In previous articles (check Part 1 and Part 2) we discussed the fact that while all golfers will do everything possible to change their game (buying new clubs and new balls), many overlook one of the most decisive factors for their physical and mental success – their nutrition; we have identified some of the main reasons why golfers never change and, finally, we have pointed out five important links between golf and proper nutrition. In this article, I will share with you my concerns about the so called “normal diet” and the five most important habits you should create to start nourishing your body better.
The Western Diet
The western diet is generally used to describe popular eating habits in the USA. As these eating habits are still very popular in Europe and other parts of the non-Western world, it will probably be necessary to find a new name for this type of “diet” in the coming years (perhaps the killer diet is a good name!).
But what is the “western diet?” Well, this “diet” can be briefly characterized by a high intake of processed foods, refined carbohydrates, sugar and hydrogenated fats; and a low intake of healthy fruits, vegetables and fats. It is this “western diet” that has been associated with most western diseases or diseases of civilization (examples: cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer, Parkinson). Interestingly, this diet may also be responsible for increased violence and decreased cognitive test scores in school-age children (attention deficit disorder) and adults. Finally, this “western diet” has also been linked to bone loss (osteoporosis) and muscle wasting (sarcopenia) in adult individuals.
Let’s look at an example of a “normal athlete” daily menu before working with me.
Breakfast: Bowl of cereals and milk + Natural orange juice + Coffee with sugar
Snack 1: Mixed toast + Chocolate milk
Lunch: Chicken salad with mayonnaise and ketchup sauce + soda + ice cream
Snack 2: Slice of cake + Juice
Dinner: Grilled fish with vegetables + Baked potatoes + Glass of red wine + Dessert
For most people, this may even be considered a good day (and indeed there are some good things in this menu), but in the long run this type of eating will greatly compromise your health and performance. For this reason, we have to discuss this situation with the person and meet their real physiological and functional needs.
The Habits you must create
Before changing their diet, it is important that people start with a firm and solid foundation, and then make the necessary changes to optimize their health and performance. Most people (athletes included) want to start building a house from the roof down or building walls without paying attention to the quality of the soil. Any of these habits are simple enough, but just like any habit you want to create, it takes time to practice to assimilate the foundations of proper nutrition.
Habit 1 – Drink more water
Sometimes we talk about so much about food and forget about water, the most important element our bodies need to function properly. It is water that regulates all the functions of our body, including the activity of all solutes (the solid materials) dissolved in it. It is water that will actually allow the nutrients we consume to reach our cells and our organs. Aim to consume 1-2 glasses of water after waking up and to drink about 2 liters / day.
Habit 2 – Eat a protein source at every meal
Eating protein at every meal is critical. Of course, some “experts” will make you believe otherwise, suggesting that protein is somehow harmful to the kidneys, unnecessary, etc. However, I want to highlight the fact that what I am looking for my clients / athletes is the best of these three worlds: better health, better body and better performance – it will be very difficult to achieve these three with a suboptimal protein intake. Some examples include: eggs, meat, fish, chicken, turkey and shellfish.
Habit 3 – Eat vegetables at every meal
Your parents and / or grandparents are right – you need to eat vegetables to prevent disease! Evidence has shown that in addition to the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) contained in vegetables, there are also phytochemicals that are essential for optimal physiological functioning. Vegetables will help improve the acid-base balance in the body, so my advice is eating all the vegetables you can!
Habit 4 – Eat a healthy fat sources at every meal
Fat (such as protein) is an essential macronutrient and so we have to ensure proper intake every day through our diet. There has been a lot of misconception about the effects of fat on diet but the truth is that fat can be our best friend when the goal is to lose fat mass, optimize the body’s physiological response and our health. Some examples of healthy fats include: fatty fish, nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconut and avocado.
