How food choices can affect your scores.
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.”