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Hydration and Nutrition for Golf a basic guide

This article was written by Karen Harrison.  Karen lives in Miami Florida and works at the famous resort Doral.  Enjoy!

Elite athletes are always looking at ways of improving their performance, whether it is through hours of instruction and practice, physical training, biomechanics input or good nutrition. To be able to compete on the world stage today, not one of these areas can be ignored or overlooked. It is however, equally important, that the recreational athlete be aware of how nutrition can influence their performance.

How many of you have finished a round of golf feeling fatigued, thirsty, perhaps with an accompanying lack of focus, of slow reactions or a feeling of heavy limbs? Did you feel that this negatively affected your performance? So, have you considered the effect of proper nutrition and hydration during an event that has you walking 7-8 kms over 4-5 hrs and burning anywhere between 2000-2400 calories—18 holes of golf!?

Proper nutrition and hydration before, during and after your round of golf are as important for optimal performance as your equipment and should be considered a part of your preparation. Like a car, your body won’t go very far without fuel. Meal timing, the balancing of food groups (proteins, carbohydrates and ‘good’ fats) and proper hydration for the conditions, all are vital ingredients in providing for what is essentially an endurance event. And the research is also clear - the consumption of carbohydrates (CHO) and water will greatly increase your overall performance. So don’t forget
about them in your preparation!

If you have a late tee time, when possible, it is generally recommended that you eat a meal 3-4 hrs prior to playing (it takes this long to digest a large meal).  Studies have shown that an ingestion of a meal containing 140- 330 grams of carbohydrate can enhance athletic performance. Thus, the meal should be high in carbohydrate (to maximize glycogen stores in the muscles); moderate in protein (to help keep you satiated); low in fat and high in fiber to facilitate gastric emptying and minimize gastrointestinal distress. An additional snack can be taken about an hour before you play, if your tee off time
is later in the day.

If you have an early tee-off time, it is not advisable to eat a large meal. It takes too long to digest and will sit in your stomach and could make you feel uncomfortable. A light, balanced meal is preferable. If you feel like something just before hitting off, then if should be food or drink similar to those you are going to take during the event. Experiment with what works best for you – whatever gives you lots of energy, but also keeps you from not getting hungry. The idea is to finish the round strong!

A Basic Guide

1. Eat 5 to 6 small meals throughout the day.
2. Eat every couple of hours to increase your metabolism and keep energy levels constant.
3. Eat well balanced meals containing some carbohydrates, proteins and fat.
4. On competition day, you may feel anxious or have those ‘butterflies’ in your stomach. So, only eat or drink foods that you feel comfortable with and you know won't upset your stomach. They should be easily digestible foods.

Foods/Drinks to Avoid

1. Drinks or foods with a high sugar content (including sodas or soft drinks, fruit juices or more than one Gatorade/Fitness drink per round);
2. Caffeine/Energy Drinks (e.g. Red Bull or coffee)
3. Alcohol
4. Chocolate or confectionary
Meal Suggestions (300-400 calories)
40-60% Carbohydrate; 25-35% Protein; 20-25% Fat
Mushroom Omelet with toast
Fruit salad with low fat yogurt and nuts
Low fiber cereals such as Cornflakes or Special K, low fat milk.
Whole wheat pasta with tomato based sauce
Whole-wheat Chicken Sandwich or wrap with soup (low fat and low sodium)
Whole wheat bagel with light cream cheese

Include a drink such as fresh orange juice and water.

Snack Suggestions

Every 3-4 holes – nuts with minimal dry fruit – trail mix, ham sandwich on whole-wheat bread; apple pieces; vegetables with hummus (carrot, celery); whole grain bars – i.e. Kashi Trail Mix Bars. If your blood sugar falls and you need to bring it back quickly try a ripe banana – but consume it alongside a food item containing some protein and/or fiber to prevent peaks and troughs in your blood sugar. Be wary of Energy/Protein bars that contain high quantities of sugar (>12 g), or that are not low in fat or sodium.

Two Rounds in One Day

Some tournaments require that your complete 18 holes in the morning and 18 holes in the afternoon. If the time between rounds is long (greater than two hours), then eat solid food soon after the earlier 18 holes and drink frequently during the break. If you only have a short rest between rounds, then only replace the fluid lost. Then during the second round continue eating and drinking small amounts often.

The Meal after Golf

The objective should be to replace the fluid and energy that your body has used, the minerals that have been lost and the vitamins that are required. Fluids mean water or an energy/mineral replacement drink. Energy means carbohydrates and protein (not fats!) which are digested and absorbed to refill the energy tank. Vitamins and minerals will be taken care of, if you follow the above advice. A meal consisting of fruit, vegetables, lean meat, fish or
poultry, bread and fruit juice should meet the requirements for most golfers.

Hydration and Nutrition for Golf a basic guide
Hydration on the Course

One of the most pertinent issues during summer, especially in humid conditions, is one of adequate hydration during play. As an athlete, maintaining a properly hydrated state is important especially in the extreme heat because just 2% dehydration impairs:
1. Physical performance
2. Fine motor control or skill
3. Concentration
4. Temperature regulation – (body temperature and heart rate)
5. RPE (rate of perceived exertion) – how difficult a task may seem to complete.

