Poker has always been about long, gruelling sessions, and online sessions can be worse than playing live. Online tournament players have it the worst, as there are no extended breaks while playing. Sitting in front of the computer alone, with nobody to communicate with or visuals to distract us, it’s easy to snack, consume unhealthy drinks, and put on extra weight.
If you want to be a winning poker player, you have to act like one, and that includes being healthy. Eating chips and drinking Coca-Cola on the couch or devouring a buffet isn’t a plan for success.
To gain an edge on your competition, you should be eating foods that promote health, energy, and focus.
I’m sure you expect me to promote a supplement or sports vitamin next, but there’s no need for either. If you eat healthy and ensure your diet is packed with the foods below, you’ll increase your energy, focus and concentration on the felt.
Stimulate your neurotransmitters with these healthy foods
The three basic neurotransmitters are acetylcholine, dopamine and serotonin.
By eating healthy, you help stimulate production of these three neurotransmitters, which in turn will prepare your brain for the long winning sessions at the virtual or live poker tables.
What foods help promote the production of acetylcholine?
Acetylcholine functions in the nervous system, helping players focus and concentrate better, but that’s only if your body is producing enough of the neurotransmitter. In order to do that, you need to eat foods that are rich in choline (B Vitamin).
– Kidney/Black Beans
There are plenty of other foods rich in choline, but the foods above are commonly found in most households.
How Dopamine helps you play better
Dopamine is known to provide feelings of enjoyment and motivation. By producing enough dopamine, you’ll put yourself in a better position to continue doing certain activities for a longer time, such as playing poker.
The foods you should ensure are in your diet to produce dopamine include the following:
Foods that are high in lean protein are ideal, which is why fish and chicken top the list.
Chill with Serotonin
Lastly, but arguably most important, serotonin essentially allows you to relax and focus on winning. Serotonin is known to help reduce stress and anxiety, two common feelings when playing real money poker.
Lots of foods produce serotonin, here’s a short list:
– Whole Grains
As you can see – you don’t need to eat exotic fruits or take supplements to eat healthy. A simple, proper diet where you eat three meals a day and snack on some of the foods listed above will do wonders for your game.
I’ve personally had some bad habits in the past, such as not eating breakfast, staying up all hours of the night, not exercising and eating garbage. These bad habits can make you feel tired, lazy and unmotivated.
Eating lots of snacks and replenishing your body during long sessions is important.
Bananas are one of the best snacks and the easiest to make sure you always have. Whole grains are great as well. For meals – you can’t go wrong with fish or chicken. You should have fish at least 1-2 times a week.
Drink lots of water
Whether you’re exercising a lot or just sitting, it’s important to stay hydrated. Of course this means plenty of water intake.
We’ve all heard that the recommended amount of water people should drink is eight cups per day (64oz). In truth, that is a stupid number because it doesn’t take into consideration a persons size. Of course a 100 pound woman doesn’t need as much water as a 200 lb man, so, for the sake of improved accuracy, use this simple equation.
Take your weight and cut it in half – that is the number that most doctors agree is the ideal amount of water to be drinking each day. For example, if you weight 180 lbs, you should be drinking 90 oz of water daily.
Another major benefit of drinking lots of water is that it decreases your desire to eat. Not only are you less likely to snack, but it also helps to cut down on the amount you eat at meal time. Large meals are a great way to get fat, and to sap your energy levels as well. Drink a lot of water and you’ll see the opposite happening – almost by accident!
For keeping track of your water consumption I highly recommend purchasing a Fitbit. I’ve been using the Fitbit Surge for about 3 months now and I’ve found the accountability and ease of tracking to have a dramatic affect on my success. Using the Fitbit app makes it simple to log water consumption, and easy to go after daily, weekly, and monthly goals.
For poker players, people who are naturally competitive, I think many of you will find it even more beneficial than those who are naturally less competitive. I find myself wanting to ‘break records’ I’ve previously set, and that has made it easy & fun to get healthy. Instead of being a chore, it’s become a fun challenge that I have complete control over.
Cracking open a soda or an energy drink like Red Bull will give you a quick boost of energy, but you’ll quickly come down from the rush and feel more fatigued than you did prior to having the caffeine and sugar.
Indulging in a coffee or espresso is fine to start your morning – just avoid drinking caffeine all day.
Fun diet ideas for poker players
One of my favorites – the burrito. Burritos are packed with foods from the list above, including fish, chicken, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, corn and avocados. You can’t beat a burrito for lunch or dinner, but keep them a reasonable size. It doesn’t do any good to eat well if you eat so much of it that the couch looks more attractive than a poker chair.
Raw cacao is one of the best snacks to add to your diet. “Cacao Nibs” can be bought online or at grocery stores depending upon where you live. Raw cacao provides dopamine and anandamide.
Another benefit of eating raw cacao is the source of magnesium, which produces energy for the neurons in your brain, allowing you to focus for longer periods of time with clarity.
Eating unprocessed cacao is great, just don’t go buying a box of Kit-Kats.
If you’re not eating well, I urge you to focus on your diet. Not only will it help you on the felt, but you’ll feel 100% better when you wake up. When you feel like a million bucks, you’ll have no problems grinding long sessions.
Exercise – duh!
And of course, try to take breaks for exercise and to give your brain a chance to relax. If you see a slow hand developing, get up, take a quick walk around the poker room, stretch your quads, do a few squats – get the juices flowing. If your body feels stale, so will your brain.
Easy at-home exercises
If you’re playing online at home, there are plenty of ways to get exercise between hands. Something I love to do is a variety of upper body exercises with a pair of dumbbells – after a good set of pushups. The pushups work as a basic warm-up to get the juices flowing, and get me motivated to do more.
Then I move onto a mixture of shoulder, arm, and back exercises. After 10-12 sets with dumbbells my upper body feels strong, and my mind is wide awake, focused, and ready for action.
The stretching effect
You can also do several types of leg and stomach exercises, as well as stretching exercises.
Men in particular tend to underestimate what stretching can do for them. Not only does it wake you up, but the increase in flexibility (over time) makes a person feel more athletic. That athletic feeling snowballs, increasing your brains desire for more exercise. At that point, exercise isn’t a chore, but rather, it feels more like a gift you are giving your body.
That snowballs into increased confidence, which is always a good thing at the tables.
One final thought on getting exercise while you play. Most people who would bother reading this article have had those days where we spent hours and hours in front of the computer playing poker. Maybe you ran out for some fast food, had a pizza delivered, or ate a bag of chips you had in the kitchen.
Personally, every time I’ve done this I end the day feeling poorly about myself. I wasn’t productive today. I didn’t do anything that improved my life in any way. I ate badly, which means I’m waking up heavier tomorrow, and I feel fat & sluggish.
Instead of treating my body like a temple, I’m treating it like a cardboard box on skid row. Those negative feelings affect us in so many other ways – none of which promote our ability to succeed at the poker tables.
Since I started focusing on my health a few months ago I’ve lost weight, feel stronger, and I’m more confident in all factors of my life – including my time at the tables. This is one of those win-win-win things, and the snowball effect of all those wins is an amazing experience to be going through.
Anyone who can relate to what I’ve spoken about above, I highly encourage you to get a Fitbit (the Surge is best), and get competitive with it. For the first time ever I’m finding it easy to get in shape, and it’s making a huge impact in my personal life – as well as my success at the poker tables.