The Healthy Golfer Diet – Part 2

HealthyWelcome back to my series of posts titled The Healthy Golfer’s Diet.  In the first post in this series I argued that in order to be a healthy golfer we must first be healthy people and I outlined a template for what could be considered a generic, healthy diet for the general population.  This template simply outlined types of foods that are beneficial for us and types of foods that are detrimental for u.  No specifics on amounts were provided as this can vary greatly from person to person depending on biochemical individuality.  Today’s post will outline more specific dietary considerations for golfer’s related to recovery, reducing pain and inflammation, and optimizing energy levels.

The Healthy Golfers Diet

As mentioned, the healthy human diet only mentions types of foods to avoid; it does not mention anything regarding the amount of macronutrients to eat (fat, carbohydrates, and protein) like so many fad diets out there.  Key point, the above diet is not a fad diet; it should be considered a lifelong way of eating.  That being said, some considerations for golfer do involve the amount of macronutrients you are eating.

Carbohydrate Amount & Type

If you don’t eat for 2 or more hours do your get shaky, hangry, weak, brain fog, fatigue, or other out of the ordinary symptoms? If so, your metabolism is likely off.  Everyone has enough fat stores in their body to provide energy for a long time, there are even clinical studies of obese people not eating for months, and even a year, to lose weight. Ultimately, there is no way anyone with a healthy adaptable metabolism should feel the above symptoms after missing one meal, or a full day of meals for that matter.  This problem is even worse when you are on the golf course, particularly in a tournament.  If you are shaky, weak, and can’t think straight, you will not play well.

The reason some people feel this way after a short period without food is because their metabolism is used to getting a constant stream of refined and highly dense carbohydrates (sugars, flours, and grains).  Over time this causes a reliance on sugar instead of being able to efficiently utilize fat for energy; which, by the way, should be the major source of energy at rest and during low level exercise.

But don’t stress, restoring your metabolism is easy and can occur within less than a month of taking the below steps.

  • Follow the above “Healthy Human Diet”
  • Only eat 20% or less of your calories from carbohydrates.
    • FIRST…the only sources of carbohydrates you should eat are starchy tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, plantains, etc) and whole fruit.
    • Based on an average caloric intake of 2000-3000 calories, 20% would be 400-600 calories from carbohydrates. At 4 calories per gram, this would equal eating 100-150 grams of carbs each day.  In practical terms, 150 grams of carbohydrate from real food would look like this.
      • 1 cup of sweet potato (27 grams)
      • 1 cup potato (26 grams)
      • 1 medium banana (27 grams)
      • 1 apple (25 grams)
      • 2 cup carrots (24 grams)
      • 1 cup blueberries (21 grams)

High fat, low carbohydrate diets have been shown to increase fat metabolism (1, 2) at lower exercise intensity levels…guess what intensity level golf is considered?  They also have anti-inflammatory effects, basically curing diabetes and metabolic syndrome which are strongly associated with inflammation.  It can even be argued that very low carbohydrate diets can improve cognitive function (1, 2) via neuroprotective mechanisms such as improving brain energy metabolism and having anti-inflammatory effects.  Sounds like potential for improving your golf game to me.

Important: You will note that some of the references provided are based on ketogenic diets (less than 50 grams carbs per day).  This can be a healthy long term diet; however, for those of you (like say Justin Johnson and Rory McIlroy) who do high intensity workouts daily, a diet consisting of 20-25% carbohydrates, at least on workout days, is recommended.  In fact, if you are currently at a healthy weight and have a healthy metabolism, a cyclic ketogenic diet may be a good option.  This is where you do ketogenic on your workout days off, or you can do ketogenic for mon-fri and then not on the weekend.

Fat Amount and Type

Dietary fat is essential for a number of physiological processes.  It is the main component of our cell membranes, provides nerve insulation, is a precursor to our sex hormones, is necessary for the absorption and utilization of many vitamins and minerals, is a huge energy source for our body and brains (via ketones), and makes up the majority of our brain.  So, pretty much essential to life.

Not only do our cells need basic structure (cell walls) to function, they also need energy.  Part of restoring the natural adaptability of our metabolism, along with carbohydrate considerations (see above), is supplying sufficient amounts of fat.  For our muscles and hearts, the preferred source of fat is saturated fat, we even store excess energy in our bodies as saturated fat for later use.  For our brain, after glucose, the preferred source of fuel is ketone bodies (made in our liver and brain from fat).  In fact, when the brain is using ketones for energy (when one eats low carbohydrates or ketogenic diets or does intermittent fasting) it is actually more efficient, creating less free radicals, protecting brain cells (1, 2), and improving cognition.

With lower carbohydrate diets (less than 20% of calories) energy supply will need to come from fat intake; therefore, a fat intake of 50-80% of calories is appropriate.  The exact amount will differ based on carbohydrate and protein intake.  Remember everyone is different so experimentation with percentages is necessary as some people will feel amazing eating 80% fat and 20% protein with next to no carbs at all, while others will do better with 50% fat, 20% carbohydrates, and 30% protein.

