Here's how improving your gut health can have a positive impact on your golf game. Don't believe us? Let Dr Caitlin Hall explain.
Gut health and golf, what’s the link?
Gut bacteria and golf may seem like an unusual pairing, but there is more connection than you might think. Thanks to recent research, we know that the activity of the gut microbiome (the trillions of bacteria that live in our gut) has a significant impact on multiple dimensions of our physical and mental health.
The gut microbiome is responsible for several crucial functions, including regulating inflammation, boosting immune function and preventing injury. This is especially important for golfers who need to maintain a rigorous training schedule and recover quickly.
Studies have shown that gut bacteria can also influence mood, stress levels, and cognitive function. In golf, where mental fortitude is just as critical as physical strength, optimising the gut microbiome can help improve mental focus and calm any nerves.
Luckily, unlike genetics, the gut microbiome is highly modifiable, making it a great target to deliver performance improvements. Even small adjustments to nutrition and a basic understanding of how the gut interacts with the brain and body can deliver a significant competitive advantage for amateur and professional golfers alike.
Energy levels and propionate: Fueling endurance
Let’s dive a little into the science.
Consider it this way: when playing 18 holes of golf, the body and the brain requires a considerable amount of energy from nutrients in our food. But, unless we have a healthy and diverse gut microbiome, these nutrients will not be fully extracted from the food and absorbed into the blood.
The activity of beneficial bacteria present in the gut - which plays a key role in the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) - are affected by diet. SCFAs are tiny molecules produced by gut bacteria from the prebiotic fibre in our food. SCFAs help maintain a healthy gut lining, regulate inflammation, and support the immune response.
Propionate is one of these SCFAs - think of it as a powerhouse for the cells lining your colon. Not only can it enhance nutrient absorption, but it’s produced by a ‘lactate eating’ microbe and has been directly linked to enhancing athletic performance. By delaying muscle fatigue and controlling energy release, propionate helps provide players with the fuel they need to stay at the top of their game.
A perfect place for golfers to boost their propionate levels is at the halfway house! Instead of grabbing a bacon roll or sugary treat, opt for a high fibre snack like a banana, nuts, or a muesli bar to support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and improve physical stamina for the remainder of your game.
Nurturing cognitive clarity
Playing golf demands concentration, thoughtful planning, and strategic execution. While it shouldn’t be stressful, when it comes to competition time or a few missed putts, the pressure can pile up. By engaging your mind and reducing stress and anxiety, you can maintain your focus on the game and ultimately improve shot-outcome.
Feeding your gut with a large variety of fibre-rich food will help you stay calm and focused, even during high-pressure situations. Reducing stress levels and getting enough sleep will also help to activate the 'rest and digest' state, which reduces gut inflammation and increases SCFA production by the microbiota.
Women and gut health: Understanding vulnerabilities
When it comes to playing golf, men and women have different strengths and abilities due to physical differences. Similarly, men and women also have different types of bacteria in their gut, which can be affected by their sex hormones. This can lead to different health challenges: irritable bowel syndrome and autoimmune diseases are both more prevalent in women.
Women may also experience unique challenges with gut health, including a higher propensity for inflammation and bloating, due to hormonal fluctuations throughout their menstrual cycle, and during pregnancy and menopause.
Improving the variety of bacteria in the gut can help proactively reduce these irritable symptoms in women, as the gut is responsible for the production of anti-inflammatory molecules. Essentially, a gut with a more diverse microbiome can lead to fewer gut-related discomforts for female golfers.
Gut tips to enhance your golfing skills
Now we’ve explored the importance of looking after your gut as a golfer, what are some tips that you can follow to improve both your gut health and your performance?
- Stay hydrated: Hydration is crucial for optimal performance on the golf course. Make sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your game.
- Include fibre-rich foods: Fibre plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy gut by supporting digestion, regulating bowel movements, and nourishing beneficial gut bacteria. Prebiotic fibres are the perfect fuel for your gut bacteria, and can be found abundantly in asparagus, onions, garlic and leeks. Try sprinkling some nuts and seeds onto your morning yogurt, or a smoothie to pack in the nutrients. Or, for a quick and simple way to meet your daily fibre requirements, try a prebiotic supplement like myota.
- Experiment with meal timing: Experiment with different meal timings and sizes to determine what provides you with sustained energy throughout your game. It's a good idea to wait at least 3-4 hours after a big meal before heading onto the course, and to include a source of prebiotic fibre on your plate. This gives your digestive system enough time to move the food you ate through your body smoothly and effectively, and the fibre reduces the blood sugar spike and crash that carbohydrate-heavy meals can trigger.
- Practice mindfulness and deep breathing: Stress can impact digestion and overall gut health. Incorporate mindfulness or deep breathing techniques into your pre-game routine to reduce stress levels and improve your gut health.
So, next time you're on the golf course, remember to pay attention to your gut health. By taking care of your microbiome, you can stay focused, energised, and on top of your game!