Eat right and improve your game – Part I

Part I, Part II, Part III

Did you know that your eating habits directly affect your poker abilities? You may not believe us at first, but we are ready to prove to you that a few changes in your diet can make a very positive difference in your attention levels, stamina and memory, giving you an edge over the competition. This three-part series will give you some important tips on when to eat and what to eat for a sharper poker brain.

Eating and Playing

Eating for energy and alertness.

Consider this scenario: you are at the World Series of Poker, deep into a $1000 No Limit Hold’em tourney. You have been playing for hours, accumulating a chip lead, and although you are very hungry you refuse to let it distract you from the game. Finally you get a 30-minute break, and you dash madly off to the buffet and devour a large plate (or two) of everything they have. How do you feel after eating? Chances are that within half an hour of finishing that meal you find yourself feeling drowsy and unfocused, and instead of struggling with a growling stomach you are now fighting off sleep, more ready for a nap than a final table. The Spanish were on to a good thing when they instituted the “siesta,” that lovely short nap after lunch. But you’re not here to nap – you want to play poker! So how can you take care of your hunger and still remain awake and focused after the break?


To find out the answer you need to know about insulin. Insulin is a hormone that lets the cells in your body know when you have eaten, so the cells can start storing the fat and sugars from the meal. As a result of this the amount of sugar (glucose, for the scientifically minded) in the blood will be reduced, as the sugars leave the bloodstream to be stored in the cells. “Enough with the science, what about poker?” you’ll say. Well, this is how it all ties in: your brain cells (called neurons by those on the know) need sugar as fuel. When you eat a large meal, a lot of sugar will enter the blood stream, which will make you feel alert and clever for a short while. But soon after the meal the body will also release a large amount of insulin – because you have eaten a lot,– and it will in turn tell the cells in your body to capture the sugar and fats. This means that the amount of sugar in the blood will be reduced quickly, and therefore your brain will start to run low on fuel, which will make you feel sluggish and groggy – hardly ideal in the last stages of a large tourney, when you need all your attention and energy to finally get that bracelet.


“But a person has to eat!” you can say, and you are very right. We are definitely not telling you to stop eating – the all-important sugars for your potent poker brain must come from somewhere! The point we want to make here is that you should avoid making very large meals after a long fast, because they will set off the reaction we have just explained, and leave you on a “sugar dump.” Besides, a large heavy meal requires a lot of energy to be digested, which means that your body’s efforts will be focused in your stomach and intestines and not on your brain, which is where you need them. Also, the long fast is not good for you and it is even worse for your poker game: have you ever tried to make a difficult decision on the turn while your stomach growls and the chips start looking good enough to eat? Hunger will wreak havoc with anyone’s concentration, and you do not want to risk a bad call or a hasty fold because you were distracted by thoughts of food.


The way forward is to eat smaller portions more often (so the sugar levels in the blood remain steady) instead of going for hours without food and then making a huge meal, which will first raise the sugar levels too much and then bring them crashing down. Snacking is key: if you are playing in a brick-and-mortar tourney remember to request or bring some nuts or pretzels with you to nibble whenever you feel a pang of hunger. This way your brain will have a steady supply of fuel and you will feel more energetic and alert. If you play online then you have absolutely no excuse: plan (or order) a meal before you even sit at the computer, and eat it in “installments” – first the salad, then the chicken, then the fries. Also remember to keep nibbles at hand while you play so you don’t even have to take your eyes off the screen to keep hunger at bay.


If you consistently eat this way you will notice a great improvement in your day-to-day energy levels, as well as your capacity to concentrate and stay alert for long periods. This will give you a great advantage over other players, who will either be playing on an empty, growling stomach or will be fighting off the urge to take a post-meal nap. Easy pickings for a sharp, alert, energetic shark such as yourself!


You now know HOW to eat to improve your game, but we still have not gone over WHAT to eat for optimal brain performance. Visit us next week for the following installment of this 3-part series, where we will tell you all you need to know about what to eat to improve your memory, concentration and mood.


Read part II: Eat right and improve your game – Part II

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