Posts Tagged ‘food’

Eat right and improve your game – Part III

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Part I, Part II, Part III

Feed your brain and watch it grow.

Who wouldn’t like to have a bigger brain for poker? Think of all the strategy you could learn, how quickly you could calculate odds and make devious plans to conquer pots all around! While we do not promise a 50% increase in brain mass, we can point you to some foods that will help your brain repair itself and even grow.

Unless you live under a rock (or chained to three flat screens and 20 single table tourneys, which is quite similar) you must have heard talk of “essential fatty acids” or “Omega 3” oils. This is not astronaut’s food, nor a new invention to make you buy more supplements. These nutrients are old as the hills, and they can be your best friends at the poker table, since eating enough of those will make your brain stronger, healthier, and maybe even bigger.

Essential fatty acids are not “essential” in the sense that oxygen is – they are called “essential” because you have to get them from your food, since the body cannot synthesize them. Hence these are foods you cannot omit altogether, because there is no other way you can get the fatty acids. This is what is so “essential” about them. Is all clear now? OK, so what are they and where do we find them?

The most important fatty acids are the famous Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids (i.e. oils), which are all over the news and talk shows these days because of their cholesterol-reducing powers. But reduced cholesterol is only a secondary benefit – what we are really interested in is poker, right? Well, consider this: brain tissue is composed of fat, and not just any fat but – you guessed it – essential fatty acids: Omega 3 and Omega 6 and something called DHA which we will get to in a minute. EFAs are the main components of brain tissue – the blocks out of which your brain is built.

This is a two-pronged issue: on the one hand, the more of these acids you get, the more building material your brain will have available to repair itself and grow. On the other, if you do not eat enough of these substances (and remember they are “essential” because you have to eat them to get them) then your brain will have to resort to lower quality fats to rebuild itself, which will result literally in a lower-quality brain: decreased memory, lower attention span, reduced analytic capabilities. The horror!

So where are these fats and how soon can you start eating them by the bushel? Omega 6 is easy to find and ingest, as it is present in vegetable oils (such as sunflower, corn and sesame) and cereals; go for whole grain versions whenever possible for extra nutrition. Omega 3 is abundant in oily fish such as salmon, tuna and herring (is that perhaps why Scandinavians are so good at the tables? All those pickled herrings and smoked salmon?) and doctors recommend at least 2 servings per week to cover your brain’s basic needs – however, if you want increased mental powers for those WSOP satellites we recommend you aim for 4 servings of at least 4 ounces each per week. Indulge in lox bagels, or enjoy a meaty tuna steak with a side of wilted spinach or chard for a super powerful brain. Vegetarians need not despair: flaxseed is an excellent source of Omega 3, and walnuts, spinach, eggs and algae are also very high in EFAs. A spinach omelette should be just the thing to eat before a big tourney, and adding walnuts to your cereal or salads on a daily basis will not just make them tastier but also increase your brainpower.

And now let’s talk about DHA, also known as docosahexaenoic acid. DHA is one of the main components of brain tissues, and therefore an important part of any poker player’s diet. The good news are that DHA is not an essential acid, meaning that your body can synthesize it if you get enough Omegas. The better news are that you can also ingest DHA ready made, making it easy for your brain to get all it needs to perform at top capacity. Like the essential fatty acids, DHA can also be found in coldwater fish and seafood, so try to make those a part of your diet and eat them a few times a week Vegetarians are well advised to stock up on flaxseed, soy and canola oil and eating plenty of algae – sushi and miso soup should be a quite tasty way of getting your EFA fix. Daniel Negreanu is a vegan, and look how well he fares!

So go on, order the shrimp kabob or the lobster and tell yourself “this is good for my brain!” You can almost justify it as an inversion to increase your poker ROI. For those still on lower stakes, start off a successful poker career by eating sardines on whole-wheat toast and adding anchovies to your pizza – the lobster will not be far off. Vegetarian grinders could do worse than stock up on trailer mix full of walnuts, brazil nuts and pumpkin seed to snack on while playing, and a fancy meal of wilted chard of collard greens with blue cheese is an excellent way to get EFAs into the system. Vegetarians and meat eaters alike will probably enjoy snacks of guacamole and baked tortillas, knowing that avocados are not just delicious but also make you smarter.

If you stock your pantry with the right foods, and include them regularly in your diet, you will be doing yourself a favor in more than one way: EFAs will help lower your cholesterol levels, keep your brain healthy and solid, and increase your mental capabilities for better poker results!

And for those who read the previous article and were wondering about “the miracle nutrients that will make you smarter, healthier, and more attractive;” what can be more attractive than being a smart, powerful, winning player?

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Eat right and improve your game – Part II

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Part I, Part II, Part III

Eating for memory and concentration.


