It’s easy to forget that playing 18 holes of golf involves not just repeating an explosive, full-body exercise (the golf swing) but usually also around five miles of walking. It’s not exactly a sedentary sport, and just because you’re wearing trousers, doesn’t mean you won’t be torching calories, just like any other sport.
But for some reason many golfers just don’t fuel their rounds efficiently, which means that by thinking ahead and getting your nutrition right, you can enjoy an easy performance gain, and help yourself achieve your golfing potential.
I spoke to ‘Dr Golf’, AKA Dr Zachariah Gould who has deep experience in training golfers to do better, to see what practical steps we can all take…
It’s Not The Swing, It’s The Calories!* Golf PTs like Dr Zachariah Gould are often asked about how to improve stamina out on the golf course. The expectation is that they are immediately going to start talking about hitting the treadmill or crossfit marathons, but the truth is simpler, he says: “I will ask: ‘OK so what do you put in your golf bag before you go? The answer is usually, ‘a chocolate bar, a fizzy drink’ or sometimes, just nothing.
“They are not asking themselves the question: “Have I got enough fuel on board to sustain focus, energy levels and hydration for 18 holes?’”
Gould is told all the time about golfers dropping shots on the 16th-18th holes and blaming their golf swing. “Or they sometimes blame their psychology, and they might blame their fitness, when actually they just went out without enough fuel. There’s varied data on this, but we burn between 750 calories and 1,250 calories in a round of golf.”
That’s a lot of snacks. OK, you can say 600 calories is provided by a breakfast, but you’d have to take a bag of seven bananas out on the course with you to make up the shortfall, at the top end. Don’t actually just do that though – read on to find out why…
Before You Arrive A hearty ‘cyclist’s’ breakfast is your secret weapon if you’re heading out in the morning. But you should know that it takes at least 90 minutes to digest the energy in a low-GI breakfast, or pre-game meal, so aim to tee off at the end of that window.
Choose low-GI carbs like oatmeal for sustained energy release, but team this with 20g of protein because this will help the energy be slow-burn. And studies have shown that eating protein before and during exercise actually boosts endurance (if taken with carbs). Protein will even help your body produce the neuro-transmitters required to improve mental focus!
So, if you’re going for oatmeal, then team this with yogurt, as well as nuts or seeds to provide high-quality fats to give you some extra, high-density fuel.
On The Course When it comes to on-course nutrition, timing is everything. “People fall victim to eating all their bananas, or their candy on the front nine, and then running out on the back nine,” says Gould.
He advises you to break down your nutrition by hole, so that you eat a snack on the fifth hole, the ninth hole and then on the 15, 16, and 17th holes. “It’s the same, hydration: take little sips and often, rather than big gulps.”
We blame our swing, psychology and fitness, when actually we just went out without enough fuel – we burn between 750 and 1,250 calories in a round of golf
I'm not a sugarphobe but do reduce the amount of sugar you take on the course, purely to avoid peaks and troughs in your energy levels
And really do leave the candy at home: “I'm not a sugarphobe, but I think it helps to try to reduce the amount of sugar that you take on the course, purely to avoid those peaks and troughs in your energy levels.”
Gould recommends quality food with a balance of macros: something as uncomplicated as a chicken and lettuce sandwich on brown bread, for example. “Early on, that gives you the balance of some fats, carbohydrates and protein, for sustainable energy. As you get later in the round, it might be a banana and a handful of nuts,” he says.
After The Game Post-exercise recovery is completely reliant on good quality nutrition. Without it, the fast-twitch muscle fibers that you have tested with your golf swing, as well the slow-twitch fibers taxed by all of that walking will not be able to repair and adapt to become stronger and more efficient.
Rather than thinking of your post-round recovery as a quick protein drink and then hit the bar. Instead pay attention to the following 15-24 hours, and incorporate a healthy meal with a base of proteins and carbs, as well as healthy fats and vegetables within a couple of hours of finishing the round.
Get in a protein-containing nighttime snack before bed, and don’t skip brekkie the next day, to keep the recovery process going.
Dr Zachariah Gould sets bespoke golf fitness training plans whatever your level – visit his website for more.