You've probably been told to ditch the pre-round bagel and orange juice and avoid a soda or sports drink at the turn. "They're bad for you," you've heard. But if you've ever wondered why eating simple carbs like refined flour products, cereals and high-sugar drinks and snacks hurt your golf game, it goes beyond the message of "empty calories."
It's what they do to your brain, says Matt Jones, a nutritionist who works with some European Tour golfers as well as many other professional athletes.
To simplify the science behind how nutrition impacts athletic performance, focus on two well-known neurotransmitters—serotonin and dopamine, Jones says. When you eat processed foods loaded with simple carbohydrates, the concentration of an amino acid called tryptophan increases in the bloodstream. When tryptophan passes the blood-brain barrier, it's rapidly converted into serotonin.
"On the other hand, dopamine is associated with cognition, mood, memory, attention and learning," Jones says. "Following consumption of a meal low in carbohydrates but high in quality protein and fat, the concentration of dopamine increases."
This occurs because protein/fat whole foods increase levels of the amino acid tyrosine into the blood. And this quickly accelerates the synthesis of dopamine the same way tryptophan impacts serotonin, Jones says.
So the message here is to eat quality protein (eggs, chicken, salmon, nuts) and heart-healthy fat (avocado, nuts) before you play. Complex carbs (fruit, vegetables, beans) are OK, too. Improve your diet and you'll have an easier time focusing on shots, recalling key feelings on how to execute them, and concentrating over those must-make putts.
Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.