In part 1 of this article series, we discussed the fact that while golfers will characteristically do everything in their power to tweak their game, many neglect one of the biggest contributing factors to their physical and mental success – nutrition. We also discussed some of the major reasons explaining why nutrition is often neglected by golfers. Finally, we promised to come back and share with you 5 important links between golf and nutrition. Well, we’re back.
5 Ways Nutrition Can Improve Your Performance
If you knew that eating and supplementing a certain way would
a) lower your body fat %,
b) increase your muscle strength,
c) improve your bone health,
d) allow you to recover faster from exercise,
e) increase your distance off the tee,
f) improve your mood,
g) reduce your feelings of anxiety and anger,
h) increase your concentration and creativity,
i) improve virtually every health marker known, and
j) help you play better as a practice session or match progresses
Would you eat that way?
We bet most of you would give it a shot. After all, this is a pretty impressive laundry list of benefits. So let’s look specifically at how eating well can improve everything from your performance, to your health, to your mood, to your enjoyment of the game.
Eating Well Improves Body Composition
When talking body composition, anthropometrists say that your total body weight is made up of the sum total of two things – your lean mass and your fat mass. Now, your fat mass is basically all of your stored body fat. And your lean mass is made up of your muscle mass, organ mass, bone mass and other non-fat tissues.
To excel in most sports (sumo wrestling excluded), it’s ideal to carry a fairly high lean mass to fat mass ratio. And golf is no exception. Now, don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying you have to be “ripped” with visible abs to excel in the sport of golf. Nor are we saying that you need bulging muscles to drive with exceptional distance. Yet some of the best golfers in the world do carry a decent amount of muscle mass and make sure to keep their body fat in check. You’ll have to do the same if you hope to excel.
Of course, having weak muscles with little power potential (especially rotational power potential) is of obvious detriment. Yet so is having an excess of body fat. You see, an excess of body fat can negatively impact your swing efficiency as well as your rotational mobility and power. Simply put, fat can’t flex. Therefore carrying unnecessary segmental body fat (in your limbs) “steals” power from your swing. In other words, the more fat you have, the more of your strength will be used for moving that fat vs. moving the club.
In the end, by eating the right foods, in the right amounts, at the right times, you can improve something called “nutrient partitioning”. Scientists use this fancy phrase to describe a shift in where the calories you eat end up on your body. If you have “good” nutrient partitioning, many of the calories you eat are either burned off as energy or stored in lean tissues. If you have “poor” nutrient partitioning, many of the calories you eat are stored as body fat.
By improving your nutrient partitioning, you can drop body fat while increasing your lean mass. And this means more power-generating tissue (muscle) to drive the ball and less power dampening tissue (fat) to get in the way.
Eating Well Improves Recovery
If you’re committed to improving your golf game, you know that practice is necessary; and a lot of it. Experts have suggested that some of the top pro golfers take nearly 600 swings each day including chips and putts. Since each of the swings is of near-maximal effort, this means a lot of muscle strength and power is required.
To build the strength and power necessary for exceptional golf
performance, as well as the muscular endurance necessary for repeating
these high power strokes hundreds of times a day, most high level
golfers perform regular physical activity outside of their practice
sessions. This means a moderate amount of strength training, cardio,
and interval exercise.
By the time all this activity is added up (and compounded on the other demands of daily life), this volume of activity and muscular work can definitely take its toll on the body.
Ever been sore from an exercise or golf session? Ever felt like your game suddenly got stale with your muscles no longer acting in a coordinated way? Ever lost your motivation, saw reductions in appetite, or stayed awake at night despite being dog-tired during a high volume exercise period? If so, you’ve definitely experienced the side effects of under-recovery.
Muscle damage, central nervous system fatigue, and over-reaching are all involved in the symptoms described above and although these symptoms are characteristic in most sports, golfers tend not to watch for them. It’s unfortunate as a bit of rest time or a reduction in total exercise volume, coupled with the right nutritional intake, can improve recovery in a big way. And improved recovery means higher quality exercise and practice sessions. It also means the ability to practice more often, leading to a faster rate of improvement.
So even though training for golf isn’t as highly physically
demanding as, say, training for football, the demands of the game
compounded with additional
activity as well as the demands of daily living can add up. Make sure that you have the resiliency to recover from these demands by improving your nutrition.
Eating Well Improves Mood, Concentration, and Focus
In the past, mood research represented only a small part of the scientific agenda of most university psychology programs. However, research into mood has recently exploded, especially in the area of sport, as new research has shown that specific exercise programs, training regimes, foods, environmental chemicals, and nutritional supplements can impact almost every mood domain.
For example, the Profile of Mood States (POMS), a common mood
questionnaire used in athletes and sport populations to evaluate mental
signs and symptoms of stress and overtraining looks at 6 specific mood
domains. These domains include the following:
Interestingly, POMS scores can be altered either positively or negatively by acute changes in food intake (i.e. a single meal) or chronic changes in food intake (i.e. daily dietary intake).
For example, some meals can increase vigor while reducing fatigue, while others can increase confusion/bewilderment and fatigue while reducing vigor. The same is true for habitual dietary intakes. Simply put, some make you feel great while others make you feel crappy. In fact, at a recent meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, researchers showed that the inclusion of additional protein in a carbohydrate drink like Gatorade reduced fatigue scores and improved vigor in athletes.
In addition to this research, new data coming out of the UK, Canada, and the US have shed a lot of light on specific nutritional interventions that can reduce violent and aggressive behaviors while improving cognitive test scores and reducing signs and symptoms of ADD and ADHD. These positive benefits have been recorded in both school children and in adults (including prison inmates). And all it took was a daily multi-vitamin supplement and a daily fish oil supplement. So it appears that just a few simple dietary changes can actually (and substantially) change our mood!