Important: Do NOT drive yourself crazy thinking about % of calories, just eat more or less of each type of macronutrient based on how you are feeling and your hunger level.  Also, make sure you only eat the types of fat outlined in the “Healthy Human Diet”, and please remember that saturated fat is good for you!  In fact, it may be the best option for fueling your body for low level cardiovascular activity like golf.

Structural Body Recovery & Pain Support

Our structural body, things like bones, muscles, ligaments, and joints are very important for physical performance.  Not only do we want them running efficiently and effectively, but we also don’t want unnecessary inflammation that causes pain, limiting our ability to move at our best.  Don’t get me wrong, inflammation is actually required for muscle recovery and adaptation to increasing demands (think progressively increasing weights in the gym over time); however, problems arise when inflammation is not properly regulated by the immune system and it causes chronic pain and conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia.  Now, this is very important…contrary to popular belief, pain from arthritis, muscle weakness, and other body pains are not normal conditions of aging for healthy people!

Protein

Protein is called the building blocks of our body for a reason.  The main structural component of our bone, muscle, and ligaments/tendons is protein, more specifically, a protein named collagen is essential for bone and ligament/tendon (think joints) health.  Anywhere is the neighbourhood of 20-35% of calories from protein should be sufficient for structural health (don’t eat more than 35%).  However, if you are very active off the course, aim for a higher intake, closer to 30%.  That would equal about a 9 ounce piece of meat or fish with each meal.  The key point here is don’t skimp on the protein, more is likely better.  Also, since animal fat is healthy and required to fuel or body (see above), choosing fatty cuts of meat is a good thing.

Special Protein – Collagen

Collagen is an amazing protein the makes up the majority of our bone and connective tissue, including our skin.  Sufficient amounts of collagen are therefore essential for healthy bones, joints, and skin (limits wrinkles).  Two of the amino acids that make up collagen, glycine and proline, play important roles, not only in structural health, but also in wound healing, detoxification, digestion and intestinal health, the immune system, the antioxidant system, DNA and RNA synthesis, red blood cells synthesis, energy production (creatine synthesis), as well as glucogenesis (making sugar from fat or protein) (1).

This one gets a bit detailed so bear with me.  There is evidence that a high animal protein diet increases homocysteine levels which is arguably a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and inflammation; however, sufficient intake of glycine, or glycine supplementation, has been shown to normalize homocysteine levels in the presence of a high protein intake (1, 2).  Unfortunately, North Americans have moved away from the traditional nose to tail way of eating animals to only eating lean cuts.  Not only does this create waste products, which I do feel is lack of respect/gratefulness for the animal who gave its life to nourish us, but those waste products (bones, skin, connective tissue, offal, etc.) contain extremely important nutrients, in this case collagen/glycine.  This is one (there are many reasons) of the reasons why some traditional populations could eat higher protein diets without evidence of cardiovascular disease.  Interestingly, glycine intake also mimics the life extending characteristics of caloric restriction in rodents, likely due to its ability to normalize homocysteine levels.  Please note that there is no evidence in larger mammals (including humans) that long term caloric restriction prolongs life and I would not suggest trying it.  Intermittent fasting is a whole other story though.

So, if you want to have healthy joints, live longer, look younger, and feel younger, eat gelatinous cuts of meats and….this is the big one, DRINK 1 CUP of BONE BROTH DAILY.  If this really isn’t doable for you, find an organic, grass-fed, hydrolysed collagen protein powder.

Glucosamine

No doubt you have heard of glucosamine.  Evidence indicates that it helps joint pain in a number of ways including reducing inflammation, reducing joint tissue damage/degeneration, and increasing joint lubrication.  Along with the wonderful protein collagen, glucosamine is also found in bone broth which is another reason why daily bone broth is my number one suggestion for helping with joint pain and recovery.

Vitamins and Minerals

Protein isn’t the only important nutrient for bone health: vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, vitamin A, the B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, phosphorus, boron, and silicon play important roles in regulating bone health and strength.  To ensure you are getting enough of these vitamins and minerals, be sure to eat at least 8-10 servings of real vegetables each day (remember, ketchup isn’t a vegetable).  Additionally, vitamins D, K, A, and E are fat soluble vitamins, meaning that in order to be properly absorbed and utilized by our body, they must be eaten with fat.  This should be no problem if you follow the above suggestions.  Colorful vegetables are also high in antioxidants and will help regulate inflammation and reduce pain.

Anti-Inflammatory Considerations

By following the suggestions already presented in this article, you will make huge gains in reducing diet based inflammatory triggers.  Hopefully this relates to improved physical, mental, and emotional performance.  However, there are some other specific anti-inflammatory tactics to consider.