Habit 5 – Eat more vegetables with main meals and leave the other carbohydrates to the post workout window
Another way of saying this is: if you have fat to lose, you have to earn the right to eat carbohydrates by doing vigorous exercise in the first place! Do you want to keep eating bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, crackers, sugary foods, pizzas, sweets, etc.? You can even eat them – just make sure you do it in the post workout window (1-2 hours after training) because this is the time when your body is most sensitive to insulin. As for the quality of carbohydrates, you will have more benefits if you choose gluten-free foods (rice, quinoa, chestnuts, sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes) than highly processed foods or gluten-free junk foods. Also, don’t use exercise as an excuse to treat your body like the garbage truck!
Ever wonder why most people eat so much alike? Milk and cereals for breakfast, a soup and a sandwich at lunchtime, and, with luck, a slightly more balanced dinner of meat or fish, rice and some vegetables? What about those mid-morning and/or afternoon coffee and toast snacks? Crackers? Cakes and sodas? Cereal bars? Do you think this is a coincidence? Of course not, this is no coincidence!
This only happens this way because that is how you were taught to eat. Maybe this is the way your parents eat. Perhaps this is the way your wife, husband or partner eats. Maybe this is the way your friends and/or co-workers eat. Maybe this is the way your teammates eat. In fact, people do not even realize if what they are eating is appropriate or not for our physiology and genetics, if it improves or worsens health, if it improves or worsens performance, they eat this way because this is the eating pattern that they have been following for many years, and these were the habits they have ingrained.
In the last article we covered several reasons why golfers neglect nutrition, one of the aspects that can most influence their performance on the golf course. Interestingly, most golfers are more concerned with top-of-the-range clubs and new accessories than the foods they eat. And that is why today I will present five reasons for you to improve your diet.
Think about this for a while. If you knew that eating and/or supplementing in a certain way would: 1) reduce your fat mass; 2) increase your muscle strength; 3) improve your bone health; 4) enable a faster recovery; 5) increase your distance from the tee; 6) improve your mood; 7) reduce feelings of anxiety and anger; 8) improve your concentration and creativity; 9) improve virtually any known health marker and 10) improve your performance in training sessions and/or competition, would you be willing to eat that way? Given this short list of benefits I think it would be worth a try. Stay with me.
- Eating well will improve your body composition
Your total body weight is the sum of your lean mass and your fat mass. Lean mass consists of muscle mass, organs, bones, blood and skin. Your fat mass is basically all the fat that has accumulated in the body. For an individual to be considered athletic, he or she needs to maintain a good ratio between lean mass and fat mass. And golfers should be no exception. By this I do not mean that all golfers need to have Cristiano Ronaldo’s abs, what I mean is that under normal circumstances excess body fat has no benefits (unless you are a sumo wrestler in the spare time). Excess body fat will affect the efficiency of your swing, your mobility and your rotational power, meaning that you will have greater difficulty moving your body when you carry excess fat. The more fat you have, the more energy you have to use to move your body – the fat will “steal” power from your swing. So, it’s not the fat tissue that will give you power, it’s your muscle tissue!
- Eating well will improve recovery
If you are seriously committed to improving your game, you know you need to practice (and a lot!). According to experts, some professional golfers can hit 600 balls a day including chips and putts. And to perform all these swings you need muscle strength and power, meaning you need to do some kind of work in the gym! If the body is not prepared to cope with this type of stress in a regular basis, injuries and pain will begin to rise. If you often end your golf training sessions sore, if you notice fluctuations in motivation, if you can no longer hit balls in a coordinated manner, if you notice reductions in appetite, and if you are awake at night despite training a lot, it is very likely that your recovery is not being optimized. Muscle damage, Central Nervous System fatigue, and over-reaching are all common symptoms of many sports, but golfers tend to ignore these things. Although golf is not as physically demanding as other sports, the fact is that the daily training volume to which the body is subjected is large and this will make nutrition a key part of recovery.
