are found in glucose (grape sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), ribose (sugar made up of 5 carbon atoms) and galactose (made up of glucose and part of lactose).

In addition to heat, these sugars also nourish the brain. Without this glucose syrup our beloved pigeons cannot survive. Fuels are divided into two groups. We’ll start with the ignition.

monosaccharides(dextrose and fructose)

Glucose is also known as dextrose or grape sugar. monosaccharides

They are the simplest carbohydrates. These are again divided into different groups. It is important for us to know that they provide the most direct fuel for heat and fuel for muscle activity (alpha-1, 4 bonds). There are also sugars that are only activated when, for example, fats are depleted during a race (alpha-1, 6 bonds).

disaccharides (lactose, maltose and sucrose)

These are again the smallest pieces of wood on the tree. If we cut them in two they fit on the stove and we can burn them. Some of these double sugars are, for example, lactase from milk and maltose from germinated barley. Sucrose also belongs to this group. It is found in carrot and beet sugar. Tests have shown that more than 4% lactose in feed or drinking water should be avoided. Lactose reaches the large intestine, where intestinal bacteria can only partially convert it. This process drains a lot of water from the intestine. Too much yogurt or whey in the food can be the cause of watery droppings.

polysaccharides (Cellulose, starch and glycogen)

These are the whole trees that still have to be cut into firewood to fit the stove. For pigeons they are cereals and legumes such as corn, peas, barley and wheat. They belong to the group of starches. There is also a group of cellulose. This crude cellulose helps in the digestion of different types of carbohydrates. Some beans are easier to cut than others.

Alpha-1, 6 bond between 2 glucose molecules

Alpha-1, 4 bonds between 2 glucose molecules

We did the following test: in a loft with three sections. Section 1 was fed with a normal rearing mix. Section 2 was fed with 80% corn and 20% brood mix. Section 3 was fed 80% hulled rice and hulled barley (pearl barley) + 20% breeding mix. The birds exercised all together. Pigeons fed with breeding mix were always the first to return. They exercised just above the loft. Corn pigeons fly much higher and “rice and pearl barley” seemed like dots in the sky. There were three layers of pigeons flying at different heights. After half an hour to 45 minutes, the “corn” pigeons were flying higher.

When we changed the breeding mix section to the “corn mix” we saw that after a few days they were the ones that were flying the highest after 45 minutes. We continue to rotate food mixes between sections. The results were always as we have written above. From this we can conclude the following that the energy (fuel) provided by maize is available later than the energy from white rice and peeled barley and that maize apparently consists of more types of polysaccharides than white rice. Perhaps this explains why pigeons that are to be sent on longer races generally have extra maize added to their diets.


All these forms of sugar together are called glycogen. When energy is used in the stove, the wood turns black and what is left over is called ash. When the bird uses energy, the same type of process occurs. It’s called phosphorolysis. The enzyme that catalyzes the phosphorylation process breaks the Alpha – 1, 4 bonds. These are the “incendiary” carbohydrates. Vitamin B6 is necessary for this process. Glycogen is found in the liver and muscles.

during the races

During intense exertion humans use up to 60% carbohydrates, pigeons are different. The liver produces glycogen to keep the body warm. If we feed more glucose and glycogen than the pigeon’s daily needs, then the liver can also make fatty acids from them. The blood carries these fatty acids to the red muscle fibers. A portion of the glycogen is transported by the blood to the white muscle fibers. A pigeon is about 15% white muscle fiber and 85% red muscle fiber. That’s a lot more than a chicken that has virtually all white muscle fiber. We can find many red muscle fibers in the chest of the pigeon.

If we make sure that just before the competition there is a proportionately high percentage of glucose in glycogen then the fuel will burn faster. Also the liver will produce more fatty acids. This is the result of a makes sense.

It really only provides a small advantage in short races. After 10 minutes, the fuel in the white muscle fiber of the breast is depleted. The fuel stored in the white muscle fiber (glycogen) is used by the pigeon to achieve height and speed of flight. After this, the fast “ignited” sugars (Alpha-1, 4 bonds) stored in the blood and liver are used. When glucose is depleted, enzymes process the disaccharides, and eventually the polysaccharides split and become monosaccharides.

When the “fast sugars” are depleted, the fatty acids that have built up from excess sugars in the food, which the liver has converted into fatty acids, become the fuel supply. Some of these are still present in the blood. They were on their way to the red muscle fibers but had not yet been stored there. These will be used first.

After a short period of time, the fatty acids stored in the red muscle fibers come into play. After 40 to 60 minutes of flight, the pigeon is exclusively using the fatty acids stored in the red muscle fibers. Fats have the advantage of leaving little waste in the bloodstream after being burned for fuel, although they do burn more slowly than glycogen. The pigeon can fly faster (wing beats per minute) on glycogen, but fatty acids provide more energy. Fats are 9.2 kilocalories per kilogram, while carbohydrates are 4.0 kilocalories per kilogram.

the wooden box

When the pigeon is using fats for fuel and a bird of prey appears, the pigeon will use any available glycogen (Alpha 1, 6 bonds) to quickly escape. They are what we could call “ignite” in the wooden box. It is ready to use whenever we need to get the stove back on quickly.

After the race

The pigeon first uses glucose and glycogen (the Alpha 1, 4 bond), then fats. When the bird has used all its fatty acids, it will use the remaining glycogen (the Alpha 1, 6 bonds). When these run out, the pigeon will start using its “character”. That is, he begins to use his own body; burns its own muscles, the protein. There are many pigeons with little character. They will go down to rest and look for water and food. If they still come home, it will be too late. The “character birds” continue. Protein or muscle burning is combined with muscle cramps and is very unpleasant for the pigeon. A pigeon that goes through this will often need weeks to recover.

Feeding carbohydrate-rich foods after a race is very important. The pigeon that has used up all its glycogen has the need to quickly light its stove

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