Do’s and Don’ts of Golf Nutrition

IJGA student athletes eating in the dining hall around a shared table

Graphic shows an illustration of a well-balanced plate

By IJGA Strength + Conditioning Coach Shawn Mehring

With the ever-changing competitiveness in the sport of golf, an athlete must have the right nutritional foundation in order to achieve optimal performance. An athlete must know what type of nutrients they need to consume before, during, and after training, practice or competition. Listening to your coaches and trainers is important, but if you do not take care of your body the way you take care of your swing, it could hinder your performance and produce adverse effects.

The Don’ts
During competition, an athlete will pretty much do anything they can to gain an edge over their opponent. Nutritionally a golfer will try to out their opponent by having more energy. This will lead to the athlete loading up on energy bars, drinks and supplements that have cheap/synthetic nutrients, high sugar concentrations, and stimulants (like caffeine). This, if not always, usually leads to the dreaded crash after a short duration of high energy levels. A sugar crash can cause an athlete to have confusion and difficulty concentrating on daily tasks, hunger, irritability, headaches, fatigue, lethargy and anxiety. All of these are detrimental for an athlete and are usually the main items that are trying to avoid. Also, having sugar the night before a round can lead to restless sleep and can cause the athlete to be sluggish in the morning.

Don’t think that since you are in the midst of competition, it is unacceptable to eat. Food is fuel for the body and needs to be treated as such. Not eating for 4-5 hours will leave the body malnourished (not eating the appropriate amount of calories and nutrients to provide maintenance and recovery for the body). One of the main symptoms of malnutrition is fatigue, and the main indicator of malnutrition is a poor diet. If an athlete does not consume enough calories for their body to perform, preserve and recover, their diet needs to be re-evaluated.

Since you are an athlete and may have a high energy expenditure throughout training and competition, do not think that overeating will give you a competitive edge. Since you are an athlete, you do need to consume more nutrients than the average male or female, which will be shown below, but eating too much could cause high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, depression, bone deterioration or stroke which could all have dramatic negative effects in your performance.

The Do’s
What does a balanced diet, which improves performance, look like? The flowing will describe types of foods to eat, macronutrient daily percentages for athletes, and a “6-hole nutrition plan” developed by sports nutritionist Matt Jones featured in Golf Digest.

1) Eat nutrient-dense foods:
a. Eat the highly nutritious and nutrient-dense foods that are available to you while limiting sugar, processed foods, and junk foods. Although this will take away from your daily caloric intake, but will increase the nutrient value ingested by the body. Seven examples of nutrient-dense foods are wild-caught Alaskan salmon, broths, kale, raw garlic, sprouts, organic pastured egg yolks, and liver.

2) Managing your Glycemic Intake:
a. Glycogen is a form of glucose that serves as a form of energy storage in humans.
b. Minimizing grains, breads, starches, and sugar will quickly lower blood sugar levels which will help prevent a “sugar crash”.
c. Eating foods that are relatively low in the glycemic index (the amount the food will raise and the duration of the rise, an athlete’s blood sugar) will help fight excessive body fat, fatigue, and blood sugar imbalances.

3) Consume superfoods and supplements:

a. Superfoods contain high levels of vitamins and minerals that are essential for the body. They help prevent our bodies from cell damage and help prevent disease.
b. Some examples of superfoods are Acai, goji berries, cocoa, and chia seeds.
c. Supplements are great to take if an athlete is allergic to a specific kind of food/nutrient.
i. If an athlete is lactose intolerant (cannot digest the sugars in milk) and cannot drink milk, they might have a deficiency in calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and B12. Although they can get these vitamins from other foods, they can also get these vitamins by taking a nutritional supplement, a capsule.

4) Consume healthy fats:
a. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish, grass-fed beef, eggs, some nuts, and seeds. They are necessary for the immune system and help with the hair, skin, endocrine glands, brain, and nervous system.

5) Consume the appropriate number of macronutrients for athletes.

a. Protein: an athlete should consume 1.5-2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight (assuming a normal diet is in place 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day)
b. Amino acids (building blocks of protein) help the body regenerate cells and aid in muscular recovery.
c. Good protein sources are lean meats (chicken and turkey), fish, eggs, and some dairy.
d. Carbohydrates: an athlete should consume 5-6 grams per kilogram of body weight per day (keeping in mind that the higher the carb is on the glycemic index, the more detrimental to the body; the sugar maltose is the highest on the GI and the lowest on the GI is peanuts.
e. Fats: 20%-35% of an athlete’s diet should be fats (less than 10% from saturated fats; fatty beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin cooked as well, lard, cream, cheese, and milk products.

6) Drink Water: The human body is 50-65 percent water. The amount of water an athlete should drink in ounces is their body weight in pounds times 0.5-1.0. This recommendation takes into consideration the amount of fluids lost during a weight training session, practice session, and competition

7) The “18-Hole Meal Plan”:
Before a Round: Consume a protein-rich meal (eggs, meat, fish) paired with healthy fats (nuts, avocado, salmon) and mostly low GI carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and beans and some high GI carbohydrates (potatoes, quinoa, rice, or whole-grain bread).
Holes 1-6: Eat foods that will help stabilize energy levels. Eat low-carbohydrate foods. Apples, pears, oranges, protein bars, and/or berries paired with nuts. All those foods are low in the glycemic index, which has a slow sugar release resulting in sustained energy.
Holes 7-12: A golfer will want to sustain their energy through foods or snacks that have a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Examples: Larabars, mixed nuts, and/or granola bars.
Holes 13-18: The objective is to maintain concentration over the last of the clutch shots. Higher-carb snacks will give you the highest spike of blood sugar and allow you to have increased alertness. Examples: peanut butter and jelly sandwich, dried/fresh fruit, and/or granola bar.
After a Round: This should be like the pre-round meal to help restore energy levels to their homeostatic state.

The current ways junior golfers are being trained put more of an emphasis on moving the body with efficiency and speed paired with strength and power. In order for athletes to be able to achieve optimal performance, they need to have a foundation in nutrition. Every athlete is different in how their body reacts to training, nutrients, stress, and determination, but the above information can be applied to all athletes in order to achieve optimal performance.

7) National Strength and Conditioning Association Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, Third Edition.

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