Nutrition for the Golfer: What to Eat, and When to Eat It

Guest post by: Lisa Galbraith

Playing a full round of golf is physically demanding: if you walk the full course instead of using a cart, you’re looking at a walk of at least five miles at a low to moderate exercise intensity, plus periods of higher intensity during swings. Over a full 18-hole course, you’ll expend 2,000 to 2,500 calories. The physical demands of the sport mean that it’s important to prepare for a game just as any other athlete would prepare for a workout or game. Many people use warm-up exercises to get the blood pumping and loosen up their muscles for a better range of motion in their swing—but far fewer people pay attention to the nutrition factor. In fact, nutrition and hydration can make a significant difference in how well you play. Many amateur golfers find their performance starts to slip on the back nine, or even earlier, and for the most part, it’s all about nutrition.

Maintaining a Performance-Enhancing Diet

Athletes eat for performance, and maintaining a healthy diet can definitely help to improve the way you play golf. The connections aren’t necessarily obvious, but most of the vitamins, minerals, and trace elements that the body needs for good health are also of use to you as a golfer. Calcium and potassium, for example, are crucial for muscle function: a deficiency in either of these nutrients means that muscles don’t operate efficiently, and can lead to muscle weakness and muscle cramps. While it’s not necessary to consume vast amounts of protein the way body-builders do, or load up on carbs every day like long-distance runners or cyclists, eating consistently for good health will help give you the strength, endurance, and mental clarity that you need to maintain your performance over the course of a game.

Eating Before a Round

Even if you’re maintaining a healthy diet, it’s still important to be selective about what and when you eat before you play—especially considering your increased caloric requirements on a game day. Ideally you’ll want to eat a good meal three or four hours before tee time, with complex carbs and good quality fat and protein. Think pasta with lean meat and vegetables, along with a couple of glasses of water to help you reach maximum hydration. Eating several hours before tee time is important, however—your body needs time to digest this meal, otherwise you may end up feeling sluggish during the game. Eat a small snack an hour before the game, and you’ll be good to go. If you have trouble keeping up with your increased calorie requirements on a game day, another option is a nutritional shake with carbs and protein powder such as organic whey, with the added advantages of easy preparation and portability. A well-balanced shake can serve as a pre-game snack, or as a means of sustaining energy levels during play, and it’s also a useful addition to an ongoing nutrition plan.

Keeping up Your Energy Levels While you Play

Keeping your energy levels up, and staying hydrated, throughout a game is important too, particularly when you consider that you’re expending what amounts to an entire day’s worth of calories on the course. The average moderately-active person burns around 2,000 calories a day, and you’re pretty much doubling that figure when you play a round of golf—so it’s important to pay attention to your energy levels while playing. The best foods to eat contain complex carbohydrates, as well as small amounts of fat and protein. Trail mix, with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, for example, is a great option. Aim to eat around 30 grams of carbohydrates per hour that you play.

Dehydration is the single most common nutritional deficiency that you risk during a game. Keeping your fluid intake up is crucial, especially during warm weather, and even more so if it’s hot enough to cause you to sweat. In general you should aim to drink around 100 mls of liquid every ten minutes, and more in hot weather. Remember that by the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, so don’t wait for thirst before drinking. Plain water is typically fine, but if you don’t like the idea of eating on the course, sports drinks are an adequate replacement, since they provide carbohydrates and electrolytes along with the liquid. The carbs these drinks provide is typically sugar, however, which isn’t exactly a high-quality energy source—drinking water and eating small snacks with good-quality carbohydrates is generally a better solution.


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  1. Great Post. Nutrition is extremely important to play at the elite level. If you watch the pros, they are eating something every 6th hole or so. Plus, they are always drinking something. Thanks for the reminder.


  2. Great post Lisa! I’ll bet that most amateurs had no idea they were “expending what amounts to an entire day’s worth of calories on the course” If you are a serious golfer who wants to improve on your golf scores, NUTRITION and HYDRATION should be close to the top of your list when preparing for your next round of golf.

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