Achieving a Healthy Body Composition to Support Golf Performance. 

Part 1: Caloric Balance

Thanks to completing our home assessment, you are finally on an exercise program that supports you achieving more speed and distance off the tee.  You are in the gym consistently, and on the course more than ever between practicing and playing. You’re on the right path and see improvement, but you want to take it to that next level and see faster results. You tell yourself you could probably lose a few pounds, and if you had more energy things would be a bit easier and progress would be faster paced. But as you get older that’s just how it goes right? You put on more body fat and less muscle because “things slow down” and “as you get older it gets harder”. Well with that thought process, yes you will. Science tells us differently, and you are not an exception to the laws of thermodynamics and physiology. 

I believe that the majority of amateur athletes and even some of the pro athletes are just under educated when it comes to recovery, especially in the topic of nutrition. For goodness sake, I went on Instagram the other day and watched Phil Mickleson tell the world how he cut 20lbs in a week by not eating anything along with drinking his “special” coffee. He also stated that Sea Salt is a natural energy source… but I di

gress…. This is the problem, every amateur golf athlete that looks up to Phil is going to look at this and say “Phil did it and he is one of the best! So, it must be good for me!”. Not only is this false and gives people the wrong information on nutrition in relation to health and performance but is inherently dangerous and can set people up for some lifelong issues when it comes to their health.

My goal in this four-part series is to give the uneducated golfer at any level the knowledge and steps to improve their body composition which will inadvertently increase energy, decrease recovery time, and increase performance in the gym and on the course. In this first section, we will go over the base and most important piece of knowledge when it comes to body composition whether the goal is fat loss or mass gain, calorie balance.   

Part 1: Calorie Balance

When it comes to achieving the ideal body composition for a power athlete, you want to strive for greater muscle size and more fat free mass (FFM). A study by Sports Med Phys Fitness on Sprinters, showed that sprint performance was higher in the athletes that had these qualities, and that they could improve sprinter performance by achieving a higher BMI with higher FFM and greater girth around arms and calves (Barbieri, 2017). To do this in a safe manner, we need to start by setting the goal of muscle gain and fat loss while also understanding how the body works to get there.

A calorie is a unit of energy that is extracted from the food you consume. Caloric balance is simply the relationship between calories in versus calories out. To lose weight, you need to be in a negative caloric balance. To gain weight, you need to be in a positive caloric balance. Now, obviously calories in is pretty self-explanatory, the amount of food we eat and the calories it allots to. Calories out on the other hand, is a little more complex and consists of four different methods in which they can be expended.

1. BMR

BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate is the amount of energy used by the body at rest. Just think of it as if you were to sit in a chair all day doing nothing, your body still requires a certain amount of energy (calories) to keep the lights on. The human body is composed of numerous organs that make up systems in which we use to function. We have the pulmonary system, endocrine system, nervous system, just to name a few, and all of these are vital in our survival. Your basal metabolic rate determines how much you as an individual requires for all these things to work. This will differ based on gender, height, weight, and lean body mass can also be taken into account. There are a handful of calculators you can find on the internet that anyone can use to determine your average BMR. A few popular examples are the Harris-Benedict equation and the Mifflin-St Jeor Equation. Once you calculate this, you are one step closer to finding your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)!

2. NEAT

NEAT or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is a way in which you will expend calories on top of your BMR. NEAT includes little movements that we do throughout the day that alone don’t burn many calories but can actually add up quite a bit in a 24-hour period. Think of movements such as tapping your foot on the floor, or fidgeting, talking with your hands, or typing on a keyboard. We rarely actually think about a lot of these movements and just perform them autonomically. Things such as walking, standing, and more voluntary movements that are not qualified as exercise are also in this category. These more voluntary movements are referred to as Non-Exercise Physical Activity. This will be highly dependent on a person’s daily lifestyle, job requirements, and daily habits. 

