Becoming asuccessful poker player is not a trivial task. Due to the existence of rake, 90% of players will be denied that status and with the games getting tougher and tougher the remaining 10 or so percent has to fight harder than ever to keep their place among the winners.
Because of that, every edge matters, and we shouldn't dismiss anything that can have a real effect on our performance at the tables. Given how often poker is compared to other sports it's surprising that the issue of optimizing one's diet for optimal poker performance almost never comes up.
One Size Fits All?
Contrary to what thousands of books and articles would have you believe there's no optimal solution when it comes to nutrition. We have countless of peer reviewed studies associating almost every nutrient with almost every outcome so while many strategies are viable there's no clear best one. It's kinda like with poker - we know that some plays are fundamentally better than others but we're still far away from solving the game entirely and therefore it's possible to find two PLO100 crushers with similar win rate and skill level but wildly different stats and play styles.
By the same token, you can find the enthusiasts of a ketogenic diet, a high carb diet or even vegans/vegetarians at the highest levels of many demanding sports like MMA, powerlifting, football etc. Also, it's important to remember that fitness is a giant industry and misinformations can be tremendously helpful in selling new products.
With that out of the way let's go over the fundamentals of proper nutrition and give you some tools that you can use to devise your own diet plan based on your own body and preferences.
- Calories. The first step on a way to optimizing your nutrition is figuring out your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). The easiest way of doing that is by utilizing one of the many calculators available online (Tdeecalculator.net). Just input your sex, age, weight, height plus your activity level and you'll get the number of calories that you need to consume in order to maintain your current weight.
If you're unhappy with your current weight and you wouldn't mind losing a few pounds start with a small caloric deficit (around 10%) that you can slowly ramp up as needed. In case you have no idea how many calories you're consuming on a daily basis try to log your meals into an app called Myfitnesspal.
With a huge library of foods that Myfitnesspal provides and by offering you the option to scan barcodes of products, logging in your calories will only take you only a few minutes each day and it has the potential to improve the quality of your nutrition by providing you with valuable knowledge and giving you more control over your diet.
- Macronutrients. Paying attention to the macronutrient content of the food you're consuming is enough to differentiate you from most of the poker players and give you most of the edge you're able to gain over the opposition as far as nutrition is concerned. Make sure you're consuming enough protein to allow your body to repair your cells, keep your immune system running and maintain (or even build if you're exercising regularly which - while outside of the scope of this article - is, of course, a great idea) your muscle mass.
It's also important to provide your body with some amount of healthy fats that are really important when it comes to your hormonal balance. Lastly, you want to make sure you're consuming enough carbohydrates to fuel your body with a constant supply of energy (which, given the fact that our brain uses around 25% of calories that we consume each day, is especially important when it comes to poker). Unless you're willing to experiment with something like ketogenic diet or you have other reasons for avoiding carbohydrates getting around 40-50% of your calories from carbs, 30% from protein and 20-30% from fat is a great place to start.
Make sure that you pick high-quality whole foods over highly processed stuff. There's nothing wrong with drinking a can of coke once or twice a week but using soft drinks as a substitute for water is not a great idea. Similarly, a burger from a fast food joint can be a fun addition to your diet but you should go with a healthy homemade meal 90% of the time etc.
- Micronutrients. Speaking of high-quality foods, including lots of veggies, some fruits and quality protein in your diet is the easiest way to ensure that your micronutrient needs are met. While Myfitnesspal and similar apps make it incredibly easy to track your caloric intake and macros, tracking the micronutrients is much more tricky to the point that it's probably not worth your time. That's why balanced diet full of high-quality foods is so important. For most people eating 5 servings of veggies and getting 15 minutes of sunlight each day is all you really need.
- Number and timing of meals. This is far less important than most people would lead you to believe. There's very little difference in consuming six meals per day vs. two or even one meal per day provided that your caloric, macro and micronutrient needs are met. There are some promising studies out there suggesting that introducing fasting into your routine might lead to better cognitive performance but once again meal timing and the number of meals is not really that important.
Adherence, Adherence, Adherence!
Now that you know the basics, start slow, follow the fundamentals and adjust your routine based on your personal preferences and your particular needs. For example, while 40-50% of your calories coming from carbs will be a good idea for most people you might be very insulin sensitive and therefore it might be better for you to experiment with low-carb, high-fat diets.
By tracking your caloric intake and macros you're already more aware than 90% of the population when it comes to nutrition and if you stay consistent your body will reward you with a better physical and mental performance. Consistency is the key aspect when it comes to the diet. The information provided above might seem very basic, but it's far easier to adhere to a basic plan than to an elaborate one.
Let me offer you an analogy, if we compare poker win rate with the quality of a diet plan and volume at the table with adherence to said diet plan it's easy to realize that a 10bb/100h crusher who spends so much time perfecting his strategy (diet plan) that he only plays around 10k hands each month will have far worse results than a solid 3bb/100h grinder who's disciplined enough to play 60k hands in the same time period.
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