Golf is, without doubt, one of the most exciting opportunities in the world of performance science in 2017. However, despite these high stakes there has been very little research done to date in elite golf.
This forces us as practitioners to extrapolate ideas from other areas of research and trial them with the players we work with as we refine and optimise our strategies and learn from the players, coaches and caddies until the research catches up.
I’m pretty fortunate to have a younger brother on the European Tour who has fast tracked my practitioner learning curve in golf and helped build up some practice based evidence which hopefully over the next few years can be trialled and tested to eventually translate into evidenced based practice.
Until such a time, I hope the following provides an insight into some considerations when working with golfers or even some food for thought (apologies for the pun) for Tour Professionals themselves.
Pre Round Fuelling
Golfers are faced with three different fuelling scenarios on a day to day basis. They are either out early (which often means a 5am start!), mid morning, or in the early afternoon.
Despite these timings changing, which may impact on meal timings and portion size, the underlying principles of how to fuel the round don’t.
Ok so what are we looking for? Well when we look at the demands of golf a round generally takes approximately 4 hours, top this up with 60-120 minutes of prep time (warm up, range, putting green, conversations with caddy, etc) and we are looking at about a 5-6 hour shift.
During this 5-6 hour shift mental focus, stable energy levels and adequate hydration are going to be key, as one poor decision or energy dip can ruin your card and separate the winners from the also-rans.
As a result the pre round meal should be finished approximately 90 minutes before the round to give the body time to digest the food and the player time to prepare. The meal itself should contain some high fibre low GI carbohydrates, such as oats, to provide a sustained release of energy over the coming hours.
This portion of carbohydrates should be complemented with a source of high quality protein, such as greek yoghurt or eggs, to not only supply the muscles with amino acids to support muscle maintenance and function but also to aid the production of neuro-transmitters to improve mental focus and induce satiety.
This base of protein and carbs should then be finished off with some high quality dietary sources of fat to provide some low intensity fuel, e.g. nuts, seeds, avocado, etc as well as some fruits and/or vegetables to bump up the micronutrient content of the meal.
A simple example of this for a 9am tee time would be a bowl of nutty muesli topped with banana and fresh berries coupled with a 3 egg omelette and a large glass of water at 6.45am. For a 2pm tee time, a baked salmon fillet with a sweet potato and feta salad would also be a good example.
On Course Nutrition
The goal on the course is exactly the same, optimise mental focus, keep stable energy levels and remain hydrated. As a result on course snacks will follow a similar trend aiming to provide some low GI carbs, a moderate amount of protein and some high quality fats.
To ensure a steady supply of energy as well as reducing symptoms of hunger it is best to spread 3-4 snacks out evenly over the round. Depending on the length of the course players may wish to eat on holes 5, 10 and 15 (particularly if it’s a shorter course) or on holes 4, 8, 12 and 16 (better suited to longer and/or slower rounds). These snacks can be prepared (in an ideal world) ahead of time by the player or one of their team or purchased for convenience.
Some great examples of on course snacks that players/their team can prepare would be homemade protein bars, nut and seed “energy” balls, oat based banana bread.
Speaking from experience, some of these snacks can be prepared with no more equipment than a mixing bowl so could be an easy way to kill 10 minutes on a Monday and set you up for the week. However, preparing your own snacks is not always possible so picking up some nuts and seed tubes/bars, bananas, beef jerky and protein bars is also a good call.
What does need to stay more regular than the eating on course is the drinking! The best way to stay on top of this is to not only consume a few mouthfuls of fluid along with each snack, but also on each hole either as you are walking down the fairway or walking to the next tee box. You might find on hot days that you may need to do both!
As for what’s in the bottle, it is best to drink water with additional electrolytes (a simple effervescent tablet will do – sugary sports drinks should be avoided). As a result the player should be equipped with 3-4 agreed on snacks before leaving the locker room and 2 bottles of water and a tube of electrolytes to top up when needed during the round. The only time this may differ is on a Sunday, in which case you always bring more and are fully prepared to go down 19 if required!
Nutrition for Recovery/Sleep
Post-round the shift focuses to recover for the following day’s play. Again this meal should contain some quality protein to aid muscle repair and maintenance however, unlike most sports there is no need to feed high volumes of carbohydrates to refuel, a moderate potion accompanied with some tasty vegetables will do.
For example, a nice lean steak with some mash potato and pan fried vegetables would fit nicely, as would a tasty teriyaki chicken stir-fry with some additional vegetables. This meal is generally the easiest for most players to get right.
This meal should be followed up with a nighttime snack, again to support recovery but also to enhance sleep, e.g. greek yoghurt with tart cherry mixed through.
Nutrition for Travel
As the competition draws to a close on Sunday, most players make their way straight from the locker room to the airport as they head on to the next event. For Tour Professionals, the schedule can be relentless and this high volume of flights, temporary time zones and often new/foreign cuisines all increase the risk of illness for the players and caddies.
These at-risk periods and shifting circadian rhythms should all be supported with appropriate performance planning to not only ensure the player and caddy acclimatise as soon as possible for the next tournament but also minimise the volume of days a player and his caddy may lose to illness.
I hope this gives some insight and sparks some thoughts about how nutrition may impact on a golfer’s performance. With the lack of current evidence available it seems the next step is for the tours to continue to innovate in performance nutrition research – then we can see how well the worlds best can really play.
This article appears courtesy of the Undergraduate Sports and Exercise Medicine Society – www.basem.co.uk/usems