As far as sports go, golf may just be the most difficult athletic technical skillset to master. It requires learning an unnatural athletic motion that has to be used for power, finesse, and accuracy while using gross and fine motor skills, perception, and cognition.
There isn't any other athletic game that requires such an enormous range of technical skills. If you compare golf to all other sports that are played, most other sports use natural innate motions that fairly easy to initiate for the untrained:
Baseball - catching, throwing, swinging a bat
Football - passing, catching, running, tackling
Soccer - running, kicking a ball
Basketball - bouncing a ball, passing, catching, throwing the ball in a basket
The point is, is that most sports are much easier to learn and play for a level of enjoyment than is golf.
And in most sports, the importance of sports nutrition is emphasized as a key component for improving the athlete's level of performance. Most studies in athletes show that supplementation can improve athletic performance significantly. I would dare say that in golf, sports nutrition and its benefit have pretty much been ignored.
Perhaps the only individual who has touched on sports nutrition enhancing their game is Bryson Dechambeau. Bryson notably put on 40 pounds (not all of it muscle) drinking protein shakes and working with a trainer to add distance to his game.
Protein, and specifically whey protein, will improve muscle strength and performance but many other nutraceuticals can directly enhance the golf game. These can be used by not only the elite golfer but also by the average golfer who struggles to break 90.
Proper supplementation on the golf course can probably improve your game by 4-5%. That equates to shaving 4 strokes off your round. That would make the loop far more enjoyable.
In this treatise, we are going to discuss the healthy, legal supplements that have been proven in scientific studies to improve performance and how they will help your golf game.
First, we will discuss a little bit about how your muscles work in the game, what muscle actions specifically correlate with golf score improvement, and then finally the supplements that improve these actions.
How Muscles Work
Your muscles are made of fibers that slide and contract across each other and then relax and stretch. To function quickly, repetitively, and with strength, the muscles need fuel that allows the fibers to fire. As a result of the fibers firing and burning the fuel, waste is produced.
This is just like your car engine burning gasoline and producing carbon-monoxide waste. The higher the octane and the more gas you have, the harder and longer the engine will perform. Similarly, if the gaseous waste is blocked from getting out of the engine, the engine will fail.
The fuel your muscles use is called ATP. ATP comes from 3 biochemical processes in your muscles: one that is dependent upon the breakdown of sugar (glycolysis), one that is performed without the use of oxygen as a catalyst (anaerobic), and one that is dependent on oxygen as a catalyst (aerobic). (1)
The muscles use all 3 sources and there are advantages and disadvantages of each system. For example, glycolysis is fast but the sugar the muscles use is in short supply. Aerobic produces the most ATP but it is the slowest process. In addition, different muscle fiber types preferentially rely on different ATP production. So the muscles that fire the fastest tend to use the ATP system that is in short supply while the fibers that fire the slowest use the ATP system that is most abundant.
This is why your muscles can fire fiercely for a short period like in a sprint. It is also why you can jog for a much longer time.
As a result of the muscle firing, waste products such as lactic acid are produced. The burn you get in your muscles as a result of exercising them to failure is due to lactic acid accumulation. If the lactic acid lingers in the muscle, it impairs the muscles' ability to contract. (2)
One last component to understand is that your muscle fibers are always breaking down and reforming. It happens if you are exercising or not. This is called muscle protein breakdown (MPB) and muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Normally your body balances MPB and MPS. Everyday movement in the muscles provides stimulation for both MPB and MPS. When there is no movement, MPB dominates (think of how the muscles in an extremity shrink when it is in a cast).
MPS can slightly dominate when the body is provided protein. This can be further increased right after exercise because exercise primes the muscles to receive nourishment from protein. The goal for any athlete is to either maintain the MPB - MPS balance or tip the scales to MPS. (3) The reason being, you want to maintain your muscle mass.
Muscles, Brains, and Your Golf Score
For optimum athletic golf performance, the muscles must be able to fire explosively, have fine motor control, the brain needs to be able to zone in on the task and minimize neuro-muscular fatigue. (4)
Muscle function in golf directly correlates with scoring and performance and these have been evaluated both in the laboratory and under tournament conditions. Key statistical factors that determine scoring are greens in regulation (GIR), scrambling, and putts per GIR. (5)
On the PGA tour, there is tremendous variability in shot performance, however, what specifically correlates with tournament standing is driving accuracy and short approach shots. (6) We are going to briefly highlight a few key points.
When measuring driver carry, 5 iron accuracy, 5 iron distance, and putting results, researchers found that the results are directly correlated to abdominal muscle endurance. (7) Abdominal muscle endurance means how long the core muscles can fire. A way of measuring this would be to see how long you can hold a plank.
