So you’ve just read every poker book and watched every poker video you could get your hands on and you’re feeling ready to sit with the best in the game. But what did you eat for breakfast? Did you even eat breakfast? Did you at least take a break from all of your studying to get a little exercise? These are questions you might not think to ask yourself and they could drastically affect your bankroll.
You are not alone. We are going to discuss several ways you can be improve your game while away from the poker table. Health is one of them, and it is often overlooked. Feel free to discuss this topic with your non poker friends too, as this will help you in any profession and your overall well being. How you feel will have a direct impact on how you perform at work in terms of stamina, focus, and motivation. Professional athletes have strict diets, and so should you. Poker is a mental marathon that requires cognitive functioning. To be a winner you will need to eat and train like a winner. Plus, let’s face it, poker players are known for being unhealthy! We sit around all day shuffling chips or on our couch clicking a mouse, eating on the go, and not sleeping, but you can change that!
In order to understand how a healthy nutrition helps the decision making process, it is important to realize that our brain cells use neurotransmitters to communicate and relay messages between cells. Our bodies require a healthy balance of neurotransmitters in order to regulate emotions, stress, energy, memories, and focus among other things. Clearly, we need these brain functions for poker. I’m sure most of you have heard the term “brain food” before. Here’s a quick list of some “brain foods” that can help maintain a healthy functioning brain: Whole grains, Fish (Omega-3’s), blueberries (Jamie Gold ate a bowl of blueberries while playing heads up for the WSOP title), multi-vitamins, sunflower seeds, nuts, bananas, other fruits and vegetables, yogurt, eggs etc. All of these foods will help maintain a healthy balance of neurotransmitters and improve your focus during long poker sessions. The great part is that they are all relatively easy to take in with you.
Portion sizing is also important. When we eat too much at once, our blood circulates to the stomach area to help our body process food instead of circulating it to your brain. This often causes you to feel tired or fogs your thinking. This is commonly known as a food coma. You may also get this feeling when coming down from a sugar high, eating too many carbs or too much grease. I remember playing either a Heartland Poker Tour or World Poker Tour Main Event once and there were 100 players left going into the dinner break. The hosting casino passed out buffet vouchers, and within 45 min after the dinner break, we were down to 60 players. Do the math, that’s almost one player per minute dropping out! Obviously, I don’t have enough evidence to suggest that buffet food coma was the culprit behind the rapid drop out pace, but I would be very interested to see what the “bust out” rate in the 90 minutes after a dinner break is over a larger sample size. If you get a free buffet voucher, eat moderately, don’t stuff yourself.
Staying hydrated is just crucial. When I first started playing poker seriously I made it a personal goal to drink 1 bottle of water every hour. Yes, I also had to make a restroom break every hour too, (even had to carry my laptop into the restroom during online sessions!) but I was getting results almost immediately. A bottle per hour may seem excessive, and to be honest, I no longer enforce that rule on myself, but I do still drink a ton of water while playing. Our bodies are made up of about 60% water. Staying hydrated will help reduce that mental fog and fatigue that comes with dehydration. As we become dehydrated, we become more prone to getting stubborn or frustrated and if you are a player that is prone to tilt, this could be a bankroll killer! In fact, the moment I start to feel tilted or irritated at the table, I try to remember to ask myself when the last time I’ve drank water was. Almost every single time, I realize that it’s been over an hour since I’ve finished the last bottle. If you remember to ask yourself this question every time you feel like you’re losing your patience, you can save you a ton of money! I especially recommend this if you tend to tilt off your stack after you take a bad beat.
Caffeine and sugar can also have a negative effect on your bankroll. True, it may give us a temporary kick, but it is short lived and will leave you more fatigued than before. This can have detrimental effects when you’re playing a long session. Daniel Negreanu has pointed out that he does not drink any caffeine at all while playing poker. Why? Caffeine actually dehydrates us, which constricts our blood vessels, and in turn, means less blood flow and less neurotransmitters flowing to the brain. Remember our neurotransmitter friends from earlier? Crucial. So put down the Red Bull and coffee, and drink some H2o. This may be difficult for some to transition to, but it might be worth a try if you struggle with tilt and patience (Or at least reduce your caffeine intake). Alcohol is also a no-no for obvious reasons!
Pair this healthy diet with physical exercise and a good sleep routine, which can increase concentration, eliminate stress, increase energy levels, reduce anxiety, and boost your confidence, and I promise you will be playing at a much higher level than you currently are.