‘When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless and intelligence cannot be applied’ – Herophilus
A commonly used term to describe a drop in performance during a round is the ‘mid round slump’. Generally, this may happen anywhere between holes twelve to seventeen. Up to this point, things have been going well until all of a sudden, it feels as though the wheels have come off and the harder you try the worse it gets. A big contributing factor to this, which often goes unnoticed, is a lack of hydration and nutritional energy.
The importance of nutrition and hydration in golf
The importance of a healthy and balanced nutritional intake can be likened to that of a finely tuned sports car. Imagine driving a Ferrari with little or no fuel or even low grade fuel for that matter, it’s not going to go too far and certainly cannot function at its maximum capacity. The human body is no exception and in this context, neither is the golfer. The best golf swing in the world will not achieve its maximum potential if the body is undernourished or dehydrated. The human body gets its fuel from the nutrients contained in food and drink. A variety of these nutrients are needed to keep fit and healthy particularly if you are generally active, take part in sport or set individual challenges. The nutrients in our food provide energy, promote growth and development, and regulate our bodily functions. Our body depends on these nutrients, as it is unable to produce sufficient amounts on its own. As golf is not necessarily seen in the same category as other more physically enduring sporting activities, the impact of nutrition and hydration on golfing performance can often get a little neglected.
Let’s take the all too common scenario where you have a mid-morning tee time. Perhaps you get waylaid first thing, which means you have a last minute dash out of the house to get to the golf club on time. You pull up into the car park, grab a quick takeaway coffee and rush on to the first tee without any time for breakfast. After 9 holes you are starting to feel a little weary, thirsty, and think maybe it’s time for some sustenance. On the 10th tee you search through your golf bag and, alas, all you can find is a can of soft drink and a chocolate bar from two weeks last Tuesday!
So what could be the golfing consequences of this sequence of events? The word ‘breakfast’ comes from the fact that you are literally ‘breaking the fast’ from the hours of rest and repair, which your body has been making during the night. Your body is also at its most dehydrated state when you first wake up in the morning. Having been in too much of a rush to prepare anything, your body is now in a deficient state of vital nutrients and hydration. The chocolate bar may provide an initial boost in energy but following the peak, an extreme drop may occur. The soft drink contains high levels of sugar and potentially caffeine (depending on the variety) but unfortunately very little hydrating qualities. To an already dehydrated body (on top of the coffee drunk earlier), the extra caffeine rush from, let’s say cola as being the soft drink of choice, provides little nutritional content other than to potentially raise the heart rate and cause another peak and trough in energy. To some, this may seem like an extreme example, to others it may sound a little on the familiar side! Regardless, under these circumstances it becomes much harder to perform at your optimal. To summarise this scenario any depletion prior to the round and during the first half of the round which is then fixed with sweet unhealthy foods can potentially cause further blood glucose fluctuations over the following few hours and even within the remainder of the round. It becomes a little clearer to see where those mid-round slumps of fatigue, loss of concentration and poor on-course decisions may stem from.
‘To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear’ – Buddha
The importance of hydration
Firstly we will address the importance of correct hydration and the implications if left neglected. 18 holes of golf require a relatively high level of concentration and a degree of physical stamina to achieve successful results. Maintaining the body’s hydration levels will certainly assist in this process. Any form of dehydration may create a variety of symptoms of which include; headache, light-headedness, fatigue and nausea meaning physical activity becomes more difficult and performance drops. Mental function is also reduced, which can have negative implications for decision-making, concentration and motor control, all of which may greatly affect scoring capabilities, course management skills and overall performance on the golf course.
To eliminate any of these symptoms monitor your levels of hydration and take precautions before problems arise. You can monitor your level of hydration in different ways. Monitoring urine colour and frequency provides a good gauge to work from. Frequent passing of pale coloured urine is a sign of good hydration. Remember, dehydration is cumulative, so you can become dehydrated over a number of days. As in other sports it is important not to wait until you are thirsty, in golf it is particularly important as a drop in concentration levels is one of the first symptoms of dehydration. When you reach a point of feeling thirsty, the body is already dehydrated. Water is continually being eliminated through our breath, sweat and urine and therefore, must be replaced every day by consuming appropriate food and fluids. After oxygen, water is a close second on the list of the essential nutrients for life and it makes up 50-75% of an adults body weight. Exact needs depend on a number of elements, including weather conditions and levels of physical activity.
