The Core

How food choices can af­fect your scores.

Golf Digest (Malaysia) - - Contents - BY RON KASPRISKE

You’re tired. You’re ag­i­tated. You’re hun­gry. You’re strug­gling to con­cen­trate. This round feels more like yard work than a pleas­ant stroll. Ques­tion: How re­fresh­ing was that Ga­torade you had be­fore tee­ing off ? Was your bagel toasted just right?

It’s no mys­tery why you feel like crap. It’s science. Your body is des­per­ately try­ing to re­gain con­trol of itself af­ter you set off a sugar bomb in your blood­stream. First, your glu­cose level spiked. That prob­a­bly oc­curred about 30 min­utes af­ter you teed off. Then, to bring the amount of sugar in your blood­stream down, your body re­leased the hor­mone insulin to process it. But with a mas­sive insulin re­lease comes all those phys­i­cal re­ac­tions that just led to your third dou­ble bo­gey.

“When you crash from a sig­nif­i­cant re­lease of insulin, you also get a re­lease of cor­ti­sol, and that trig­gers a flight-or­fight re­sponse,” says Dr. Ara Sup­piah, a sports-medicine ex­pert and team doc­tor for the 2016 U.S. Ry­der Cup team. Sup­piah is a med­i­cal ad­vi­sor to sev­eral play­ers on the PGA Tour. “When the body’s sur­vival mech­a­nism kicks in, your abil­ity to con­trol the in­tri­cate and com­plex move­ments of a golf swing, let alone focus over an im­por­tant putt, be­come so much more dif­fi­cult than if your blood-sugar level re­mained rel­a­tively steady and in a healthy range.”

The in­flu­ence of food and drink on per­for­mance is not golfdi­gest­malaysia widely un­der­stood, so Sup­piah de­cided to spend some time with his golfers check­ing their blood-sugar lev­els as they played and to ob­serve how they re­sponded when their lev­els were brought back down by insulin. He took read­ings ev­ery four holes on play­ers such as Hen­rik Sten­son and Gary Wood­land. He found that there were great vari­ances in when the crash oc­curred and how long it lasted, but all his play­ers ex­pe­ri­enced bad side ef­fects.

“They all re­ported feel­ing slug­gish and strug­gling to focus,” Sup­piah says. “But the quicker the blood-sugar level came down as a re­sult of an insulin re­lease, the more of­ten they re­ported feel­ing tired and, be­lieve it or not, hun­gry even though they just ate. It was very dis­tract­ing to per­for­mance.”

Know­ing this, Sup­piah’s ad­vice is to stop and think be­fore you eat or drink some­thing dur­ing a round. That’s not to say you should avoid calo­ries when you play. On the con­trary, you have to get some­thing in your sys­tem or fa­tigue will set in—even if you ride in a golf cart. Just don’t eat or drink things that are high in sugar. “Ideally, you don’t want to raise your blood-sugar level be­yond 120, and a good range is be­tween 65 and 85,” Sup­piah says. “I re­al­ize you’re not go­ing to be mon­i­tor­ing this num­ber while you play, but you can avoid sug­ary choices.”

Some of those things might sur­prise you. Plain, white-flour prod­ucts (bagels, pret­zels, sand­wich bread) can eas­ily trig­ger a re­ac­tion. Even seem­ingly healthy snacks like raisins and grapes should be avoided.

An or­ange Ga­torade has a Glycemic In­dex (GI) score of 89, not all that far from ta­ble sugar (100). But keep in mind that GI tells only part of the story. Some foods are high on the GI, such as water­melon (72), but you’d have to eat a sig­nif­i­cant amount to spike your sugar level. Re­searchers at Har­vard dis­tin­guished be­tween GI and some­thing they called “glycemic load,” which takes into ac­count por­tion size. Any­thing rated 20 or higher will likely cause a sugar spike and then a crash, but even foods in the 11 to 19 range can be iffy. Water­melon’s glycemic load is 3.6.

One way to counter the ef­fects of high-glycemic foods is to com­bine them with fatty foods. This tem­pers the insulin re­ac­tion. If you’re eat­ing a tu­nasalad sand­wich on white bread, you’ll have a milder re­ac­tion if it has may­on­naise on it. If you must have a Coke, drink it with a burger. A good for­mula to re­mem­ber: If the to­tal grams of pro­tein, fat and fiber are higher than the to­tal grams of car­bo­hy­drates, you’re in the safe zone.

What if you feel like you’re start­ing to crash from a sugar high dur­ing a round? Eat a small snack: a meal-re­place­ment bar, some trail mix, a ba­nana. “Seems coun­ter­in­tu­itive to eat some more,” Sup­piah says, “but it will help stall the ef­fects of the crash.”

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