By Karen Harrison, BGGA Director of Health and Athletic Development
Adequate hydration is important for both good health and optimum sports performance. It is well-documented that with sporting activity lasting longer than 40-60 minutes, the consumption of water along with carbohydrates (your primary energy source) is performance enhancing. For a golfer, who potentially spends up to five hours playing a tournament round and countless hours practicing outdoors, ensuring adequate hydration is a MUST. Let’s examine the topic of proper hydration for the young golf athlete in more detail.
Firstly, how is dehydration likely to affect you? The general signs and symptoms of dehydration are easily recognized. In cases of mild dehydration, they may include one or more of the following: headache, fatigue/weakness, dizziness, dry skin/lips, nausea and/or muscle cramps. More severe dehydration can cause vomiting, confusion and agitation, with extreme cases leading to convulsions and unconsciousness.
Playing in the heat and humidity magnifies the importance of maintaining a hydrated state since these factors increase the risk of dehydration and even worse, a dangerous rise in core body temperature (usually referred to as heat exhaustion or heat stroke). In fact, these heat-related illnesses can occur even while exercising in a temperature environment (that’s only mid 60’s °F!). It should be said however, that most healthy children and adolescents can safely participate in activities in warm to hot conditions with suitable preparation and monitoring. Thus, most heat-related illnesses are preventable.
Being aware of the risk factors for dehydration or exertional heat-illnesses is the first step towards prevention. Some of the other risk factors affecting golfers may include insufficient consumption/access to fluids during play, poor fitness, inadequate pre-hydration, little sleep/recovery, illness, clothing (if it leads to excessive heat retention) or two rounds played in one day.
Clearly, the potential for poor fluid management to negatively influence performance is substantial, especially in the heat. Recent studies illustrate that even mild dehydration has been shown to reduce the muscular co-ordination required during sports skills (motor performance), affect mental clarity (focus, alertness, the ability to concentrate, decision making) and alter our perception of fatigue (it all seems harder!). In 2012, Smith and colleagues conducted research demonstrating that mild dehydration negatively affected both swing mechanics and decision-making, including the ability to judge distances, changes in slope and recognize differing shades of green. Ultimately, this led to a reduction in both the distance and accuracy of the golf shots measured.
How to know if you are dehydrated? One of the simplest ways is to assess the color of your urine. Generally, pale yellow (the color of lemonade) is a good indication that you are well-hydrated, and darker than the color of apple juice may indicate dehydration. Secondly, and more accurately, determine your sweat rate and therefore fluid loss during exercise under differing environmental conditions. In practice, measure your weight before and after a period of practice, noting how much fluid is consumed. The total amount of fluid lost and therefore weight lost per hour can be easily calculated, arriving at the amount of fluid lost per hour. Obviously, it will differ between individuals and according to the climatic conditions. Engaging in preparation such as this allows you to develop your own hydration strategy for both the practice setting and under tournament conditions which in turn can improve the quality of your practice and maximize performance. The pros do it!
In a conversation with former LPGA player, Sue Kim (Canada) related how she had a problem with drinking on the course; “I would never drink enough during a tournament. I simply forgot to drink”. Her solution? Kim modified her pre-shot routine. Arriving at the next shot, her routine began with a few sips of water. It helped her to maintain a hydrated state during a round and the action became automatic, ensuring she didn’t forget to drink.
- As a guide, 13-16 year olds need 1.6-1.9L of total fluid each day (from food and fluids). Exercise will increase this amount.
- Be prepared – bring adequate water with you to the course/practice range. There may not always be opportunities for purchasing water when you need it (e.g., ninth hole).
- Be aware, thirst may not be a good indicator of how dehydrated you are.
- Develop your own customized fluid replacement strategy and evaluate in training first before attempting it during a tournament.
Consuming fluids before exercise
- Aim to start your practice/tournament in a well-hydrated state – check your urine color (ideally it should be pale yellow).
- Consume 5-10ml/ kg BW water prior to exercise (i.e., 120 lbs. or 55kg = 275-550ml or 8-16 fluid oz.)
- Consider including sodium in foods/fluids may be useful as it will help you to retain fluid during exercise.
- Aim for 0.4-0.8 L of fluid per hour (130-250ml every 20 minutes).
- Water is the number one choice for fluid replacement in most instances.
- Consume small volumes of fluid frequently throughout the exercise/round/practice.
- Avoid over-drinking. A condition called Hyponatremia (low blood sodium level) is the risk of consuming too much water, with symptoms shockingly similar to dehydration.
- Recommendations are to consume enough fluid to minimize loss of body mass (1-2% loss)
- There may be a case for sports drinks in certain circumstances when a source of carbohydrates and electrolytes (primarily sodium) are required (e.g., when access to food is limited).
- Cold drinks may help to reduce core body temperature during exercise in the heat and increase the tendency to consume more fluid. Flavored waters may also increase consumption.
- Avoid energy drinks at all costs!
- The goal is to drink to 150% of the fluid lost during exercise (based on weight). Yes, more than you lost; this accounts for the obligatory urinary losses.
- Eat a meal post-practice/tournament – it will provide the carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes (Sodium and Potassium) necessary for recovery.
The optimal strategy for fluid intake for young golfers will vary based on numerous factors including climatic conditions, the opportunity to eat/drink, gastrointestinal comfort and an individual’s own physiology and biochemistry. Thus, consider the hydration recommendations provided and work on developing your own customized hydration strategy for both practice sessions and tournament rounds. It should be considered an essential element of a golf athlete’s preparation.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2011). American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement – Climatic heat stress and exercising children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 128, e741. DOI:10.1542/peds.2011-1664
Coaching Association of Canada. Fluids for athletes. Retrieved from http://www.coach.ca/fluids-for-athletes-p154679
Desbrow, B., McCormack, J., Burke, L., Cox, G., Fallon, K., Hislop, M., ……. (2014). Sports Dieticians Australia Position Statement: Sports Nutrition for the Adolescent Athlete. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 24, 570-584.
Maughan, R. (2010). Fluid and carbohydrate intake during exercise. In L. Bourke and V. Deakin (Eds.), Clinical Sports Nutrition 4th Edition (pp. 330-347). Sydney, Australia: McGraw-Hill Education.
Smith, M.F., Newell, A. J. and Baker, M.R. (2012). Effect of acute mild dehydration on cognitive-motor performance in golf. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(11), 3075-3080.