On average we should ideally drink a minimum of one and a half litres of water every day. With warmer climates and increased physical exertion this amount will increase. On the golf course, the key is to not wait until you are thirsty and then consume large amounts in one go. Take a few sips every two or three holes, do not wait until you reach the 10th tee or later.
In warmer climates the vitamin, mineral and electrolyte content of sports/fitness waters may also aid performance and be a little more palatable than plain water. The inclusion of flavourings and sodium may help to increase the fluid intake and the inclusion of sodium may also aid fluid absorption and retention. They also have fewer calories than highly concentrated sports drinks and are easier to consume. Some of the sports drinks available can contain a high volume of sugar providing unnecessary calories leading to potential weight gain with regular use and little nutritional gain for the task at hand, in this instance, golf. There are 3 categories of sports drinks on the market – Isotonic, hypotonic and hypertonic. In simple terms the carbohydrate and electrolyte content will be either the same, more dilute or more concentrated than the body fluids. This determines the speed at which the fluid will be absorbed by the body. Each option will provide different benefits, the greater carbohydrate content the more energy will be provided, the lower the carbohydrate content, the greater hydration.
Hypotonic drinks – Contain fluid, electrolytes and a low level of carbohydrate (less than 4g per 100ml) For this reason it provides rapid fluid replacement.
Isotonic drinks – Quickly replaces fluids lost by sweating and supplies a boost of carbohydrate. Most commercial isotonic drinks contain 4-8g carbohydrate per 100ml
Hypertonic drinks – Contain a high level of carbohydrate. The primary focus is on energy supplies versus rehydration. Often used by ultra distance athletes to meet energy demands.
Alcohol, black tea, coffee, caffeinated energy drinks, highly concentrated fruit juices and fizzy soft drinks are to be avoided where possible as they can act as diuretics (encouraging fluid loss), may be high in sugar, create an increase in heart rate and affect concentration levels. They are ideally not to be used as substitutes for water or fitness water/diluted squash.
The importance of nutrition
The food we eat also plays a key role in sustaining energy levels. Once again the key is balance and moderation, as eluded to previously extreme highs and lows of energy can negatively affect performance. Try not to wait until you begin to feel tired and hungry, eat the correct nutrients little and often to sustain constant and balanced energy levels.
Nutritionally there are a few key guidelines that may help you to avoid those slumps and give you the best possible chance of maximising your potential throughout the full 18 holes of your round and avoiding the mid-round slump:
- Carry healthy snacks in your golf bag which ideally combine complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats – cereal bars, dried fruit, nuts, bananas, wholemeal sandwiches with healthy fat/ protein filling, e.g. chicken/almond butter
- Eat little and often ensuring energy levels are kept constant rather than extreme highs and lows.
- Eat a balanced diet combining the required fruits, vegetables, protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats.
- Prepare meals and snacks in advance rather than leaving it to chance and grabbing any available food on the day.
- If playing in the morning get up that little bit earlier to ensure you have a carbohydrate and protein rich breakfast g. Scrambled egg on wholemeal toast, wholemeal bagel with almond butter. Avoid fried food or food high in saturated fat that may lay a little heavier on the stomach or be a little harder to digest.
More detailed dietary guidelines are widely available which specialise in various areas whether that be for weight loss, endurance sports or allergies, as examples. The key aim here is simply to highlight the fact that any deficiencies within the areas of nutrition and hydration can have a key impact on performance for all levels of golfer.
This area can get a little neglected amongst many amateur golfers, potentially feeling that the principles only apply or make a difference to the elite or professionals within the game. The professionals are in fact great ones to mimic; they understand the importance it has on their performance. You will often find them snacking on a banana or sipping water every couple of holes. Adopting a healthy approach and awareness to your fluid intake and eating habits will not only allow you to maximise your potential on the golf course but also allow you to lead a healthier lifestyle and greater sense of well-being away from it. A win win all round! Give yourself the opportunity to perform at your best, your mind, body and game will thank you for it!