Omega 6 to 3 Ratio

Plenty of evidence suggests that a high Omega 6 to Omega 3 intake ratio is associated with higher levels of systemic inflammation.  Over that past few decades North Americans have been following government recommendations to reduce total fat and saturated fat intake and have instead switched to industrial seed oils, high in Omega 6 fat, leading to ratios of greater than 20 to 1, in favor of Omega 6, versus our evolutionary norm of 2 to 1 or 1 to 1.  Not only has the intake of industrial seed oils increased, they are mainly used for deep frying and cooking which leads to the destruction of important antioxidants, creating free radicals.  Most importantly, high intake of oxidized industrial oils is linked to cardiovascular disease and inflammation.  By avoiding industrial seed oils and packaged foods as well as eating only the forms of fat outlined in the Healthy Human Diet you will significantly reduce your Omega 6 intake, most importantly, your intake of oxidized Omega 6.  On top of that, ensuring 2-3 meals of Omega 3 rich fatty wild fish per week will have your ratio dialed in perfectly.

Turmeric

If you haven’t heard of turmeric by now, you have been living under a rock.  Turmeric has strong anti-inflammatory actions and has been shown to reduce pain and treat arthritis.  My suggestion is that you get used to using powdered or fresh turmeric in your meals on a regular basis.  If that is not possible, consider a turmeric supplement if you normally experience joint/muscle pain.

Nightshades

The nightshades are members of a family of plants called Solanaceae and represent a huge number of different plants.  The ones most common to our diet include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers (all types).  Similar to soy and refined flours, nightshades are considered a newcomer to human diets.  In that past many nightshade vegetables, like the tomatoes, were only ornamental as they were thought to be poisonous; in fact, the leaves of nightshades are indeed poisonous.  The tomato used to be called the love apple and the eggplant was called the mad apple based on the belief that it caused insanity.

It is true that some people can be sensitive to nightshades leading to a host of symptoms such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, constipation, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, joint pain, headaches, nausea, bloating, flatulence, IBS, anemia, etc.  However, before being overly concerned with nightshades, a general Healthy Human Diet should come first.

That being said, if you are following all the above suggestions and still experiencing ongoing muscle and joint pain you may consider removing nightshades from your diet.  For those with nightshade sensitivity, the problem comes from calcitrol and compounds called alkaloids contained in nightshades including: solanine, capsaicin, tomatine, and nicotine.  Calcitrol is an extremely powerful bioactive form of vitamin D and can lead to calcification of soft tissue (think arthritis) while the alkaloids can cause gastrointestinal, neurological disorders/symptoms and muscle/joint pain.

Below is a list of many common nightshade vegetables and fruits.  When experimenting with nightshade removal, avoiding as many of these foods as possible is best; however, those with nightshade sensitivity will have an individual tolerance level, meaning they will be able to intake a certain level of nightshades on a given day without symptoms…or…they may only have sensitivity to one or two nightshade vegetables and not others.

*The key here is to try and eliminate all of these foods for 1 month and then experiment with reintroducing one nightshade per week (as long as symptoms don’t return).*

Vegetables & Herbs Fruits
Banana Peppers, Cayenne, Chili Peppers, Eggplant, Habanero, Jalapeno Peppers, Paprika, Pimentos, Potatoes, Sweet Peppers, Thai Peppers, Tomatillos, and Ashwagandha.

 

Note: Yams, sweet potatoes and black pepper are NOT nightshades.

Tomatoes, Goji Berries/Wolfberry, Gooseberry/Cape, Gooseberry/Ground Cherry, Jerusalem Cherries, Pepino, and Tamarillo.

Stress Management

Believe it or not, emotional distress (like stress) triggers the physical stress response that is controlled by a glandular interaction called the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) axis.  Basically, physical or emotional stress causes the hypothalamus to trigger the pituitary to activate the adrenal gland to release cortisol and adrenalin which causes our body to prepare to fight or flight.  This is a very important mechanism to deal with occasional acute stressors (ex. Running from a bear or having to think your way out of a life threatening situation), but a problem arises when the HPA axis is chronically activated.  Some call it adrenal fatigue, but a more accurate term is HPA axis dysregulation.  Basically, we can begin to produce too much or too little cortisol at the wrong time, negatively impacting our physical, mental, and emotional abilities.  Specific to golf, fatigue, brain fog, and negative emotions are some of the symptoms that can impact our performance on the course.  Because these symptoms are chronic in nature, it is important not only to focus on stress management on the course, but also in our personal lives.  The best stress management technique will differ from person to person so experimenting with the below common techniques is your best bet.

  • The Healthy Human Diet: This will help with inflammation and hormone balance, both vital for optimal mental and physical health.
  • Meditation – I strongly suggest this as it not only can improve mood, stress, and physiological recovery from stress, it can also improve cognitive functioning such as concentration and creativity; both essential to high level golf.
  • Exercise – Yoga, walking, jogging, weightlifting (my personal fav), sprinting, hiking, playing a sport, cycling, etc, etc.
  • Social Clubs/Interactions – Humans are social beings and there is much evidence to supporting that a healthy social life and feelings of belonging are associated with better physical and emotional well-being.
  • Journaling
  • Listening to Music You Enjoy
  • Aromatherapy
  • Being in Nature (grounding)

I know this was a detailed article but hopefully it will prove helpful and insightful.  Stay tuned for the next article in the series that will provide some suggestions for supplements that can improve physical and mental performance on the course.

Sincerely,

The Barefoot Golfer

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