Hot to become a more athletic golfer
One 2001 TV broadcast of This is the PGA Tour in the US noted that, in the past, “’golfer’ and ‘athlete’ were rarely mentioned in the same breath”. Times change, however. “On today’s PGA Tour, they are one and the same. Players are concentrating more on their health, nutrition and mental game.”
The programme asked the question, “How many players can reach the benchmark Tiger Woods has set?” For many, the answer is “none” – at least this generation – but that doesn’t mean the Garcias, Duvals, Westwoods and Scotts are not trying. Equally, Woods’ benchmark is a worthy model for amateur golfers to heed – if not to aspire to realistically.
For Dr Pernille Knudtzon, a Danish GP specialising in nutrition and acupuncture, Woods is “an example of how relaxed and concentrated you can be on the course, the result of a good diet and lifestyle”.
The key, especially important for golfers and other sportspeople, is “baseline food”: i.e. pure proteins, fats, specific carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals. If these are present in sufficient quantities in a golfer’s diet, he or she can then, like Woods, indulge in the occasional hamburger.
“If you have good baseline food, you can play for four, five or six hours, but you still have to eat something after three hours and also drink water throughout the round – though not too much because your body won’t feel right.”
She notes that golf is different to other sports such as tennis and short-distance athletics because it involves varying paces of exercise.
“The thing about golf is you walk a long distance, stop, concentrate, hit the ball, walk another long distance, etc. To be a good golfer you have to be in control of every muscle fibre of your body: ‘slow’ (red) for replenishing oxygen on the walks between shots; and ‘fast’ (white) for quicker movements such as hitting the ball.
“If you are not in shape you will overuse the muscles and cause a build up of acid, which is very common in sport, so the key elements are training and supply.”
“Supply” depends on a variety of factors.
“If you are going to be out on the course for five hours, you don’t want to start with fast carbohydrates such as chocolate and sweets,” says Dr Knudtzon. “If you only eat a chocolate or candy bar, for a ‘quick fix’, the blood sugar level will rise too quickly, and drop just as quickly, and you will crave for more and become worn out. You have to maintain a consistent level of supply.” However, if you are in a “stress situation” or having to “peak perform” – for example, on the final hole – go for it; it’s okay to have fast carbohydrates.”
“Medium-fast” foods such as bananas are particularly popular with golfers, because they are a fruit, are not too heavy and “give the feeling of having something in the stomach”. Though a “faster” food, oranges are also recommended because they have the dual benefit of being a liquid. And calcium, phosphorous, magnesium are ideal for improving concentration. (The slower carbohydrates include bread and vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, onions and beans.)
Not surprisingly, Dr Knudtzon advises against a heavy breakfast or meal before heading out on to the course. “The blood will go to the stomach and you will need time to relax and let the blood go to the head (for concentration) and the legs.”
She recommends a light snack for breakfast: yoghurt, juice, perhaps a tiny amount of bacon and scrambled eggs or a boiled egg – which provides protein for hours. “It really depends on what you normally eat – if anything – for breakfast.
“Having only a coffee for breakfast is like kick-starting an engine and expecting it to run without fuel. Coffee stimulates metabolism and, if there is no food to digest, the body will become stressed, especially the liver and blood sugar system.”
Dr Knudtzon warns that inadequate diets are causing potential health problems among the young. “Diabetes type 2 used to be restricted to heavy drinkers and overweight people in their 40s and 50s: now it is affecting teenagers, including Europeans.”
She says the “Mediterranean diet” is still highly recommended but notes that it is invariably accompanied by Coke and chips, white bread and too much fried food (for example, fried fish and chips). “To be a true, original Mediterranean diet it should comprise fish a la plancha (grilled), fresh vegetables, fruit – and olive oil on salads, not used for frying. Again, food metabolism depends on physical activity: if you are a heavy manual worker you can metabolise and remove the energy from the fat: if you are sitting down at a computer all day, you can’t burn it up.”
Dr Knudtzon suggests that “serious” golfers take a blood test to determine their levels of minerals, red blood cells (for oxygen), proteins (for muscles), fats, etc. – then have their doctor prepare a taylor-made diet.
It won’t turn them into a Tiger Woods, but it might shave a stroke or two off their
The mental game
Apart from nutrition, Dr Pernille Knudtzon has also closely studied the mental side of sport. As with musicians (one of her clients is a Danish violinist), it is important for sportspeople to stay calm and relaxed, she says. “One champion expressed his strategy for making golf easier: he sets his sights on the next hole like a zoom lens on a camera. He makes the distance in his mind shorter, the hole bigger and the ball smaller.”
Dr Knudtzon recalls an interview with a top baseball player who said he visualised the ball slowing down as it approached him. “It is the same with golfers. Being a good golfer is all about learning to control your own state – controlling pulse, breathing rate, muscles, etc. With a golf stroke you can see if everything is harmonic, if everything is aligned.”
She stresses three key aspects of the mind game:
• control of state of mind: be resourceful and limit negative thoughts.
• strategy: which includes certain techniques and behaviour.
• belief: “believe you can do it; Woods wants to win in every fibre of his body and mind”.
• rapport: “be in control within yourself and when handling the golf club”.
According to Dr Knudtzon, players and especially coaches should be aware of the temperament of a golfer: phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine or melancholic.
Phlegmatic golfers are advised to have a caffeine-based drink (or Red Bull with its taurin); cholerics require proteins to help maintain a steady balance; sanguine players should stay away from sugar, but need fats to calm down; and those in the melancholic category need a “pep up” with a candy bar or other sugar-based food.