The oft-asked question of what to eat during a round of golf should be answered with another question, says sports nutritionist Matt Jones.
"What hole are you on?"
What Jones means is that your dietary needs change as the round progresses.
"Before a round begins, you should consume a meal rich in protein (eggs, meat, fish), healthy fats (salmon, avocado, nuts), low-glycemic complex carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables and beans, and small quantities of whole-grain starches such as potatoes, quinoa, rice or whole-grain breads," says Jones, who works with several players on the European Tour. "But once a round begins, what you consume should reflect how far along you are."
On the course, he says his "Super 6 Strategy" is your best bet for optimal performance. If you choose to eat during the first six holes, your goal is to stabilize energy levels. That means you'll want to eat low-carbohydrate foods. Fruits such as apples, pears, oranges or berries can be paired with a handful of nuts, for example. The fiber in the fruit and the fat in the nuts digest slowly to keep your energy level from varying.
The objective over the next six holes (seven to 12) is to maintain energy levels with foods or snacks that provide a balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat. For the more adventurous, homemade protein bars or balls are a great option (Matt included his recipe below). If you're not into cooking, go with a whole-grain sandwich with peanut butter, tuna or chicken. A simple whey protein shake (add banana) also is a good option.
The nutritional goal over the final six holes is to provide a surge of energy to finish well and maintain concentration over clutch shots. The use of higher-carbohydrate snacks such as dried fruit, or even a low-sugar sports drink is recommended. These options provide instant energy to the muscles and brain. The addition of caffeine also can help, as it stimulates the central nervous system, heightening alertness and concentration. Black coffee or tea is ideal.
While Jones concedes it's unrealistic to think a golfer will eat three different meals during a round, he does maintain that at least one meal is crucial. Natural beef jerky is a great option early in the round. A protein bar, fruit or nuts would be wise choices in the middle of the round. And late in the round, he says quick-energy sources are OK. He wouldn't endorse reaching for a chocolate bar, but that would suffice in a pinch.
And what about post round? While a pint of beer sounds great, keep in mind that it will impair muscle recovery and promote dehydration.
"The post-round meal should be similar to the pre-round meal," he says. "Quality protein, healthy fat, low-glycemic complex carbohydrates, and slightly larger portions of starchy carbohydrates to help restore energy levels. And drink a lot of water."
Here is his recipe for homemade snack balls:
200g of rolled oats
100g peanut or almond butter
150g vanilla or chocolate whey protein powder
1 handful raspberries
3 tablespoons of honey
2 tablespoons of mixed nuts
150ml of almond milk
(makes about 15 balls)
Mix all dry ingredients in large mixing bowl. Add all other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Shape into balls similar in size to golf balls, place on plate and cool in fridge for three hours. Remove, wrap in aluminum foil, and return to refrigerator.