Characteristics of the Sport
Golf is a game of skill that can be played competitively at both amateur and professional levels. Golfers can turn professional either through an apprenticeship or by attending Player's School. Some professional golfers become attached to golf clubs and concentrate on providing golf tuition and running golf clubs. Others spend their time competing on the professional circuit.
Recreational golfers practise their golf simply by playing. Professional golfers can spend up to eight hours a day on the golf course, practising specific skills, playing practice rounds or actual competitions. Even during a competition, many players will conduct a practice session at the end of the day's play. Most modern players also include strength training, aerobic conditioning and flexibility in their training schedule to strengthen the muscles involved in golf, improve endurance and minimise the risk of injury.
Competition golf is played in rounds of 18 holes. Tournaments are conducted as a single round on one day or as multi-day competitions of two or four rounds on consecutive days. A round typically takes between three to five hours to play, depending on the skill level of the player and the number of players on the course. The average golf course is seven kilometres from first to last hole, although a player may walk 10-20 kilometres in a game depending on the accuracy of the shots.
In Australia, winter is the pro-am competition season and professional players typically travel on a circuit between club tournaments. During this season, a pro-golfer could play in ten tournaments, for a total of fifteen days of competition each month. The major international tournaments in Australia are played from January to March and from October to December, flanking the major season overseas between April to October. At the top level, golfers are almost continually on tour.
Golf is primarily a game of skill therefore top golfers come in many shapes and sizes.
In recent times, there is a tendency for top golfers to be fitter and leaner than ever before. Theoretically, carrying excess skin folds may make a player more susceptible to physical fatigue and thus more likely to suffer loss of skill and concentration.
Being overweight may also make a golfer suffer greater heat intolerance in hot conditions. As golf is a repetitive spot, carrying excess body fat may also make a golfer more susceptible to injury.
Common Nutrition Issues
Golfers of all levels require a diet that provides a wide variety of foods. The diet should focus on carbohydrate and be balanced with moderate amounts of protein and smaller amounts of fat. The following are key points:
- Enjoy a variety of foods from the 5 food groups each day. It is easy to fall into the trap of having the same or very similar foods day after day.
- Focus on nutrient-rich, high-carbohydrate foods. These include bread, cereal based foods (rice, pasta, breakfast cereal), fruit, vegetables and low fat dairy products such as yoghurt and flavoured milk. These foods should form the bulk of your intake each day.
- Consume small quantities of high-fat foods. These include butter, margarine, oil, cream, cakes, biscuits, fried foods and many takeaway and processed foods. Too much fat can lead to unwanted weight gain, increased skin folds, and long term health consequences such as increased risk of heart disease. It may also result in under-consumption of carbohydrate. Enjoy instead small amounts of foods rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats e.g. avocado, most types of nuts, plant based oils and fish.
- Consume moderate amounts of protein and where possible choose low-fat protein sources. These include lean meat, skin-free chicken, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy products, breads and cereals with whole grains, legumes and tofu.
- Look after fluid needs. The body needs to be hydrated to perform optimally. Consume fluids regularly during the day and during training sessions. Water is the best fluid to meet hydration needs during the day however when sweat losses are high a sports drink may provide a source of electrolyte replacement.
- Consume alcohol sensibly. It is fine to include small amounts of alcohol in the training diet, but too much will lead to weight gain and may replace intake of other valuable nutrients. Alcohol slows down rehydration, so is not the best choice immediately after exercise.
A top golfer must strive to maintain skills and concentration over three to five hours, perhaps for numerous days. Once physical fatigue sets in, deterioration in skills can be expected. Both dehydration and low-blood sugar levels are possible during competition, and may impair golfing performance.
Sweat losses may be considerable especially when tournaments are played in hot and windy environments. Although many golf courses provide drink stations for players, they may be at infrequent intervals and not allow sufficient opportunity for fluid replacement during a game. Since players will usually miss a meal while playing a round, they may be faced with no carbohydrate intake for five or six hours. Combined with exercise and nervous stress, this situation may cause a drop in blood-sugar levels in susceptible individuals, which may adversely affect brain functions such as concentration and skill. When tournaments are played over several days the situation may be compounded. Chronic dehydration and an inadequate carbohydrate intake may cause fatigue, loss of weight and poor performance.
The following tips can help to avoid some of these problems:
- Have a carbohydrate-based meal 1 -2 before competition.
- Organise yourself to take adequate provisions, including carbohydrate based snacks, onto the golf course.
- Experiment during practise rounds to develop a plan for fluid and food intake which best suits you. Experiment with foods such as sandwiches, fruit, cereal bars, dried fruit, nuts etc.
- Carbohydrate drinks such as sports drinks and milk provide a simple way of consuming fluids and carbohydrates.
- Frequent ingestion of small volumes of fluid is recommended
Life on the Circuit
The professional golf circuit involves regular international travel. This can pose a number of challenges to meeting nutritional needs. Unusual foods, different standards of food hygiene, limited food availability and interference with usual routines can see athletes either gaining weight or failing to meet their nutritional requirements. Refer to the Travel section for factsheets with tips on how to manage nutrition when travelling.
A golf game traditionally finishes at the nineteenth hole - the clubroom bar. While there is no harm in having a couple of drinks, it is easy to slip into a pattern of drinking more than you realise or need. Alcohol is not good for fluid replacement as it acts as a diuretic and increases urinary fluid loss. Alcohol can also interfere with the recovery of the body's carbohydrate stores. If you plan to have a few drinks post-round, look after your rehydration and refuelling needs first. Consume a few non-alcoholic drinks before consuming alcohol, or alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Keep a lid on the number of drinks you have and avoid alcohol 24 hours before competition. It is better to avoid alcohol intake during tournaments - after all you need all the skill and concentration that your brain can muster.
This fact sheet is based on National team athletes and is therefore specific to these athletes. Written by AIS Sports Nutrition, last updated December 2013. © Australian Sports Commission.