There was once a time when you could spot the health conscious poker player because he switched to greyhounds after six vodka sodas for the vitamins in the grapefruit juice. But that kind of thing is so long ago, it feels like a nostalgia trip even to write it.
Poker tournament champions these days are specimens. Although their daily lives at home, as they play online, can often mean long nights and a vampiric sleep pattern, successful players have grown increasingly aware of the need for nutrients, exercise and a schedule that allows for recuperation in between long trips. They carry vitamin smoothies to the table, and pick hotels based on the standard of the gym. They are aware of their posture at the tables, and they pay personal trainers to iron out all the flaws.
At the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, All American Dave’s food truck is regularly far busier than the burger stand in the hallway. Its menu has blackened salmon, vegan caesar salad and four choices of protein shakes. Even the coffee is organic.
“We’re all about healthy food, served in macronutrient balance, meaning there’s the right amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat in every single meal,” Dave Swanson, the company founder, told All In magazine. “Poker players, more than anybody I think, need this type of food because they’re sitting in a sedentary area where they’re just not moving around. And then they’re under high stress. Every single decision matters.”
Although most poker takes place away from the WSOP, and you can’t hope for a macronutrient-aware food truck to pull up outside your house during an online poker grind, there are some simple rules everyone can follow to keep themselves as healthy as possible. Most significantly, it’s the simple awareness that though poker players might try to act like robots, they are only human. They need to stay in shape and maintain a healthy diet, which means plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and enough fluids to stay hydrated. Your poker playing skills are directly correlated to how well you look after the body clicking the buttons.
Writing for PokerStars Blog in 2013, Sara Varela offered some easy tips for a poker player’s diet during long trips to tournaments.
Varela listed some useful dos and don’ts for players at the airport, in transit and at the hotel, and also shared some simple healthy recipes — for avocado toast, a green smoothie and almond milk — all of which can be whipped up with only basic supplies and equipment.
Avoiding coffee and loading up on vitamin-rich foodstuffs is just a part of it, and the tips are well worth reading in full. Warning: may require the purchase of a travel blender.
Poker tournaments often require long and unsociable hours, but the importance of sleep cannot be underestimated. Tiredness causes more mistakes than perhaps any other ailment, so being well rested is a must to play to your optimum ability.
When you’re at home, just focus on getting as much rest as you can and sticking to a decent routine. Make sure you do everything you can to rest up before and after long sessions.
Meanwhile, being on the road often means packing as many tournaments in as you can, but that doesn’t mean you should skimp on your base camp. All hotels selected by PokerStars Travel, will be high-end and therefore come equipped with the basics — namely a good bed, clean linen and a Do Not Disturb sign — but it can’t help to squirrel a couple of other useful pieces of equipment in your bag: ear plugs and a mask. No guest can expect other residents to keep the noise down 24 hours a day (and we’ve all been woken by a vacuum cleaner), so those buds are going to be worth their weight in gold. Meanwhile, daylight is always going to intervene in the life of a committed nocturnal being, so pinch a mask from a plane next time you see one.
Otherwise, it’s worth remembering that hotels themselves are usually well stocked with everything their guests need. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask the front desk to help you out, even requesting a room change if necessary. They will always have catered to far ruder patrons than you, and the customer is always right!
One of the best exercises you can put your fingers through is to type “hotel room workout” into Google and see what comes back. Just because you’re going to be spending a lot of time confined to a small space while you travel for poker (or while you’re in your own home preparing to play online) it doesn’t mean you can’t keep in shape.
There’s the 20-Minute Hotel-Room Workout from Livestrong, or the 30-Minute Hotel-Room Workout from Warrior Mode. Pushed for time? Try the same from the 12-Minute Athlete or dip into a list of exercises suggested by Entrepreneur magazine.
Not long ago, we also consulted London-based yoga instructor Lauren Gasser, who came up with a series of yoga stretches that can be done in the five-minute tournament breaks afforded online players. No excuses to miss this one, even if you only speak German or Portuguese.
There are other, sometimes less obvious hazards to poker playing too, including the kind of repetitive strain injury (RSI) that can affect any office worker, as well as eye fatigue from staring for long periods at a screen. It’s also super important to remain hydrated, whether playing live or online. There’s plenty of information available online for addressing these issues too, so be sure to look after your body and mind, and the results should take care of themselves.