Junior golfers often play a great round for fourteen or fifteen holes only to have their game fall off at the end. Sometimes it’s poor course management and sometimes a player’s swing just lets them down when something like this happens. If this becomes a common occurrence for a player, however, there may be another factor that few think of as a root cause: food. Managing one’s eating habits can be as important as course management when it comes to playing as well as possible from start to finish. Poor nutrition can lead directly to poor performance, especially when it comes to being able to finish a round strong. Many golfers just plain run out of gas at the end.
Start Fast; End Flat
When it comes to what you eat leading up to a day on the course, there are many don’ts. This is particularly true for competitive play. Don’t let anxiety make you grab the wrong thing for breakfast while you are thinking about the day ahead. Wolfing down a couple of doughnuts and a caffeinated drink might give you a fast start on the first few holes, but it will likely let you down soon after. The blood sugar level that provided an initial boost will drop off quickly, leaving you suddenly hungry, weaker and having a hard time concentrating. In extreme occurrences, you might even begin to sweat and have your hands shake as tension builds in your hard working muscles. Some will try for another boost by grabbing a candy bar out of the golf bag, but this will only repeat the sugar spike-and-fall cycle. This bumpiness in your physical well being will lead to bumpiness on the course.
Eat Well; End Well
Controlling blood sugar has short and long term benefits. In the short term, it has positive impact on your energy level, mental sharpness, ability to relax and concentrate, physical endurance, and hunger. Maintaining steady blood sugar, combined with proper hydration, will give you the best chance for top performance on the course and pretty well anywhere else. In the long term, it will also greatly decrease your chance of developing diabetes and heart disease.
Make Your Fuel a Part of Your Game Plan
Just as you choose what clubs will be in your bag based on the course you will be playing, your choice of fuel should be done with the same thoughtfulness and level of preparation. The night before you play, eat light and avoid caffeine, which can cause physical agitation and often a desire to overeat. Do this and you will awaken feeling fresh and not extremely hungry, ready to take on the day. A little stretching and a hot shower and you will be good to go.
The morning of play, eat a well balanced breakfast. Not too much or you might feel sluggish as your body has to work harder to digest a big meal. But don’t under-eat either as you might not have enough energy for the long day. This will give you an enormous advantage in the day’s match. A cup or two of whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk and sliced fruit or a protein drink will provide sustaining fuel until mid-morning.
During the round, you will need to have additional fuel to stay strong enough to play. A low-carbohydrate, high-protein energy bar is a great boost for that fifth or sixth hole slump. Another energy bar on the back nine will come in handy as well. A bag of nuts (without salt), a piece of fruit, or a granola bar are also great options. Some players prefer to nibble throughout the round or have a snack every four holes; it really depends on what works best for you. Feed your game, but don’t let it become a distraction. If you must eat at the ninth hole, try a high-protein, low-carbohydrate snack. Avoid salty snacks and any products made with white flour or white sugar. Choose whole-grain bread if you are having a sandwich. If available, a great choice would be a light salad that includes turkey or shrimp.
Don’t Forget to Hydrate
It is important to stay hydrated when playing golf and for overall health. A great game plan keeps you ahead of the challenges that will arise on the course. The same is true with keeping your body running at its peak. Don’t wait until you start to feel thirsty to hydrate. Drink water or a hydrating sports drink before you begin and continue to drink water as you play. It takes time to have effect, so stay ahead of your need and drink at regular intervals. Failure to do so can lead to weakness, irritation and muscle cramps that can ruin the best of games. This may seem like a lot, but to stay healthy and hydrated you should drink sixteen ounces (45 grams) of water every four holes. Avoid caffeine during play; a glass of water at the turn is much better for a strong back nine.
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