Further, if you’ve been involved in the sport of golf for long enough, you’ll know that golf is a highly mental game. Every pro on the PGA Tour is capable of winning any major event. Yet why do some excel more consistently than the others? Well, some golf experts believe that those who excel are mentally unshakable. Their ability to turn off negative self-talk, to relax the conscious brain while allowing the unconscious brain to take over, to remain focused with unflappable concentration is unparalleled. Some consider this a skill. And it is.
However, there’s also a biochemical basis for some of this mental prowess.
You should know that by providing the right nutrients, including nutritional supplements, at the right times, the physiological link between the brain and the muscles can be strengthened. Simultaneously, focus and concentration enhanced. In addition, a positive outlook can be fostered.
Again, all it takes is the right biochemical situation in the body. For example, by controlling blood sugar with frequent meals and less dietary sugar, mood fluctuations and that post-lunch “afternoon lull” can be eliminated.
So, beyond body composition and recovery, nutrition can strongly impact your mental game. With the right nutrients, concentration, neuromuscular efficiency, and mood can be improved in a major way. Skip these nutrients and watch as fatigue and form breakdown come more quickly – especially when you need them the most, during longer duration practices and games.
Eating Well Improves Health
Often, among athletes, health takes a back seat to performance. However, what many athletes fail to grasp is that it’s impossible to perform at a high level without having optimal health.
Now, health is often a nebulous term without specific indicators or objectives. In other words, for most, health is the absence of pain and/or disease. Yet most progressive health care specialists look at health quite differently. To the progressive specialist, health means optimal function.
With our clients, we typically define health as the following:
1) A resilient immune system
2) Strong antioxidant systems and free radical defense
3) Good detoxification systems
4) A good balance of gastrointestinal bacteria
5) A healthy production of digestive enzymes
6) A good balance of acid- and base-producing foods in the diet
7) Low levels of inflammation in the body
7) An ideal balance between lean mass and fat mass
8) A good balance of blood lipids
9) Good insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate tolerance
8) High perceived energy levels
9) The ability to perform mentally and physically at any age
Interestingly, every one of these health indicators above are
impacted by nutrition! Therefore, by eating well, very specific health
markers are improved.
Not only does this help prevent disease, it helps lead to optimal body function. And optimal body function means better athletic function. We’ll teach you what to do to accomplish this in part 3 of this article series.
Eating Well Improves Practice and Game Performance
We saved this one for last, although this is probably one of the most important areas for most golfers. For most of you it’s no surprise that most on-course nutrition is poor, ranging from hot dogs and beer to Gatorade and “golf nutrition” bars – most of which are basically candy bars (full of unhealthy fat and sugar) with a “healthy looking” label. And these foods, while better than nothing during golf practices and competitions, are certainly not setting you up for optimal performance. Rather, in some ways, they set you up for performance breakdown.
Starting with beer, it’s a central nervous system depressant, reducing concentration and motor control, both antagonistic to good performance. Further, Gatorade and sugar-filled snacks rapidly dump carbohydrates into your bloodstream. While this is good for a short burst of energy, this unfortunately leads to a rebound energy crash about 45 – 60 minutes later. As blood sugar crashes, mood gets worse, focus and concentration diminishes, and performance drops off.
To optimize practice and game performance, a few things are necessary. First, you must hydrate, especially in hot climates. Even a small dehydration can reduce coordination and control. Second, you must control blood sugar. By not eating on the course, blood sugar will drop off and performance will suffer. Yet the same will happen if you snack only on sugary foods.
To ensure adequate hydration, controlled blood sugar, and enhanced mental alertness, here’s what we recommend:
1h before practice and competition:
Eat a balanced meal containing lean protein, healthy fats, and whole grain carbohydrates. A few examples include:
Egg white omelet with vegetables and cheese
Small serving of oatmeal with mixed nuts and berries
Fish oil capsules
Snack – Supershake
2 scoops vanilla protein supplement
1 cup water
1 cup frozen berries
1 serving greens+
1 tsp fish oil
1 tbsp peanut butter
6oz chicken breast
2 cups steamed vegetables with olive oil
Small serving of whole grain rice
30min before practice and competition:
Taken before competition, the following nutritional supplements – tyrosine, DMAE, B6, and piracetam – can lead to amazing boosts in focus and concentration. Most of these products can be found in powdered form and it’s ideal to add them to 500ml of water and drink them 30 minutes before it’s time to play.
During practice and competition:
Throughout your play, sip a dilute protein/carbohydrate drink. Typically we suggest mixing up 500ml of water, 20g carbohydrate, and 10g of protein for every hour you intend on playing. Therefore if you’ll be out for 3 hours, make 3 x 500ml drink. Be sure to sip each drink slowly and finish it around the 1 hour mark.
In the end, although golfers characteristically do everything in their power to tweak their game, many neglect one of the biggest contributing factors to their physical and mental success – nutrition. By improving their nutritional intake, not only will they improve their game, they’ll also get the beneficial side effects of better health and better body composition. To this end, part 3 of this article series will share some additional practical strategies for doing just that.
About the Authors
John Berardi is a faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin in the department of Health and Physical Education. He’s also the Chief Scientific Officer of Precision Nutrition (www.precisionnutrition.com) with clients including the Royal Canadian Golf Association, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canadian National Cross Country Ski Team and the Canadian National Bobsleigh and Skeleton Team.
Phil Caravaggio is the Chief Operating Officer for Precision Nutrition, a leader in nutrition planning and education for athletes and the recreationally active. To find out more about the Precision Nutrition system, visit www.precisionnutrition.com