- Eating well will improve mood, concentration and focus
Any professional golfer on the PGA Tour and/or the European Tour is capable of winning any major event. But why do some stand out more consistently than others? Because, according to experts, those who excel are mentally unshakable. That is, their ability to turn off negative internal dialogue, to consciously relax the brain and to focus with unflappable concentration is impressive. Some consider this to be an innate skill. And it is indeed. But it can be trained! However, there is also a biochemical basis for this mental prowess. You should know that by providing the right nutrients, including nutritional supplements, at the right times, the physiological link between the brain and muscles can be strengthened. Such as focus and concentration. For example, by controlling your blood glucose levels with frequent meals and less dietary sugar, mood fluctuations and that feeling of low energy after lunch can be eliminated. Therefore, in addition to body composition and recovery, nutrition can strongly affect your mental game. With the right nutrients, concentration, neuromuscular efficiency and mood can be significantly improved. On the contrary, if you do not ingest good nutrients, fatigue will appear earlier and you will no longer be able to concentrate in the same way.
- Eating well will improve your health
When I am talking about health, I am not just referring to the absence of pain and/or illness, I mean a feeling of physical, emotional and mental well-being. To perform at the highest level, health needs to be optimized, so the definition of health I share with my clients/athletes includes: 1) a resilient immune system; 2) strong antioxidant systems that protect against free radicals; 3) good detoxification systems; 4) a good balance of bacteria in the gut; 5) a good balance of basic and acid foods; 6) low levels of inflammation in the body; 7) an ideal balance between fat mass and lean mass; 8) a good balance of fatty acids; 9) good insulin sensitivity; 10) high energy levels and 11) the ability to maximize mental and physical performance at any age. All of these health markers can be influenced by the foods we eat every day! Therefore, these nutritional strategies will not only help you prevent disease but also optimize your body function and perform at the highest level.
- Eating well will improve your performance in training and competition
It is not surprising to most of you to find that most nutrition on the golf course is poor, ranging from mixed sandwiches and beer, to sports drinks and “energy bars” (note: most of which are basically full of sugar and bad fats) with a seemingly healthy label. These foods are certainly not preparing you for noteworthy performances, I would even say that these foods will compromise your performance. For example, beer is a central nervous system depressant, reducing concentration and motor control. Sports drinks (e.g. Powerade), sandwiches (even wholegrain!) and “energy bars” will raise blood sugar levels, which is-apparently good because it leads to a quick energy rise, but it turns out to be bad because then we’ll also watch a rapid energy drop 45-60 minutes later. When blood sugar levels drop to a peak, mood worsens, focus and concentration decrease – and of course performance worsens!
To optimize your performance in training and competition, there are at least three things that are required. First, you must maintain good hydration, especially in hot and humid climates. Even a slight dehydration can reduce coordination and motor control. Secondly, you must control your blood sugar levels. This means that you should not eat sugar-rich foods, but foods that help keep your blood glucose levels stable. Third, you should resort to some nutritional strategies and/or supplements that help you increase focus and concentration. In short, don’t continue to depend on what they offer you in the golf course bar carts – probably the only healthy thing they have there is water!
All golfers have one thing in common: they will invest a lot of time and money to improve their game! They will hire the best coaches to perfect your golf swing. They will buy the best equipment available to get more accuracy and to gain distance. Those who have already realized the importance of fitness in this sport will hire the best professionals to help them gain mobility, become stronger and more resilient. Some will turn to sports psychologists to learn how to maintain a good attitude in the field, focus and concentration. They do all this in order to make more birdies. But aren’t they forgetting something?
In fact, there is something that most golfers forget to change: their low-quality diet. Most golfers have no idea how diet can influence performance. For starters, they forget that eating poorly will compromise increased muscle strength and will lead to body fat accumulation. And if you still think that having weak muscles and excess body fat is the way to go to become a top-level golfer, it’s not worth reading any further. This article is not for you.
