Professional Golf – The Many Variables that Can Affect Performance
Among the best golfers in the world playing on the European Tour, the standard and depth of quality is exceptionally high. For them, the difference between winning and coming second or making their tour card versus missing out can come down to the smallest of margins.
From week to week, a huge number of variables place demands on them, their bodies and their performance. These all need to be accounted for and fully understood. For most people (and particularly athletes) the body responds well to and likes routines, structure and balance. As a professional golfer travelling the world with the modern international schedule of golf, this can sometimes be very hard to achieve.
Over the next couple of articles we will be talking about the importance of sleep, diet, hydration and travel for the professional and recreational golfer alike. In this blog article we will be discussing sleep and air travel.
Sleep patterns among professional golfers can be hugely variable due to time zone changes, jet lag, very early or very late tee times, media requirements and travel delays to name a few. We know that sleep is a crucial factor in human physical and mental health and performance.
The recommended amount of sleep varies between people depending on age, sex and activity, but generally 8 hours a night is a guideline figure. It has been shown that sports people require more sleep than the general public and performance factors are increased with an extra hour of sleep a night on top of the average.
Sleep deprivation can have several effects on people and athletes/golfers performance including:
- Hormone changes – reduced duration of sleep has been linked with increased levels of cortisol. This is also known as a stress hormone and has been linked with reduced healing, increased risk of injuries and reduced memory. It is also linked with reduced levels of the body’s natural growth hormone, which helps the body repair.
- Reduced energy – sleep deprivation reduces your body’s ability to store glycogen. Although often seen as an energy source needed during endurance events, it is still a key component of the energy requirements in sports such as golf.
- Reduced decision making and reflexes – evidence shows that sports people who don’t get enough sleep are worse at making split second decisions and are less accurate in their performance (these are also similar effects of dehydration which we will discuss in another piece)
As I write this article I am 35,000 ft in the air on a plane travelling 3 hrs 45 minutes to Morocco for the Trophee Hassan II, with the entire journey today taking 9 hours from door to door. Many of the golfers playing in this tournament have travelled much further and crossed many more time zones.
This is a common necessity for players and staff on the European Tour every week, with the 2014 schedule featuring 48 tournaments in 26 countries worldwide. Air travel has many effects on the body of which ‘jet lag’ is one.
Jet lag is linked with a de-synchronisation of circadian rhythms and its impact depends on a number of factors e.g. the duration and direction of the flight, crossing multiple time zones, repeated and regular journeys with little time for acclimatisation and individual differences between people.
Some simple tips for trying to combat the effects of time zone changes and jet lag are:-
- If over 3 hrs time difference, try and arrive 24hrs prior to your first day practice/training.
- If you want to sleep later in the morning when you arrive, close the curtains and black out the room as much as possible.
- If you want to wake earlier, keep the curtains open when you go to bed, which will accustom you naturally to the morning light.
- Change your watch to the new time zone before you get on the flight, and then start eating/sleeping to the new time zone immediately (if a time change of longer than 4-6 hours try and do this the day before you leave to start your bodies acclimatisation to the new time zone.
- Avoid drinking alcohol/caffeine the day before, during the flight and the day after.- Maintain adequate levels of fluid intake (preferably 2-3L of water/day).
- Wear compression socks during flights
The effects of prolonged periods of inactivity and long haul travel are well documented. As well as professional golfers, it is as important for the general population to ensure that they follow guidance and have regular breaks from sitting on a plane. They should carry out simple, regular exercises to promote blood flow and prevent the effects of prolonged inactivity and static postures on a flight.
In the fiercely competitive world of modern professional golf, it is vital that every aspect of a golfer’s preparation is optimised and good health is maintained as much as possible. The above tips can help to reduce the affects of air travel and maximize the benefits of sleep.
Nigel Tilley is a Consultant Physiotherapist on the European Tour Physio Unit and ETPI.
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