Nutritional Support of Low Handicap Golfers


Golfer with back pain“Higher handicap players typically experience injuries that result from swing mechanics, whereas lower handicap and professional players have overuse as the major cause of their injuries.” (1)

On a fundamental basis, overuse injuries indicate that the mechanical stresses & damage to an area of the body is outstripping the body’s ability to heal this damage.  While traumas of a certain severity can easily overwhelm every body’s ability to immediately contain the damage, the nature of overuse injuries implies small, repetitive traumas.  Many of these overuse injuries can be eliminated by reducing the amount of damage, or accelerating the rate of repair. Both sides of this equation should be considered, looked for and corrected when found.  Let’s not put up with overuse injuries unnecessarily when potential cures are not being considered.

Potential Causes of Excess Overuse Injuries

This sounds kind of redundant, but there are some subtle, yet important distinctions.  We’ll just touch on this briefly before moving on to nutrition. This ‘Excess Overuse’ concept considers, “is the damage causing the overuse injury greater than it needs to be?”

Excess mechanical damage – Professional golfers get very good at their swing mechanics.  They become very efficient with their swing and utilize proper sequencing of muscle groups that contribute to their power and control. So by this ‘excess mechanical damage’ I am not referring to poor technique or inefficient strokes.  I am referring to a combination of: managing old injuries; accumulated muscle imbalances from an inherently one-sided sport and; prime movers that become stronger than the associated antagonists, synergists and stabilizer muscles.

This topic is covered in part with other posts. (see Golf: Training Driven By Diagnosis: Exercise Your Stabilizers  and Improving Your Golf: Balance Your Agonists and Antagonists and Are My Muscles Balanced )  The bottom line is, can corrections be made to reduce the amount of damage that occurs from a high volume of mechanical activity?

The Repair Side of the Equation

golfers-elbow-wcNutritional Sufficiency for Rate of Tissue Damage – The golf swing place stresses on certain tissues that accelerate the rate of tissue damage beyond the wear and tear experienced through normal daily activities.  This accelerated damage requires accelerated repair to keep the tissues healthy or preferably, to get stronger over time.

While all 42 essential nutrients will be utilized at an accelerated rate to repair this type of damage, certain key nutrients are very frequently deficient from repetitive mechanical use, at least on a local basis.  By local basis, I am referring to the nutrient levels within the damage zone of the affected tissue.  Total body levels of some essential nutrients may be adequate, but within the damage zone, you may be experiencing local deficiencies because of the accelerated repair work.

Common key nutrients utilized at an accelerated rate during physical exertion that damages biomechanical tissues include: Essential amino acids, vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, manganese and to some degree the non-essential glucosamine and chondroitin.

The final issue I want to cover on the topic can contribute to both accelerating damage and accelerating repair with overuse activities.

Non-biomechanical health issues – Every organ and tissue in the body can contribute to or detract from your ability to deal with increased mechanical stress.  Let’s look at a few examples.

  • thyroid-wcIodine deficiency – This essential nutrient is utilized extensively in the thyroid gland and the number 1 cause of hypothyroidism.  A low functioning thyroid gland will result in a number of abnormal physical effects including decreased energy and a slower rate of repair.  This slower repair can make the difference between ‘losing ground’ during an intensely physical lifestyle or ‘getting stronger’.
  • adrenal-fatigue-2Phenylalanine deficiency – This essential nutrient is converted into adrenalin (released from the adrenal gland as well as certain nerves) and thyroxine (the primary thyroid hormone). People who live high stress lifestyles produce these hormones at an accelerated rate and can become depleted in the raw materials used in the manufacturing process. Unless phenylalanine is replenished at a rate to match the elevated stress hormone production, deficiency will result along with a host of affiliated symptoms such as slow repair, low energy and loss of mental focus.
  • Glutathione deficiency – This chemical is critically important for detoxifying the body from a wide range of medications and alcohol.  If the body becomes depleted of this important chemical from a history of drug and alcohol intake, the body will not be able to eliminate these toxins from the body.  They will then accumulate in the liver where they can eventually cause many symptoms including: loss of energy, slow repair and, digestive disturbances.

To get to the top of your field and stay there requires that you do more than the average person.  Mastery of demanding physical skills requires much more than additional time of practice.  The additional practice and playing time brings along a host of new problems that the amateur athlete doesn’t experience.

The low handicap golfer now needs to pay much more attention to balancing their agonists, antagonists and stabilizer muscles in order to diminish the amount of damage to their tissues. In addition, physically demanding activities require replenishing essential and non-essential nutrients at an accelerated rate as well as paying more attention to the nutritional requirements of the entire body.

By Dr. John Wallman

  1. – Bayes, MC, Wadsworth, LT, Upper extremity injuries in golf, Phys Sportsmed, 2009 Apr;37(1):92-6. doi:10.3810/psm.2009.04.1687

This article is not intended to offer a diagnosis or medical advice.  It is offered strictly for educational purposes.  Please consult members of your health care team directly to explore these or any other health care concepts.