Golf is a game of small margins! On the 2016 PGA Tour, Dustin Johnson led the scoring average for the season with a 69.2 average earning him $9.4 million in prize money! Yet, with a scoring average of 71.2 (just 2 shots higher on average for the year!), Henrik Norlander finished 181st on the money list earning less than $300,000 and lost his PGA Tour card! With such small margins, golfers are always looking for any advantage they can! However, many overlook just how important the nutritional side of the sport is and how getting it right could save them a lot of shots! Not only do you eat to energize your body, but by consuming specific nutrients you can achieve greater and more prolonged performance! But how do we know what to eat? To find this out, a nutritionist must analyse the following:
Caloric Expenditure = This is basically how much you burn when exercising. Calories (kcal) are the scientific measurement of heat production from food and certain foods have more calories than others. One research, performed on younger male golfers playing 18-hole games, discovered an average of 894kcal used during the round. However, another study found 834kcal was burnt on ‘hilly’ courses and 833kcal for flat courses. Without diving into the numerous limitations these studies may have, this can provide a rough guideline that you need to consume an additional 800kcal or so during 18 hole rounds to maintain weight!
Exercise Intensity = The more vigorous the exercise, the more food you need for energy. In golf, you will predominantly be playing for numerous hours, combining low intensity walking with short bursts of high intensity activity. Carbohydrates will be the most predominant food source needed to sustain constant energy availability. However, specific nutritional plans created for you can work towards optimizing all food sources over a period of time to receive the greatest amount of energy.
Exercise Duration = The longer you’re exercising, the more food you’ll need. If you’re only playing 9 holes, you’ll need to consume less food before, during and after than 18. That in mind, you may need to eat more during your games to sustain your desired playing level. If you’re playing at events that are over a number of days, then even more importance is put onto each meal for adequate recovery between rounds.
Water Loss = Golfers on average lose 1.2kg of weight from sweat loss per round of 18 holes. Therefore it is important to consistently drink before, during and after games! If you are playing in hot summer weather or humid conditions this number will be even greater!
What does this mean?!
Well, each nutritional plan given to athletes is bespoke. With the help of an athletes training plan, specific nutrient-dense meal patterns can be created to provide the most efficient energy and rehabilitation for performance. There is currently no scientific research, other than protein or pre-exercise carb consumption, which states the most optimal meal times. Therefore, it is completely up to you when it comes to day to day meal times! However, food before, during and after golf is very pinpoint:
Night Before –
A relatively larger than normal portion the night before an event is suffice. A meal higher in fat than usual (eggs, nuts, steaks, legumes), but with enough protein to maintain blood protein throughout the night into the morning. This allows you to wake up feeling more energized! I recommend a glass of semi-skimmed milk before bed each night.
Up to 3 hour Before –
To achieve the best ‘pre-game fuel’, it’s important to aim for a rich carbohydrate and protein meal and drink approximately 1 litre of water. As previously stated, you’ll be using a heck load of carbs! This is to maximise glycogen stores (this is the energy system a golfer uses the most). Higher protein additionally allows for decreased fatigue and maintenance in blood protein for muscle repair during rounds. A balance of good fats should be incorporated to stop any hunger when in play, but try to limit the amount of fats eaten as they can cause stomach upset when digested. This means your blood flow will rush to your intestines to burn the fat, rather than to the muscles. You should have already eaten an adequate portion of fats the night before.
Remember, experiment what works best for you months prior to an event. It’s VERY important to eat foods you are used to before training, to prevent any gastrointestinal upsets. I mean, Usain Bolt used to eat chicken nuggets before he ran?
1 Hour – 30 Minutes Pre –
SNACK TIME! Studies have shown that eating a carb rich snack up to 1 hour pre-exercise can improve the maintenance of performance. This is a crucial area when you will be undergoing hours of play! This small and easily digestible meal not only maintains blood sugar and insulin levels, but also provides a positive psychological effect by ensuring the athletes is well fuelled up and ready for the round ahead. If you tee off earlier, a slightly higher simple-sugar snack (some fruit) may be needed.
During Play -
Your aim now is to maintain all the nutritional levels you put in place prior to the first tee. It’s recommended to consume around 30-35grams of carbohydrates every hour of play. Even more important, try to drink 500ml every few hours. One study even found that mild dehydration negatively affected a golfer’s distance by 12% and accuracy by 92%! Just think how many shots per round that could be costing you!
Source: The effects of mild-dehydration on swing accuracy and height (Smith et al. 2012).
After Play –
Now RELAX! The aim from the second you stop is to ensure adequate rehabilitation is starting. This includes refueling the body with the carbs that you have used. Once again, protein is another important factor to ensure adequate muscle repair. In general, I recommend 20-40g of protein per meal split up throughout the day at 2 grams per kg of body weight. (For example, an 80kg athlete will consume daily 160grams of protein). In more recent years, many professional sports teams use antioxidant rich snacks post-exercise to diminish any bad oxidants the body makes when exercising = a.k.a that nasty burn the muscles leave when you’re fatigued.
My tip = create a small pot full of goji berries, cherries, pecans, oranges, some dark chocolate, blueberries….. then add some yogurt (fat-free or high protein) for a quick protein intake post-game.
Many supermarkets alternatively supply rich cherry juices packed with vitamins and antioxidants.
Less science, More practicality
Granted, you or another golfer won’t have the tools to create a gram to gram meal plan. However, there is in fact a much more visual method for meal creation! To do this, forget the numbers and use your hands. A large company in the U.S.A called Precision Nutrition have displayed efficacy with clients using their hands to size out meal quantities. With that in mind, try and incorporate each meal with these measurements:
Remember, these values can change meal to meal. So using this method as a guideline is a quick and easy tool to create your diverse meals. If you have larger hands, you are therefore a larger build to which you need bigger portions.
For a more specific construction of some meal plans you could use, see the template below.
These meals are a brief guidance on the types of meals you should be having at given times. Portion sizes (grams) should be created in regards to your body weight. Alternative vegan and vegetarian options can be created.
ISSN Position Stand (2017) International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Nutrient Timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 12 (7), 2-21.
Jacobson, B.H., Sobonya, C. and Ransone, J. (2001) Nutrition Practises and Knowledge of Varsity College Athletes: A Follow-Up. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 31 (6), 102-114.
Smith, M.F., Newell, A.J. and Baker, M.R. (2012) Effect of acute mild dehydration on cognitive-motor performance in golf. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26 (11) 3075-3080.
Stevenson, E.J., Hayes, P.R. and Allison, S.J. (2009) The effect of a carbohydrate-caffeine sports drink and stimulated golf performance. Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.34 (4), 498-504.
Suzuki, M. (2003). Glycemic carbohydrates consumed with amino acids or protein right after exercise enhance muscle formation. Nutrition Reviews. 61(5), 88-S94.
Zunzer, S.C., Duvillard, S.P., Tschakert, G., Mangus, B and Hofmann, P. (2013) Energy Expenditure and Sex Differences in Playing Golf. Journal of Sports Science. 31 (10) 1045-1053