In poker, memory is all. You have to remember your opponents’ betting patterns, their behaviour throughout the game, the cards dealt. Discover how some foods can improve your memory and concentration, and get the memory edge on the competition!

Your brain cells (neurons, if you prefer) age along with you, as you would expect. Through time and use they become more susceptible to inflammation and oxidation – that’s medical jargon for swelling and rusting – both of which make it more difficult for the cells to communicate and restore themselves. And as cells deteriorate and stop communicating, your brain has a harder time creating new memories and accessing existing ones, and your attention span and concentration levels decrease too. As they say, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!” This is perhaps why all those Scandinavian teenagers are taking the online tourneys by storm: their brains are young and fresh, ready like sponges to remember everything and not afraid of any learning curve, steep or otherwise. But not all is lost – with age comes experience, and with a proper diet that experience can be aided by a youthful, nimble brain that will memorise and focus as well as any youngster. Are you ready to teach an old dog new tricks and to show those kids who’s the “daddy” at the tables?

A quick drink improves your game


Oxidation is a big issue, and the best way to combat it is by making sure you get enough antioxidants. No duh! Antioxidants are the chemicals that give bright colour to vegetables and fruits, and they do just what it says on the label: they prevent and combat oxidation. By eating at least 5 (but preferably 9) portions of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables a day, you will be significantly improving your brain’s condition to resist age and stay nimble and fresh. Do you absolutely loathe salads and fresh greens? Then try adding vegetables to stews and stir-fries, order a grilled vegetable antipasto or try some spinach or pumpkin ravioli. Another easy and tasty solution is to “drink” your antioxidants in the shape of fruit and vegetable smoothies or juices – sorry, while tomato juice is great for you, Bloody Marys don’t count! Don’t even bother forking out cash for supplements: most experts agree that they are nowhere near as efficient as eating the real thing. Go on, add strawberries to your breakfast, a side salad to your lunch and some pineapple to your barbecues – your brain (and bankroll) will be all the healthier for it.


Two metals that will work wonders for your brain are iron and zinc, and while we are certainly not suggesting you swallow some nails or snack on roofing, a higher intake of these nutrients will definitely improve your concentration, attention and memory. Just imagine this: scientists gave zinc supplements to a group of 7th graders – probably the people with the shortest attention span in the universe – and after a few months it was proven to increase their concentration and memory. If it works on a 7th grader imagine what it will do for you! To get more zinc into your system treat yourself to a “surf & turf” before a big tourney: meat and seafood have great quantities of zinc. If you are a vegetarian, despair not: you can get some zinc from eggs and milk, as well as miso soup, black eyed peas and pumpkin seeds.


Iron, on the other hand, is immensely important for your brain’s good functioning, because it carries the oxygen that cells use as fuel. If you remember the brain is the highest oxygen consumer in the body, you will see why iron is crucial to keep it working well… kind of like petrol to an industrialised country. Not enough oxygen, and your brain will become sluggish, with low levels of concentration, a shortened attention span and even some memory loss. Prevent this potential disaster by making sure your brain always has all the oxygen (and iron) it needs, especially before making great demands on it like that H.O.R.S.E. tourney with the big buy-in. The good news is that increasing your iron intake may be easier than you think. Don’t laugh now: cooking in an iron pot can make a difference in the iron content in your meals! Iron can be found in extra-lean red meat and pulses, as well as dark leafy greens such as spinach and chard – before you frown at the greens, try them wilted in a pan with some butter and a bit of crumbled blue cheese! Another tip for maximising your iron intake is to drink orange juice with your meals, as it increases absorption and makes sure every last bit of iron makes its way into your bloodstream.


The gourmets among you will be pleased to hear that two spices have been proven to make a significant impact in your memory. The first one is a garden herb, easy to grow and delicious to eat: sage. Add sage to your chicken and fish dishes, or to baked zucchinis and green beans, and if you’re feeling adventurous try coating the bigger, thicker sage leaves in a light batter and frying them – Italians call this “Stuzzicchini” and eat them crispy and lightly salted. Sage oil capsules will also do the trick for you: medical tests showed an improvement in subjects’ memories almost immediately after consuming sage oil. Stock up on sage – fresh, dried or as oil – and make sure you get enough on the weeks before a big tourney or a trip to Vegas.


The other condiment that can improve your memory is good old curry. Bring on the Murg masala! Studies have shown that Asian people who eat curry regularly are less prone to Alzheimer’s disease, a sure sign that their neurons are battling inflammation a lot better than those of their Western counterparts. This is apparently due to curcumin, a chemical found in turmeric, the powdered spice that gives curry its distinctive yellow colour. Enjoy your curry takeaways with the knowledge that you are doing a good thing for your brain!


Read on for the last part of this series, where we will tell you about the miracle nutrients that will make you smarter, healthier, and more attractive.

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Eat right and improve your game – Part I

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

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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