In addition, they found that core and peripheral muscle strength, power, and aerobic endurance (your cardio conditioning), were also directly correlated with driving, 5-iron, and putting performance.
As a result of similar studies, it is now well known that trunk exercises and particularly the golf-specific cable pull directly affect golf performance. (8). This works not only in the elite golfer but also in the high handicapper. (9) In fact, clubhead speed is directly correlated with, and can be improved by, trunk strength and endurance across all golf skill levels.
One other area muscle conditioning has been shown to affect clubhead speed and that is in leg vertical stiffness. (10) We are not talking about inflexibility. We are talking about the strength of the lower body to resist moving up and down when external forces are applied (Kvert). Greater stiffness is associated with higher clubhead speeds.
This doesn't mean that the lower body is stiff and doesn't move, it means that it resists the torsional forces of the upper body better and provides a more solid platform with which to interact with the ground.
As mentioned earlier, accuracy and consistency are the most important metrics when it comes to scoring and tournament performance. These are improved through golf-specific strength and conditioning programs. (11)
One final factor that affects performance is fatigue. This is different than muscle endurance and occurs within the brain, nerves, and the connection between the nerves and the muscles that they fire. (12)
As you exercise, certain neurotransmitters accumulate that decrease the functioning within the brain and neuromuscular junction. Subjectively you feel this as fatigue and the lack of desire to continue.
You may think this is psychological, but in reality, it is physiologic and as a result, it makes its way to your consciousness by telling you to stop or by affecting your focus and concentration.
Fatigue happens as a result of long periods of exercise and more commonly after successive days of exercise. It can be improved with conditioning. It can also be improved with nutritional supplementation as can muscle performance as we will see in the next section.
Supplements and Golf - 4 strokes better in one gulp.
We are going to dive into the supplements that have been proven in scientific trials to significantly improve athletic performance. They will improve your muscle performance and brain function for golf. These are well known throughout all sport disciplines but unfortunately, they have been overlooked by the 60 million participants in the golf community.
One important note, these supplements will not make you muscle-bound. That is an entirely different field of muscle science. These are designed to help make you stronger, hit with more power, enhance your accuracy, provide endurance, decrease fatigue and improve your focus and concentration.
HMB (Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate) is a naturally occurring metabolite within your muscles. It is formed as your body breaks down the amino acid leucine. HMB supplementation enhances muscle strength, power, aerobic performance, and fatigue resistance. (13) In addition, HMB helps prevent muscle breakdown caused by exercise and increases MPS. It also helps improve athletic recovery.
HICA (α-hydroxyisocaproic acid) is another metabolite that is found in the muscle after the breakdown of leucine. It works via a different pathway than HMB but is also noted to decrease muscle breakdown (14) thus aiding in muscle recovery.
PA (phosphatidic acid) is a fat that our cells use for signaling. When used as a supplement, athletes demonstrate improved strength. (15). Further, during weeks of intense training when athletes typically lose weight by muscle loss, PA enables athletes to maintain muscle mass.
Creatine is perhaps the first legal supplement that became popular amongst athletes; being brought to the fore by baseball star Mark MacGuire. It is the most studied supplement with over 300 published scientific articles detailing its safety and efficacy.
Creatine is well known for improving strength but it has other significant advantages as well. Creatine is used by the muscle to manufacture ATP so the muscle has more fuel for firing. (16) This is not only important for young athletes. We know that the fast biochemical processes for ATP formation are decreased with age (17) so for older golfers, using creatine is advantageous.
Creatine has 2 additional effects on performance: fatigue and cognition. Creatine is well known to decrease neuromuscular fatigue during and exercise. (18) Further, higher brain creatine which occurs with creatine supplementation is associated with improved neuropsychological performance in both young and older populations. (19)
β-alanine is an amino acid found within the cells. One of its roles is as a buffer for the acid that builds up in the muscle cell. As such, using β-alanine for sports performance has been shown to improve anaerobic exercise (fast, quick, athletic movements), fatigue (20) aerobic exercise (continuous exercise, walking the course) (21), and also tactical performance. (22) Further, these advantages are seen both in younger and older individuals.
There is an interesting effect when you combine certain ingredients, be they medicines or nutraceuticals, together. This is called the synergy of ingredients. We combined the 5 aforementioned ingredients and evaluated the effect on pro hockey players. The effects on power and endurance were quite significant. These are conveniently available in our product, PERFORM.
Caffeine has been studied extensively for its effects on athletic performance and it has significant positive results. When most people think about using caffeine for golf, they are concerned about the jitters and how it may affect their short game and putting. Interestingly, though high doses of caffeine are used in "energy" drinks and pre-workouts, It is a lower dose of caffeine that is found to be most effective.