In addition to the deleterious effects on body composition and muscle strength it must be borne in mind that eating poorly will limit focus and concentration, will lead to mood swings and may lead to poor immune function, increased chronic inflammation and general health problems. Try playing several rounds for days at a time when you are in a bad mood, in bad shape, and unable to concentrate. Poor nutrition will have a direct impact on training and competition. Lack of focus, concentration and early tiredness, especially during training and / or competitions, are signs that your nutrition is compromising your performance.
No doubt, you can be very skillful with your golf clubs, do some Ballesteros shots and do some exceptional rounds from time to time, but if you’re looking for consistency in results and longevity as a golfer, there’s no better substitute than the foods you eat every day. None!
So why do golfers never change?
There are several reasons why golfers never change and prefer to continue eating the club sandwiches, the chips and the pasta served in every clubhouse menu in the world. Let’s go through some of those reasons.
1) The myth of the pre-competition meal.
Many golfers (especially beginners) make the mistake of thinking that it is only the food eaten before and during practice and competition that can affect their game. While this may make sense at a first glance, this is not physiologically what happens – most of the energy you are using today depends on the nutrients you have eaten (and absorbed) in the last 72 hours!
Please note, I am not saying that what you eat before and after practice / competition makes no difference. Of course it does! However, these meals are not necessarily the most important. Each meal will have a certain impact on your body regardless of the time frame in which it is consumed. It is the cumulative effect of these meals that will lead to an improvement (or decrease) in performance.
In other words, in golf, there is no pre-competition or intra-competition magic meal. If you’ve waited until the day before a big competition to start eating well, it’s probably too late. I am sorry to inform you but there are no miraculous solutions, you really need to eat consistently well!
2) Golfers cannot see the link between nutrition and performance.
Most golfers do not realize the connection between nutrition and performance. And that’s because they are not aware of how diet will influence their muscle function and brain biochemistry.
In the case of golf, as this is a sport that does not involve too much energy expenditure and does not require athletes to maintain a certain body weight (as with wrestlers, gymnasts, swimmers, endurance athletes or athletes from other sports), it is thought that the need to eat well is not that important. In fact, this relationship might not seem so obvious.
But that’s not the point, golfers don’t need to be muscular and low body fat individuals as you see in fitness magazines. What they need is to develop their athletic potential so that this is not a factor that could hinder their performance on the golf course. Golf is not a very energy-intensive sport so a golfer’s nutritional needs cannot match those of a fighter or an endurance athlete. But different does not mean less important – as we saw above it is not just body composition that will be influenced by diet.
Although the link between golf and nutrition is a little less visible than in other sports, it exists. Maintaining and / or increasing muscle mass, mobility, reducing inflammation of muscles and joints, maintaining focus and concentration, preventing injuries, can all be influenced by nutrition. But only those who put the best nutritional strategies into practice will have competitive advantages (obviously this does not include Big Macs!).
3) The difficulty in changing eating habits.
Probably the most difficult hurdle for most people is overcoming the eating habits they have. Our eating patterns have been around for a long time and few people are willing to change them if there is not a strong reason (as in the case of a serious health problem). And why does this happen? Because we have not been taught to think that food is information for our cells. We have not been taught to think that food will influence the expression of our genes. We have not been taught to think that it is the everyday foods we consume from our environment that can trigger health improvement or health deterioration.
Of course there are many other reasons why golfers are reluctant to change their eating habits and why you don’t change yours. And that’s why in the next article I will continue to address this topic so you can understand why you need to change your eating habits quickly to live healthier and to take your game to the next level.
Following up on the topic addressed in the last article, let’s talk today about a common swing characteristic that affects a lot of golfers and that can compromise their swing efficiency and their performance on the golf course: Early Extension.
What is Early Extension?
Early extension can be understood as an integral part of loss of posture, this happens when the player’s hip and spine begin to extend too early in the downswing, i.e. the hips and pelvis move towards the ball in the downswing. In practical terms, if your body is not prepared to perform an efficient golf swing while maintaining good posture throughout the movement, you will end up lifting the upper body (spine) and miss the necessary hip rotation at impact. Your hips play a key role in injury prevention and performance improvement. If you have poor hip mobility, sooner or later your lower back will complain (and you can be sure that this situation will not be very pleasant).
