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Nutrition for Golf – Handicap or Advantage?
By: Kellie Hogan (profile)
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Are you eating to train, training to play and playing to win? If not, read on……..

Ask anyone in the know what makes a successful golfer and they are usually quick to point out attributes like strength, power, concentration, mental toughness, flexibility, injury avoidance, adequate preparation and recovery protocols for body and mind, ability to make decisions under pressure, to name just a few. In my time, I haven’t come across too many who have cited good nutritional practices as a key to golfing success. Now I might be a little bias, but I absolutely believe that nutrition should simply be anosother part of the puzzle to piece together the “complete golfing athlete”. Part of this strongly held belief is that many, if not all, the attributes of a successful golfer have an underlying nutrition component. How I hear you ask? Well, I will elaborate with some examples. Nutrition (in particular protein and carbohydrate intake) is critically important to gain muscle mass, which impacts on increases in strength and power. Good fluid intake to prevent dehydration can delay fatigue and in some people, can reduce the risk of muscle cramps. Dehydration can also affect cognitive function and therefore decision making. Ever wondered why you bombed a shot that you could usually do with your eyes shut? Maybe it was dehydration or low blood sugar levels. Which brings me to my next point, adequate carbohydrate intake at the correct times supplies the blood sugar which fuels muscles and brain, delaying fatigue and ensuring decision making and concentration are maintained. These are some examples of specific issues for golfing performance, but eating healthy food on a day to day basis can also play a part in maintaining immune function. Just like injuries, getting sick can be a big problem if it keeps you away from training and tournaments.

So have I convinced you to think about your training and competition diet yet?

Many players that I have worked with really only consider nutrition on the days of, or if I am lucky, the day before a tournament, but I spend a great deal of time convincing golfers that the training diet is where the importance should lie. If you compare the number of hours you spend training versus actually playing, you can see it makes much more sense to focus on getting the training diet right, especially if you consider that it is in training where almost all skill acquisition occurs.

CHECKLIST FOR PEAK TRAINING NUTRITION

(Checklist adapted from “The Complete Guide to Food for Sports Performance: Dr Louise Burke)

In an ideal world, if you have addressed your training diet adequately, you should be able to answer “YES” to these 3 questions:

  • Do you provide your body with all its nutrient needs, remembering that requirements for some nutrients will be increased due to your training?
  • Do you promote recovery between training sessions with practices that will rapidly replace fluid and fuel stores, and allow the body to recover and adapt to the training load? Do you fuel and hydrate adequately during sessions?
  • Do you create opportunities in training to try out your match day eating practices, such as the pre-event meal, or eating and drinking during the match, recovery etc?

DESIGNING YOUR TRAINING DIET

Over a series of articles, we will look at each of these three areas individually. So, first, let’s look at day to day eating and what that should entail. There are a number of important areas to consider when looking at your training diet.

  • Carbohydrate
  • Protein
  • Fat
  • Vitamins and Minerals

CARBOHYDRATES

Carbohydrates are the critical source of fuel to the working muscle and the central nervous system. A small amount of this energy is supplied through blood glucose, but the majority comes from stored carbohydrate known as glycogen in the liver and muscles. These supplies are quite limited and only supply enough energy for up to about 90 minutes of exercise. Therefore glycogen stores must be maximized prior to an exercise, topped up throughout and replenished afterwards.

  • Breads
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Pasta, rice, noodles
  • All fruit (whole, juiced, tinned)
  • Starchy vegetables – potatoes, sweet potato and corn
  • Legumes – baked beans, kidney beans and lentils
  • Cereal, muesli and breakfast bars
  • Low fat dairy foods, e.g. low fat yoghurt, low fat ice-cream, trim custard and fruit smoothies
  • Pancakes, crumpets, scones, muffins

These foods also supply important nutrients such as B-group vitamins.

PROTEIN

Greater amounts of protein are required by athletes. However, increased requirements can usually be met through increased food intake as a result of a greater appetite. The body can actually only use a certain amount of protein each day. Excess is just treated as waste and is excreted. This puts extra load on the kidneys whose job it is to excrete the by-products of protein. Supplied by lean meats, fish poultry, eggs, nuts and legumes and low fat dairy foods. These foods also supply important nutrients such as iron and zinc.

Dairy foods are also an excellent source of calcium.

FAT

The body does require some fats and oils; we use them to make some hormones for example. However, most people exceed their fat requirements. Fat is very energy dense, it supplies a lot of calories, unfortunately, our bodies are very good at storing fat, but not very good at using it up, so moderation is the key, especially if high fat foods replace the important high carbohydrate ones.

Healthy fats are supplied in nutritious plant sources by olive and canola oils, avocados, nuts, seeds and oily deep sea fish for example.

VITAMINS AND MINERALS

Are important for, let’s face it, just about every bodily process. Different vitamins and minerals supply the body with the crucial components to work effectively. In particular, compounds called antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables and assist with both training recovery as well as maintaining our immune system.

Most foods contain at least some vitamins and minerals, but concentrated sources of antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables, in particular brightly coloured varieties.

In Australia we use a model called the “Australian Guide to Healthy Eating” to determine the minimum number of core food groups serve sizes to consume daily. So, your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to keep a food diary for 1-2 days and compare your intake with the recommended amounts according to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (http://www.eatwellbeactive.qld.gov.au/eatwellbeactive/nationalguidelines/how_much_should_you_eat.asp). While these guidelines might differ slightly from country to country, the requirements and recommendations are still likely to be relevant for your needs. Alternatively, consult your own national guidelines. From this mini dietary analysis, set yourself some goals based on what you might be getting too little or too much of. For example, you might discover you do not eat enough fruit, vegetables or dairy foods. The goal of any individual’s diet is to meet the body’s most basic needs, then we can start manipulating the extra quantities and timings to maximize sporting performance. Like anything though, you have to have the base right first.

For other sources of sports nutrition information, check out the Sports Dietitians Australia website, at www.sportsdietitians.com.au and the Australian Institute of Sport Website at www.ais.org.au/nutrition Bon appetit!

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