The significance of proper nutrition is often overlooked by golfers, of all levels and abilities.
We appreciate that other athletes, from Olympic sprinters to cricketers and footballers, enhance their competitive edge by properly fuelling their bodies for maximum energy, mental clarity and muscle recovery.
Nutrition is especially important for athletes in any sport where consecutive days of play are part of the competition. Golf certainly fits that description and requires optimal levels of endurance, fitness, focus and recovery. Why, then, would golfers ignore this key element to performance enhancement?
Golf is often played in gruelling heat over four to five hours. Tournament golf demands even longer hours of practice and play, over consecutive days. It is crucial to maintain physical stamina and mental focus throughout the course of play.
Championship-winning performances often depend on a single shot. Despite having top-of-the-line equipment and dedicating many hours to intensive coaching and training, professional golfers often fall foul of the marketing propaganda expounded by supplement and sports drink companies.
Unfortunately, the pursuit for increased energy levels causes golfers to load up on energy bars, sports drinks and supplements that often comprise cheap ingredients and are high in sugar and stimulants, which can result in the dreaded crash after only a short peak in energy.
These supplements are geared towards short-duration, sprint sports such as tennis or hockey, so they do not match the demands of golf. Some of the products designed for endurance sports such as marathon running, promise long-lasting energy levels, yet can disrupt sleep patterns, which further decreases the amount of vital energy available to get through the following day.
Golf is a multibillion-rand industry and many of us spend a lot of money on the latest equipment and lessons from the country’s best coaches. It’s crazy to think that all that innovation and investment can be derailed by a R20 chocolate bar. What’s even crazier is that golfers, especially competitive ones, would allow themselves to be handicapped like that.
Fuelling your body on the golf course is essential if you want to achieve success. To perform at your best, you will want to eat something every two to three holes and ensure you stay hydrated by drinking water. The ultimate goal is to keep your blood sugar on as even a keel as possible by continuing to eat and drink throughout your round. The spikes and drops that come with sugar are what can cause mood, energy and scoring issues. Here are some of my favourite ways to fuel your body on the course:
1. Healthy energy bars: These are easier than ever to find. They are made using natural raw ingredients and there are many tasty combinations. Different brands contain a balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat, so the bar can support your preferred diet. Be sure to check the label, though, as some bars still contain too much sugar.
2. Protein balls or muffins: Chance favours the prepared, as they say, so make your food at home if possible! Homemade protein balls or muffins are some of my favourite things. You know exactly what is in them and feel good about what you are putting into your body.
3. Meal replacement shake: Having a shake somewhere in the first half of your round can help keep your energy even throughout your round. Again, there are many different brands, but go for something that contains 40-50g of carbohydrate balanced with 20-30g of protein. There are also plant-based options, but stay away from products containing soy protein. These contain unfermented soy and the human gut does not contain the necessary enzymes to break it down. Many of my players struggle to eat solid food on the course, especially on hot days. A shake is a great way of ensuring you get good quality nutrition for your round. You can make a shake before heading to the course or throw a pack in your bag to mix up mid-round.
4. Nuts/trail mix: All my Tour pros have a bag of trail mix in their golf bag. It’s an easy way to snack and maintain your energy levels. Stay away from those containing chocolate or too much sugar-coated fruit. Too much sugar can lead to spikes and crashes in energy, which can hurt your score! It’s far better to opt for a homemade or healthier version. Food Lover’s Market has some great options in to-go sized bags that are healthy and perfect to throw in your golf bag.
5. Sandwiches: Many golfers love a peanut butter and jam sandwich (this has been Tiger Woods’ go-to for on-course nutrition) but you have to be careful which type of peanut butter you use. Many are packed with bad ingredients and added sugars. There are only two ingredients your peanut butter should have: peanuts and salt. Also look for a good quality, low glycemic index bread and go easy on the jam! The best thing you can do is cut these sandwiches into quarters and try to eat one quarter every two to three holes to maintain blood sugar and stay energised.
6. Biltong: This is my all-time favourite as it delivers a solid dose of fat, protein and salt to your body. Try to avoid the flavoured or chilli versions as they can cause indigestion.
7. Water: The human body needs water. Period. So be sure to drink enough of it before, during and after your round of golf. I recommend that you use an electrolyte replacement drink, or drop an effervescent tablet in your bottle of water to ensure you are replacing your electrolytes lost during those hot days on the course.
So, please consider nutrition as an important component of your golf game.
Be proactive about planning ahead and packing the right types of snacks and drinks for your day out on the course.
Don’t just rely on what is available at the halfway house. Remember, a great diet won’t make an average athlete great, but an average diet will make a great athlete average!
– Milne is a golf fitness specialist who trains a number of professionals on the world’s pro Tours and emerging amateur players. Follow him on Twitter @SmileyMilne
– This article first appeared in the March 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!