Whether you are a junior golfer road-tripping across the state for a tournament, or someone jumping on a trans-Atlantic flight for a golf trip in Scotland with your buddies, there is no question it will have an effect on your body in some way. It’s important to recognize and understand the implications that travel can have on not only the physical performance of playing golf, but on health in general. Traveling around the world playing golf for a living seems like a dream come true. However, after working with numerous players on the PGA Tour and elite juniors who road trip all around the U.S. for tournaments, and the general population who vacation around the world to play golf, we see first-hand the toll that travel has on our health. In this article, I’d like to highlight some of the specific ways that travel can impact our bodies, but also how one can take action to overcome some of these challenges and the strategies to keep ourselves healthy and play our best while on the road.
One of the most obvious ways that travel can alter our bodies is our posture and the way we move. If anyone has been a passenger on a commercial airplane in the past 10 years, with the exception of flying first class, you recognize that airline seats are not exactly the most comfortable positions to be in for multiple hours at a time. Not only this, but the posture these seats position bodies in are detrimental to maintaining the movement required to swing a golf club successfully. As mentioned in other articles written by our staff, it’s extremely important to maintain adequate mobility in one’s hips and thoracic spine (mid back), and more specifically rotation and extension to maintain posture throughout the swing sequence. Sitting in a car or airplane does the exact opposite to our bodies, putting us in a flexed and hunched-over position. Going through a quick foam rolling and stretching routine, taking quick 20-minute walk, or hitting the hotel fitness center for a quick workout can be incredibly beneficial in getting your body loose after a long day of travel. Knowing your physical limitations and swing tendencies can also be valuable to understanding how an individual needs to focus on improving mobility to restore lost range of motion while travelling. This is where seeking out a movement professional who understands the way your body moves can give you an individualized stretch or workout routine to prepare your body to play 18 holes of golf after being cooped up in a car or airplane.
Perhaps the biggest aspect of our health that travel can have a large impact on is our sleep. A lot of flights are very often at odd hours of the day, and whether you are taking the early flight out or driving through the night to get your destination early the next day, this is going to impact energy levels and sleep schedules to some degree. We commonly recommend the utilization of magnesium supplementation as a sleep aid to our clients who travel frequently. Magnesium helps neurotransmitter function (messengers from our brain to our nervous system) and regulates melatonin — the hormone that plays a big role in our sleep cycle, calming our nervous system and preparing our bodies for sleep. It can be a great addition when traveling across multiple time-zones, helping our bodies adjust to normal sleep schedules.
Outside of just the crazy hours that come with traveling, it also increases the stress hormone ‘cortisol’ levels, even in low stress individuals due to things like traffic, being on time, slow lines, crowds and being in tight spaces. This has multiple negative effects on our health, including disrupting sleep cycle and diminishing our body’s immune response. Being in a crowded airport or on a packed plane in close contact with other people already places us more at risk for contracting illnesses. Therefor our immune systems being compromised from being in a high-stress environment is not ideal. One thing we recommend frequently is to beef-up the immune systems, prior to traveling, by consuming more zinc, primarily in the form of diet. Adequate zinc consumption can be greatly beneficial for immune system function. Zinc specifically aids in enzymatic processes that allow cells of our immune system called “T-cells” to function properly, and therefore fight against infection. Foods like grass-fed beef, lamb, oysters, and other meats are great sources of zinc, so go ahead and indulge in that burger or the lamb-chops before making a trip.
Lastly, one of the biggest hurdles to overcome while traveling and one that can make the most impact on our health is staying hydrated. About half of the air inside the cabins of commercial jets come from outside. The air at 30,000 feet has little to no moisture which can contribute to dehydration. Additionally, the cabins, although pressurized, have lower air pressure than most of our homes, which means less oxygen and can leave us drained of energy after a long flight. You can see how this can be a vicious cycle when one is traveling during early morning hours and changing time zones. This is already enough to cause one’s energy levels to be dragging, however, the low cabin pressure, dry air, and increase in cortisol levels throw fuel on the already burning fire of sleep deprivation.
So, what to do? As stated earlier, some of the best ways to maintain our energy levels when traveling are solutions that I have already mentioned, in that of staying hydrated and moving as much as possible. When discussing hydration, drinking enough water is important, but sometimes not enough. Taking electrolytes that have sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride and the aforementioned magnesium are necessary to maintaining hydration levels. We commonly suggest hydration supplements that include these electrolytes and contain little to no sugar, and bonuses like B-vitamins and amino acids so that clients who are traveling, not only stay hydrated, but stay healthy and perform their best. Emergen-C and Airborne are popular options.
So, on the next flight, try skipping the beverage cart and save your 10 bucks by going for your own water bottle with a scoop of your hydration powder of choice, rather than an 8-ounce gin and tonic. Your body and wallet will thank you later.
If you’ve read this far, hopefully you’ve caught on to some common themes. Moving and exercising, staying hydrated, and adding supplements like zinc, magnesium and electrolytes into a travel routine are some of the simplest, yet effective ways to fight against some of the unavoidable negatives of travelling. With more knowledge on the negative toll that travel has on our bodies, one can take action against these by implementing some of these strategies mentioned as a preventative measure. This way, no one has to become a victim to the beatdown of travel, but overcome it, enjoy our trips, and most importantly, play our best.