3. TEF

TEF or Thermic Effect of Food is the third way in which will go into your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. When you consume a certain type of food, that food itself will require a certain amount of energy to extract the energy from it, weird huh? This is where the breakdown of macronutrients comes into play (which we will cover more in detail in Part 2!). Simply put, different macronutrients require different amounts of energy to process as energy in the body. For example, Protein yields the highest TEF, using about 20-30% of it to actually use as energy in the body! This may be why we see people on high protein diets who are typically leaner and have more adherence to a diet (3,4,5). Carbohydrates are next up, using about 5-10% of its contents to extract energy, and then Fats using 0-3% (2). Why is protein is great for maintaining and putting on muscle mass?  It is the least efficient in supplying us with energy! 

4. Exercise Activity

The last and most obvious way of expending energy to most would be through exercise.  The type of exercise you are doing of course will differ in how many calories you will burn, however what most people don’t know is that that number of calories you burn will also be dependent on how many you consume. If you cut calories, you will burn less calories. If you introduce more calories, you will burn more calories. The body is highly adaptive and is designed to keep us alive. Exercise is a stress on the body that requires excess energy to fulfill, the body will do whatever it can to hold onto the energy it has. If it sees there is a shortage of energy, it will “turn the stove down” to conserve as much as it possibly can to go to other more important parts of the body rather than going towards your recovery for performance. Of course, exercise is going to be extremely beneficial when it comes to a goal of staying healthy and losing body fat, but this fact alone shows us how important the drastic reduction in calories can be a harmful thing.

Once you find this number you can then start to subtract calories to lose weight or add to gain. Now this doesn’t mean find that number, subtract 1,000 calories and consume that for as long as you can sustain. Not only does that method take a ton of will power in the long run, but takes away from daily functioning, gym performance, sport performance, and also significantly will decrease metabolic rate. Like we said, the body is highly adaptive, and if it sees a large shortage of energy, it will just burn off less to save itself. It is always smart to stick to .5-1.5lbs (TOPS) of weight loss or weight gain per week. The less aggressive the plan, the less you are tempted to cheat, go off plan, change plans, be inconsistent, etc. It is very dominant in the research that sustainability and adherence to a plan for longer term is the most effective and important thing for a diet to work in the first place (Alhassan, 2008).

In summary, you can determine your TDEE based on the above four factors and have a good idea of what your body requires to carry out its daily functions. There are numerous calculators on the Internet for this and any can be used as long as you have in mind that it is a true estimate. Your day to day energy expenditure will most likely vary, and the only way to truly know where your maintenance calories lie is to track them along with your weight as consistently as possible, and to take a weekly average overtime. Stay tuned for Part Two, where we will talk about the next most important step and piece of knowledge when it comes to body composition, macronutrient breakdown.

  1. Barbieri D, Zaccagni L, Babić V, Rakovac M, Mišigoj-Duraković M, Gualdi-Russo E. Body composition and size in sprint athletes. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2017;57(9):1142-1146. doi:10.23736/S0022-4707.17.06925-0
  2. Norton, Layne, and Peter Baker. Fat Loss Forever: How to Lose Fat and Keep It Off. Publisher Not Identified, 2019. 
  3. Donald K. Layman, Ellen M. Evans, Donna Erickson, Jennifer Seyler, Judy Weber, Deborah Bagshaw, Amy Griel, Tricia Psota, Penny Kris-Etherton, A Moderate-Protein Diet Produces Sustained Weight Loss and Long-Term Changes in Body Composition and Blood Lipids in Obese Adults, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 139, Issue 3, March 2009, Pages 514–521, https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.108.099440
  4. Layman DK, Evans E, Baum JI, Seyler J, Erickson DJ, Boileau RA. Dietary protein and exercise have additive effects on body composition during weight loss in adult women. J Nutr. 2005;135(8):1903-1910. doi:10.1093/jn/135.8.1903
  5. Layman DK. Protein quantity and quality at levels above the RDA improves adult weight loss. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(6 Suppl):631S-636S. doi:10.1080/07315724.2004.10719435
  6. Alhassan S, Kim S, Bersamin A, King AC, Gardner CD. Dietary adherence and weight loss success among overweight women: results from the A TO Z weight loss study. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008;32(6):985-991. doi:10.1038/ijo.2008.8