In fact, caffeine has been studied in golfers and the ideal dosage is found to be about the same as you get in a cup of coffee. Caffeine improves greens in regulation, driving distance, and total score. In addition, golfers perceived more energy and less fatigue. (23) Higher doses do not provide any benefit.
The focus, cognition, and energy enhancing product we invented called BRAIN is specifically designed for this application. One of its ingredients is patented, timed-release caffeine that slowly releases 40-60 mg of caffeine an hour for 6 hours.
Whey Protein is the king of protein from a health and athletic performance perspective. Compared to every other protein source available, whey increases MPS the most and is rapidly absorbed. The reason rapid absorption is important is that after exercise, your muscles are primed to accept the amino acids delivered from your intestinal tract. But, this only lasts for a short period. Other protein sources like you would get from eating a meal are much more slowly absorbed and thus this window of opportunity is lost.
Further, the amino acid type and quantity are superior to just about any other protein source you could choose. So it is far better than beef, chicken or fish, and immensely better than most vegetarian proteins.
The best way to take whey is 25-40 grams of powder mixed with water right after exercise.
Supplements have long been demonstrated to improve athletic performance both at the muscle and neuromuscular level. They are standard use in most sports. Golfers, particularly recreational players, have typically ignored their benefit.
However, the use of 2 or 3 properly formulated and designed supplements can significantly improve your game.
- “Aerobic exercise, anaerobic exercise and the lactate threshold” Spurway, N.C. British Medical Bulletin. Sep. 1992.
- “Lactic acid and exercise performance : culprit or friend?” Cairns, S.P. Sports Medicine. 2006.
- “Human muscle protein synthesis and breakdown during and after exercise” Kumar et al. Journal of Applied Physiology. Jun. 2009.
- “The athletic performance blueprint” Schneider, M., Roethlingshoefer, J. Amazon Publishing. 2020.
- “Competitive elite golf: a review of the relationships between playing results, technique and physique” Hellstrom, J. Sports Medicine. 2009.
- “The variable and chaotic nature of professional golf performance” Stockl, M., Lamb, P. Journal of Sports Sciences. Jul. 2017.
- “Physiological correlates of golf performance” Wells, G.D., et al. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. May. 2009/
- “Reliability of cable downswing load-velocity performance in golf swings” Scolfield, M. et al. Sports Biomechanics. Mar. 2019.
- “Are anthropometric, flexibility, muscular strength, and endurance variables related to clubhead velocity in low- and high-handicap golfers?” Keogh, J.W.L., et al. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Sep. 2009.
- “Examination of the neuromechanical factors contributing to golf swing performance” Sheehan, W.B., et al. Journal of Sports Sciences. Feb. 2019.
- “The effects of strength and conditioning interventions on golf performance: A systematic review” Ehlert, A. Journal of Sports Sciences. Dec. 2020.
- “Translating Fatigue to Human Performance” Enoka, R.M., Duchateau, J. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Nov. 2016.
- “Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate supplementation and skeletal muscle in healthy and muscle-wasting conditions” Holecek, M. Journal of Cacheia Sarcopenia Muscle. Aug. 2017.
- “Chronic -hydroxyisocaproic acid treatment improves muscle recovery after immobilization-induced atrophy” Lang, C.H. American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism. Jun. 2013.
- “Efficacy of phosphatidic acid ingestion on lean body mass, muscle thickness and strength gains in resistance-trained men” Hoffman, J.R., et al. Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition. Oct. 2012.
- “ Energy demand and supply in human skeletal muscle” Barclay, C.J. Journal of Muscle Research and Cell Mortility. APr. 2017.
- “ Age-related changes in ATP-producing pathways in human skeletal muscle in vivo” Lanza, I.R. et al. Journal of Applied Physiology. Nov. 2005.
- “Creatine supplementation attenuates the rate of fatigue development during intermittent isometric exercise performed above end-test torque” Abdalla, L.H.P., et al. Experimental Physiology. Dec. 2020.
- “Use of creatine in the elderly and evidence for effects on cognitive function in young and old” Rawson, E.S., Venezia, A.C. Amino Acids. May. 2011.
- “ Effect of β-alanine supplementation during high-intensity interval training on repeated sprint ability performance and neuromuscular fatigue” Milioni, F., et al. Journal of Applied Physiology. Dec. 2019.
- “International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine” Trexler, E.T., et al. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Jul. 2015.
- “β-alanine supplementation improves tactical performance but not cognitive function in combat soldiers” Hoffman, J.R. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Apr. 2014.
- “Effect of Caffeine on Golf Performance and Fatigue during a Competitive Tournament” Mumford, P.W. Medicine and Science in SPorts and Exercise. Aug. 2015.