Just Add Water: Remember to Hydrate

The turf isn’t the only thing on the course that benefits.

When we think of the impact of hydration on athletes, we don’t think about golfers. Those television commercials showing the bright-colored electrolytes oozing from sweat-drenched athletes don’t exactly apply. Not surprisingly, no research has specifically been conducted on golf and hydration, so we’ll apply other studies with what we know about golf and the Colorado climate.

Golf is about five miles of walking at an average pace of 2.6-2.9 mph and uses anywhere from 800-1500 kcal per 18 holes depending upon if you walk or ride. And, that is over a 4.5-hour period. Contrast this to full-court basketball, where the energy needed for one game will likely range from 500-900 kcal.

Golf requires energy, but you will probably get most of that from your regular meals and a few snacks on the course.

The loss of electrolytes, essential compounds to cellular function, is based on heat and the intensity of the activity. Golf has a wide variety of temperatures, even though the sport is typically played at 60° F or higher. Rising temperatures, longer rounds and undulating terrain—these factors all make accurate hydration strategies necessary. 

But the most compelling reason of all is that dehydration influences two of the biggest factors in golf performance: cognitive skills and coordination. It’s therefore important to maintain fluids so you stay focused and can execute the shots you want. Even 2 percent dehydration will affect your performance.

So, what’s an accurate hydration strategy?


A safe amount of initial fluid intake is one-half your body weight in pounds equaled to ounces. So, if you weigh 200 pounds, then you should have about 100 ounces of fluid a day. If it’s hot, and you are sweating more than normal, increase your intake by at least 20 percent. In order not to start a round dehydrated, you should take in 25 percent of your daily total by 9 a.m., and another 40 percent by 1 p.m.


Pick a BPA-free bottle, mark with three 6-ounce marks, and refill as needed to get 25% of your total water needs during the round. Then just pick the holes where you need to drink that amount of fluid. Every three holes is an optimal schedule for most golfers.


The research is mixed. At last year’s BMW Championship players drank plain water about 90 percent of the time. Granted, they are not carrying their bags. However, they are super-competitive and have tried all sorts of combinations before settling on a routine. Interestingly, I only observed four carrying a marked water bottle indicating how much to drink at a given spot.

Water rules. However, golf is probably an activity where the “light” version of sport drinks work well. Most regular sport beverages are too concentrated in both sugar/energy and electrolytes to be readily absorbed, so dilute with water 2:1 or use a lighter concentration.

Don’t drink them until the back nine, however. Up to that point, you are likely to have enough electrolytes in your system from food and water. And, if you regularly eat bananas and oranges, your need for electrolytes in golf is even lower.


Over-consumption of water can lead to hyponatremia, which occurs when the level of sodium in the blood is too low. As you sweat, salt leaves the body, and as excess plain water gets absorbed, the bloodstream becomes diluted resulting in a decrease in sodium and potassium levels, impairing function. This condition often results when people wait until they’re thirsty and gulp down huge amounts of water. Yet another reason why it’s better to maintain a steady influx of fluid.

That’s what the pros do. At last year’s BMW Championship, most received a water bottle on every other tee box and drank average amounts. Zach Johnson tried to hit every rest room to make sure his water intake was adequate. He notes that some days he “needs to continually force water down…”  

And remember, even if it doesn’t feel as though you’re perspiring, Colorado’s arid climate and wind will evaporate sweat almost instantly. It’s called “insensible sweat loss.” It can cost you up to a full liter of body fluid per hour—and who knows how many shots per round?


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Neil Wolkodoff, Ph.D., is the medical program director at the Colorado Center for Health & Sport Science (cochss.com; 303- 596- 6519). He’s the author of Core Powered Golf, Physical Golf and Body Logic.