Cameron Tringale doesn’t hesitate when asked to describe his worst day of eating, nutritionally speaking. He was in Savannah, Ga., for St. Patrick’s Day, strolling the river and eating funnel cake, the type of food that’s great for fairs if not necessarily the human body.
And that wasn’t his only delicious, but sub-optimal, gut-bomb.
“I remember walking along eating one of those massive turkey legs, the kind of thing that Fred Flintstone would eat,” Tringale says. “I’ve eaten some pretty ugly stuff.”
Gary Player notwithstanding, the standard greasy, salty, doughy, sugary grab-and-go diet was once fairly common on the PGA TOUR. Today, a small but growing number of players are eating more like not only Player but also 12-time Grand Slam winning tennis player Novak Djokovic and age-defying, five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Tom Brady.
Sugar, unless it comes from a piece of fruit, is a no-no. So is most bread, and anything loaded with mysterious, multisyllabic ingredients that were invented in a lab somewhere.
Eating clean, as its proponents call it, can greatly reduce inflammation, boost energy, heighten performance, elevate mood, improve sleep—and maybe even take you to No. 1.
“I’m more particular about what I’m eating now, and how I feel,” Tringale says. “It’s hard to quantify. Maybe by eating that way, Tom Brady only goes from 94 percent to 98 percent efficiency. Is that what makes the difference? You can’t really know, but in situations like we had when we played 36 holes on Sunday in L.A. [at the rain-delayed Genesis Open], your body’s going to start breaking down if you’re not eating right.”
At this week’s Valspar Championship outside Tampa, Tringale and his road roommate Ben Crane will do a big shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, or both, early in the week. They’ll stock up on vegetables, fruits, and energy bars whose ingredients are few and familiar. They’ll also eat out at least once or twice at the Rawk Star Café, the sumptuous, plant-based, raw, vegan restaurant in nearby Oldsmar—one of the top TOUR haunts for the health conscious and proof that healthy food can taste really good. (Player-turned-TV-commentator Justin Leonard, Camilo Villegas and Web.com Tour pro James Driscoll are also unabashed Rawk Star fans.)
“I love the places you can go and order absolutely anything and know it’s good for you,” says Crane, 41, who adopted a strict diet in part to cure his Lyme Disease with food and not traditional medicine. “I love their smoothies, their little fake burgers. I order everything.”
Among the items on the Rawk Star menu are the aforementioned “hamburger” made of seeds, vegetables and herbs; pizza with a dehydrated crust of seeds and herbs and macadamia nut “cheese” (no soy at the Rawk Star); and a chili made of fresh tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts, carrots, shitake mushrooms, red bell pepper, and jalapeno and cayenne for heat. As for the desserts—the restaurant makes excellent use of cacao—they taste too good to be healthy.
IT’S LITTLE, SIMPLE CHOICES
If there is a Johnny Appleseed of healthy eating on TOUR, not always the easiest task, given what’s out there—see the players’ list of exceptions below—it is Crane. He gets his blood work done at least once a year, sees a gut specialist in San Diego, and gets so jazzed talking about things like dehydrated olives and junk-free granola that he makes fun of himself.
“In L.A., we went to this place called Erewhon, which was the greatest grocery store I’ve ever seen,” Crane says. “I got a few snacks, some soups, some bars and like a breakfast smoothie or whatever. They go, ‘That’ll be $218.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ That breakfast smoothie thing was like $20. It’s expensive to eat healthy, but cheaper than needing to go to the doctor and get on medication.” Crane laughs. “Don’t get me started. Don’t poke the bear!
“If God had made it, it’s good for you,” he continues, “But if He hasn’t and some food company has made it and there are a lot of ingredients, and you can’t pronounce a lot of them, it’s not. Take a Lara bar. There’s like three ingredients: dates, almonds, coconut. That’s good. But if you look at a bar and it has 37 ingredients, it’s not good for you. They’re trying to keep it on the shelf longer, or they’re trying to be able to say it has no sugar.”
Driscoll says it was Crane who first brought him to Rawk Star, and both Crane and Leonard have also spread the word about healthier eating not just on TOUR but by sharing food and nutrition lessons with family. They chop veggies, tweak recipes and talk about labeling and ingredients with spouses and kids. Leonard’s wife Amanda even took a virtual class on nutrition.