According to studies conducted by the Titleist Performance Institute, 64.3% of amateur golfers early extend
Players who early extend usually refer that they feel trapped during the downswing as if they had to shrug their arms to hit the ball. And it’s normal for that to be so because when you extend your hips too early on the downswing, the space that was supposed to be occupied by your arms and hands was occupied by the lower body. Therefore, the end result will be a blockage of the movement, since your arms and hands can’t get out of the way and will still be needed to hit the ball.
How can I diagnose?
An easy and simple way to check if you do early extension is with your Smart Phone (you probably already have applications that allow you to draw lines and analyze your swing). All you need to do is to ask a friend to film you in the direction of the swing line and capture its full motion from the starting position (setup). After having your swing recorded, compare the position of your pelvis in the initial position with the position of the pelvis in the position of impact, if you notice that it moved towards the direction of the ball is because you extended your hip too early. If this is not possible, you can always ask your golf teacher to help you, I am sure he will be happy to do that.
What are the physical limitations?
“If you’re not assessing, you’re just guessing” – Greg Rose
The physical limitations can be many and to determine the causes that are affecting you, it would be important to make a functional assessment with a professional who understands how your body should move and its relation to the golf swing. According to what I have observed in my practice, I would like to highlight the following:
- Limitations on performing a full squat with the arms extended overhead;
- Limitations in hip mobility (especially in internal rotation of the leading hip and in anterior or posterior pelvic tilt);
- Limitations in the ability to separate / disassociate the thorax from hips (X factor);
- Limitations in the ability to stabilize the pelvis because the glutes and core muscles are inhibited.
What can I do to improve?
Although the causes may vary from person to person, I’m pretty sure that if you do the following exercises, you will improve and increase your body’s functionality to play golf for a longer time. You only need 10 minutes a day.
- Myofascial Release with Roller Stick
Using a roller stick, look for the trigger points of your calf and massage the inner, central and outer sides of the muscle for 30 seconds in each area. The points that hurt you most are those that need more care. Yes, this exercise might be a little uncomfortable but it’s worth it.
- Glute Bridge with Leg Extension
Lying in the supine position, push your heels against the floor, tighten your glutes, and raise your hips to form a glute bridge, with your arms up. Once in this position, extend one leg and form a straight line between the shoulder, hip and heel. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds, always keeping your hips high. Change legs and repeat 5 times on each side.
- Squat with Overhead Arm Reach
In the squat position (with your heels on the floor and your knees out), raise one arm up, lift the other arm (always looking at your hand) and then raise both arms at the same time and return to the standing position. If you can not squat without raising your heels, you can use a rolled up towel or a board to keep your heels high. Do 2-3 sets and repeat 8-10 times.
- Assisted Squat wiht Medicine Ball
In the standing position, with your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly rotated out, hold a medicine ball (or a bucket full of balls) in front of your body, and begin to slowly lower your body into the squat position by keeping your back straight and without lifting your heels off the floor. Do 2-3 sets and repeat 10-12 times.
I believe that these exercises can be helpful to you, but remember: The swing you can do is directly related to what your body is prepared to do.
See you soon!
“We don’t believe there is one way to swing a club; we believe there is an infinite number of ways to swing a club. But we do believe there is one efficient way for all golfers to swing a club and it is based on what they can physically do.”
– Titleist Performance Institute
If you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in improving your physical condition to make more birdies, hit longer drives, and increase your longevity as a golfer. Or, perhaps, your goal is to become the best player in your club or win the next Match Play Championship. No matter what your motivation is, the fact is that if your goal is to improve your game, this will require you to prepare yourself a bit better than most golfers I know. And better does not necessarily mean training longer hours!