One study in Australia of elite level performers showed that most players started the day dehydrated! Although most of the athletes in the study consumed large amounts of fluid during play, it was insufficient to reverse the dehydration and thus, they maintained a state of dehydration.


1. Start drinking 24 hrs prior to play.
2. Replace fluids consistently about 700-750ml or 30 oz every 3-4 holes.
3. Drink small amounts at a time (i.e. 10 oz) frequently rather than large amounts infrequently.
4. Cool water is the best drink of all because it cools the inside of the body quickly and is more rapidly absorbed than iced water.
5. Sports drinks (sodium and electrolytes) can help keep fluid in the cells and maintain blood glucose levels, but are absorbed slower – drink just one only per 18 holes; perhaps even dilute it.
6. Drink before you are thirsty – by the time you are thirsty you are dehydrated!
7. Remember caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics – they increase fluid loss, so avoid them (before, during and after your event).
8. Alcohol will also impair body’s ability to replace CHO stores following a day of play and will worsen inflammation.

Did you know that you may lose 15 oz of water overnight just by breathing and another 15 oz by taking a hot 15 minute shower?

Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats – Did you know?

Carbohydrates (CHO) - The Fuel for Golfers

Carbohydrates are the main fuels used in golf and the healthiest types of carbohydrates are unrefined varieties such as fruits, vegetables,
bread, cereals, rice and pasta. Most of the extra energy that you burn up during golf should be replaced by eating carbohydrates because:
 · 'animal starch' or glycogen is used in golf; 
· it is more easily converted to energy
· they increase endurance and decrease fatigue;
· they help in the recovery from playing and competing;
· they help to store water and prevent dehydration;
· they usually result in less stored body fat than say a diet rich in fats; 
· Complex ‘carbs’ are better than refined ‘carbs’ e.g. sugar, sodas or confectionery because their energy lasts longer (hours instead of minutes); the energy stored in starches is released in little packets over many hours whereas sugars provide an instant flood of energy but then quickly leave you feeling tired, hungry, or event faint or dizzy.


· Protein is used for the growth and repair of all muscles, tendons and ligaments and for the production of enzymes, hormones, blood clotting factors and hemoglobin (for carrying oxygen);
· There is a limit as to how much protein the body can use each day: inactive adults can not use more than one gram per kilogram of body weight per day (equal to about 70 gram of protein per day); eating more than this will not achieve any additional benefit. Growing children, adolescents, endurance athletes and power/strength athletes may need up to about twice as much protein as inactive adults, but this is still less than 200 gram protein per day, even for a large golfer; · this amount of protein is easily obtainable from a balanced diet which includes moderate quantities of meat, poultry, fish, eggs,
legumes (e.g. beans, baked beans, peas, lentils, corn) and dairy products;

· Contrary to the belief, protein contributes very little to energy provision in most sports - at most 15 to 20%, and this is only in grueling sports such as marathon running.
· Protein foods are also slower to digest and so your pre-game meal should not be overly high in protein.
· Eating more protein than you can use will result in it being stored as unwanted fat;
· Protein supplements (amino acids) may not be harmful but can be a waste of time and money for golfers;

Hydration and Nutrition for Golf a basic guide

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Fat Facts

· some fat in your diet is essential, but most people eat too much;
· fatty food may build up excess weight on your hips, waist and thighs;
· eating too much fatty foods can lead to heart disease;
· fatty foods include: all fried foods, anything cooked in oil, butter or margarine, most meats, especially processed 'luncheon' meats; dairy products, cheese, and eggs;
· to reduce the fat in your diet: avoid fried food, particularly takeaways; avoid food with added oil; trim visible fat off meat; eat more grilled fish and chicken without the skin; eat more fruit, vegetables and cereals; use low fat or reduced fat dairy products, avoid snacks such as chips or cakes; cook with herbs and spices instead of fats and oils; choose eggs enriched with Omega-3 and read food packet labels!

A Recommended Eating Plan for the Day

This meal outline was prepared by Greg D. Wells, Ph.D. and Denis Collier, M.Sc., R.D. and is available on their website

Scrambled eggs, 500 mL water, piece of fruit, yogurt
During warm-up (stretching, range, putting and chipping time before you tee-off): 
Piece of fruit, water

During the first 6 holes:
Banana, water or a mix of Gatorade and water if it is hot

During the middle 6 holes:
Half of a sandwich, water

During the last 6 holes:
Granola bar or fruit, water (or Gatorade if getting tired)

After a round and before post-round practice at the range/short game area:
Nuts, water, 2nd half sandwich, banana

The recovery plan (how to refuel to get ready for the next day’s game)
May include more than just nutrition, e.g. stretching, hot/cold showers, massage, etc
Hot shower, stretching, relax, watching television
Spaghetti with tomato sauce and veggies / protein (i.e. chicken)
Lots of water