“I started paying more attention to my eating habits about 8 to 10 years ago,” Leonard says. “As Amanda and I have educated ourselves over the years, we have gotten more strict about the food that we put in our bodies. She completed an on-line integrative nutrition course last year, and that has certainly helped us understand how important it is to eat cleanly.
“We eat a plant-based diet about 80 to 90 percent of the time,” he adds.
That’s not to say nutritionists agree that raw is best. Many don’t. Like fingerprints, the gut seems to be a highly individuated human characteristic, and players have eaten all sorts of weird things while compiling a successful career. Lee Trevino liked burgers and beer. Jack Nicklaus once went on a cabbage soup kick. Jesper Parnevik used to eat volcanic ash, and invested in a vitamin company because it promised better absorption than most supplements.
“There are so many different theories on food and nutrition,” says Driscoll. “Some think raw-vegan is best, some say your body absorbs cooked food better. It’s about how your body feels after a meal. You want to feel clean mentally and physically, that overall state of feeling good, as opposed to eating a bag of gummy bears and thinking, Oh, my god, what did I just do?”
Wait. Gummy bears? Henrik Stenson says they’re okay, at least in moderation.
“After the season, there are always desserts,” Stenson says. “I’m a bit of a candy addict, I like my Swedish candy in the off-season, but the first of January I cut back on sugar. It’s about trying to get good, basic food down your neck and keep yourself energized. If you’ve got a choice between the roasted potatoes and the French fries, you’ve got to go for the roasted potatoes a few more times than the French fries. It’s little, simple choices.”
It is expensive to eat healthy but more expensive than needing to go to the doctor and get on medication. Don’t get me started! Don’t poke the bear!”
Jason Day, who often subsists on grilled chicken and broccoli, calls those French fry moments “cheats,” and most players cop to having them. Tringale admits that while he no longer ducks out for ice cream during frequent study breaks, as he did in college, he’ll drop in on a great southern-style barbecue place (The Ozona Pig) during the Valspar. That type of diet—mostly healthy, sometimes not so much—is perhaps the best way to describe the TOUR pro menu.
Like Stenson and Tringale, Adam Scott says he’s careful but not strident when it comes to dietary choices. And sometimes he’s more intentional about portions than ingredients.
“I’m at an age where I need to be mindful of my eating, and all the inflammatories that I put in my body,” says Scott, 36. “I avoid anything processed. And I eat a lot less at dinner these days. Going to bed without a big lump of anything in your body is good for you. I can even skip dinner if I snack in the afternoon, and wake up feeling far, far better for an early tee time.”
Crane seconds that: “Your body uses so much energy to digest food, so if it’s digesting food all night it doesn’t get into that deep REM sleep. You sleep terrible.”
And so during the Valspar, Crane, his caddie Joel Stock, and Tringale will be mindful of when they eat, not just what they eat. (Rawk Star is not open late, anyway.) They’ll make smoothies for breakfast, pack their own snacks and lunches, and come home to their rental house for dinners. Perhaps Stock will make a soup, or Crane will roast vegetables, or Tringale will whip up his famous spaghetti squash with marinara sauce—Crane raves about it.
Will it all pay off in lower scores? As Tringale says, that’s hard to say. But it likely will pay off in better sleep, better health, and if the example of a nine-time major winner from South Africa is to be believed—and really, why wouldn’t you believe it?—increased longevity.
“Almost every day of my life, I have green juice, garlic, onions, fresh fruits and salads,” says Gary Player, golf’s Exhibit A for the power of healthy living. “When you travel like I do, it’s not always so easy, but watching what I eat is the reason I am so healthy at 81 years old.”
Raw-food restaurants were almost non-existent during Player’s career, but he scoured the globe and found the few that were around. He likes that there are more healthy options on TOUR now (see below), but admits to some degree of chagrin at the standard American diet.
“Some of the great secrets to longevity are simple,” Player says. “Eat a good breakfast, a nice lunch and only a handful for dinner. Be positive. Be happy. Don’t worry. Keep moving.”