If you´re still one of those players who spends hours and hours hitting buckets of balls on the driving range hopping that this will help you improve your golf game, you need to change your strategy. Hitting buckets of balls in the driving range and making chips and putts is not enough. If you truly want to improve your performance in this sport, your practice needs to include general athletic development exercises and specific physical training for golf, in a progressive and periodized manner.
This means that what you normally see in the gym has nothing to do with what you need to do to hit farther, straighter and to go through the 18 holes without getting so tired.
First: Is your swing efficient?
The only way to determine whether your golf swing is efficient or not is through a 3D Biomechanical Analysis. What we can see in the traditional video imaging used by most golf professionals / teachers is just the swing style. There are many golfers who do not have a particularly attractive swing (e.g. Raymond Floyd, Jim Furyk or John Daly) but the reason why these players were or are successful is because their swing is efficient. Having an efficient swing for a golfer means transferring energy (without leaks) through the feet, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, arms, wrists down to the club head and ultimately to the ball. With the data obtained through the 3D system, we can check the kinematic sequence of each player, that is, we can measure the speed of rotation of each body segment involved in the execution of the golf swing and determine if each segment is accelerating and decelerating correctly.
When we look at Jim Furyk and Ernie Els swing through video analysis (and through the naked eye), we can see that both swings are quite different from each other, however, when we look at the kinematic sequence of each player, we find that it’s difficult to see a significant difference between the two swings. This means that although Ernie Els and Jim Furyk have completely different swing styles, they both share the same kinematic sequence.
All great players start by generating speed from the hips and transferring that energy through the torso, arms and club. This is the efficient sequence in the downswing.
The golf swing is a complex multi-dimensional movement that involves a highly coordinated action of the entire kinetic chain (feet, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, arms and wrists) and takes less than two seconds. The golf swing is therefore a ballistic movement which, in order to perform efficiently (i.e. with a correct kinematic sequence), it’s necessary that the various body segments are properly prepared to deal with the inherent shear and rotation forces in this movement. Hence the importance of what follows.
Second: The Physical Assessment in Golf
Before we get to the physical training itself, it’s important to know what your physical limitations and asymmetries in terms of movement are (one of the main causes of injury). Because of this, it’s essential that you perform a functional assessment for golf, preferably with a qualified professional that knows what he’s doing. In the same way that you go to the doctor for exams to find out how your health markers are, you should also do an initial assessment with a golf fitness specialist to find out how your body behaves during a golf swing and which are the main limitations / compensations.
The physical evaluation in golf consists of performing several tests in order to measure the functionality of the body movement patterns necessary for golf, that is, the measurement of various indicators of its stability, mobility, balance and various performance parameters such as strength, power and cardiovascular capacity.
This type of assessment is the starting point for playing better and for preventing injuries. If you still think that your body is fine and that you don’t need any intervention at this level, you’re more likely to be wrong. Our body was not designed to lead the way we live today, so you can be pretty sure there are things in your body that need some work. If you still do not believe me, think of golfers you know who have never complained of back pain or pain in another part of the body (wrists, shoulders, elbow).
Your body is the determining piece of equipment in your game. The quality of the clubs, balls, gloves, shoes and the latest drive or putt on the market, are certainly not the most important aspects. I still see many golfers too preoccupied with the new gadgets and the style of clothing, when in fact these are not the most important things to get more birdies. What will, in fact, bring you better results is improving your body’s functional skills to hit the ball more efficiently and safely.
Many players fail to perform an efficient golf swing not only because the movement itself is complex but also because their bodies are not properly prepared to deal with the forces generated during the movement.
Keep this in mind the next time you hit balls or have a lesson with your golf teacher, maybe that’s why you can’t do what your teacher asks you to do. There is no point constantly insisting on improving technique if there is no synergistic effort in improving physical skills. The swing you can perform is directly related to what your body is prepared to do – think of the golf club as an extension of your body.
In the next articles I will share the most common characteristics in this relationship between the body and the golf swing and suggest some exercises so that you can improve your performance on the golf course.