Nutrition: It’s Effect on Performance, Both On and Off the Course

One of the most overlooked facets of performance, both on the golf course and in the board room is… drum roll please… nutrition! How many times have you hit the golf course after the drive-thru on the way to the course, only to get a hot dog and fries at the turn and wondered why your game just fell apart on the back nine? Believe it or not, a round of golf can consume upwards of 1800 calories ¹ (depending on body weight and whether you walk or ride), which for some people constitutes their entire caloric intake for the day! Today we will discuss the effect nutrition can have on performance and some simple strategies you can employ to maximize your energy level both on and off of the course.

First, let’s talk about the effect of nutrition on the course by looking at your average weekend duffer’s routine simply from a calories in/calories out perspective. We’ll call him Duff. Duff kisses the family goodbye at 8:30, hops in the car, and stops at Starbuck’s for a venti latte (+240cal) and a blueberry muffin (+350cal). Duff crushes those on the way to the golf course, proceeds to the range to hit a bucket of balls and a quick stop at the putting green(-125cal). By the time Duff and his partners hit the turn, on average they will have burned about (-)750 calories if they rode in a cart and up to 1000 if they carried their bag. That means he is at a caloric deficit of between 200-400 calories already!

At the turn, Duff grabs a hot dog (+300cal) and chips (+160cal) with a soda (+140cal) and heads to the number ten tee box. So, Duff’s caloric input for the day is now just under 1200. His output at the start of the back nine is 875 (that’s if he’s riding) and he’s likely to spend another 750 by the time he and his buddies get to the green at 18. So, to simplify, Duff has taken in about 1200, and spent over 1600 calories for the day. I wonder why he ran out of gas on the back nine? Not only is he at a caloric deficit, but the source of his calories is largely sugar which will send Duff careening up and down the blood sugar roller coaster.

Calories in and calories out is just one way to analyze diet, but is a simple way to keep track of making sure your body has the fuel to do what you want to do each day. There are a variety of tools to track this easily, from pen and paper to free apps on your phone, the most popular of which is My Fitness Pal. The next step is looking at the quality and type of foods you get your calories from. This is where you will get the biggest bang for your buck in a recovery from injury and athletic performance realm. For nutrition beginners, I like to use a modified KISS principle, or Keep it Super Simple. You can find a million and one effective ways to shape or modify your nutrition, but if you stick to a few basics, the results can be shocking. I’ve narrowed it down to 3 simple strategies that you can start implementing today.

Winning Meals

The first strategy is to try and win as many meals as possible. What do I mean “win”? Well, keep it simple and use common sense. For lunch, do you have a burger, fries and soda or did you have a salad with grilled chicken? Did you stop at Chipotle and get a burrito with all the fixings, a bag of chips and large soda, or did you get a bowl with chicken, rice, beans, guacamole and veggies with water? Winning meals is not nutrition perfection, but rather being aware of making the healthier choice when presented with one. If we make an effort, it is easier than you think to win the majority of meals. In the absence of other strategies, just try and think of equal parts protein, vegetable, and carbohydrate. This is a basic strategy to set you up for wins.

Be Prepared

Strategy number two may take the most effort on your part, but will also make a huge difference, not only on the course, but in your day to day life. Say it with me, MEAL PREP. With a small amount of planning, you can take your on course and weekday lunchtime nutrition to the next level, negating the source of common quick and dirty meal “losses”. One option is to spend an hour on Sunday preparing some simple meals to put in plastic containers for the week. That way, you just reach in the fridge and pull out a meal on your way to work or the course. Some examples are to bake or grill some chicken breasts and cut into cubes, have a large container of a healthy grain, such as quinoa or a brown, whole grain rice, and a large container of broccoli. Then, each morning, you get a large Tupperware, fill it with equal parts of each and you’re set for lunch. You can also separate the meals into containers on Sunday so that you just grab and go. This is a simple technique that has proven to be very successful.chicken, broccoli, quinoa  Another option is to have easy to prepare things on hand, like deli turkey or chicken and whole grain bread for turkey sandwiches (hint: leave the chips at the store!). Throw some carrots on the side and that my friend is another win.

Time Matters

The final strategy is really all about timing. With regard to performance and body chemistry, the best thing we can do is to keep our blood sugar at an even keel, or steady state ² . Suffice it to say, 2 hot dogs, fries and a soda at the turn does not accomplish this. If we look back at our example from before, Duff’s blood sugar levels look like a roller coaster at Six Flags and his scorecard likely does as well. Again, keep it super simple. Instead of pounding 2 turkey sandwiches while you’re waiting to tee off on number ten, eat a half sandwich every four or so holes and mix in some unsalted almonds for added protein or some carrots as a snack between those mini-meals. This approach will keep the blood sugar level and keep you closer to level par.

These strategies are by no means a comprehensive nutrition guide, but rather some quick and easy tools to improve your on and off course nutrition that are attainable without a nutrition coach or degree. If you would like more information or depth on these topics, please feel free to contact us at Par4Success for a comprehensive evaluation.

Ted Graham
PT, DPT, TPI

1. Daily Caloric Expenditure Calculator from: Harris JA and Benedict FG. A Biometric Study of Human Basal Metabolism. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1918 December; 4(12): 370–373.

2. Goodwin ML. Blood glucose regulation during prolonged, submaximal, continuous exercise: a guide for clinicians. J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2010;4:3.

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