We're often getting so caught up with poker-related activities that we tend to neglect other parts of our life that can contribute to our poker success. While optimizing your betting patterns and working on the mental game is absolutely essential, your sleeping schedule, diet, and physical activity can also contribute to your win rate and make your journey as smooth as possible in the long run. As the old greek proverb says "A sound mind is in a sound body" so it's a great idea to establish and cultivate positive lifestyle habits.
This is a problem area for many poker players. The healthy sleeping schedule is one of the first things that professionals are willing to sacrifice in order to play in higher EV games. Long MTT sessions and playing cash games at night can destabilize your daily rhythm and lead to some very unpleasant health consequences. Fortunately, not all is lost and choosing late hours for playing poker doesn't mean you can't follow a healthy sleeping routine.
- Make a schedule - Try to go to bed and wake up at the same hour of every day (weekends included). This will help regulate your internal clock.
- Get an adequate amount of sleep - Contrary to what most people seem to think it's impossible for the majority of us to function properly on less than 7 hours of sleep. Unless you're one of those lucky few % of people with superior genetics who are able to get by with 5-6 hours without any negative consequences, your body will eventually catch up to you and take away the missing hours of sleep in the form of decreasing the energy expenditure when it comes to your mental performance or by destabilizing your sleep schedule. Feel free to experiment and figure out how much sleep you need but 7-8 hours is the right place to start.
- Embrace (or avoid) naps - Naps are fairly well researched and just 20min of shut-eye can dramatically boost your mental performance. With that in mind, you can use naps strategically before your poker session, especially if you have some other life commitments that drain your physical and mental energy through the day. That being said, naps can also destabilize your sleeping schedule if you have trouble falling asleep at night so keep that in mind and act accordingly.
- Make yourself comfortable - We're all spending a considerable amount of our lives sleeping and that why we should make our bedroom as comfortable as possible. Invest in a comfortable and supportive mattress. Choose a pillow that's comfortable and still allows you to maintain the healthy curvature of your neck while you sleep. Lastly, make sure your room is dark and cool which will help you fall asleep faster.
As we said above, a healthy and fit body can directly impact your mental capacity. That's why it's very important to stay active, maintain a healthy weight, and cardiovascular endurance. Most individuals who are healthy to begin with don't really need more than 1-1,5 hours of training three times per week to stay in relatively good shape.
That being said, like with everything else in life, the more time and effort you invest in training the more you'll get out of it. The most important thing about any kind of physical training like running, lifting weights or martial arts is to very slowly keep pushing yourself. If we're not using any kind of progressive overload, our body will at some point stop adjusting to our routine. At that point, we're just going through the motion without any noticeable effect and that might lead to problems with motivation down the line.
Nutritional science is a vast subject and there seems to be no clear consensus when it comes to the optimal diet (no matter what avid enthusiasts spreading their dietary gospel in numerous discussion threads would lead you to believe). Fortunately, there are some basic rules that everyone should follow no matter what their preferred diet is:
- Consider tracking your calories and macronutrients using the Myfitnesspal app - Even if you don't have well-defined fitness goals and you don't need to lose any weight, tracking your calories and macros for a month a two can help you gain a greater understanding of nutrition and make more conscious choices about your diet in the future.
- Don't neglect carbs - Unless you're on a very specific diet that induces the state of ketosis you should be including a fair amount of carbohydrates in your diet, preferably complex ones (oatmeal, green and starchy vegetables, beans, whole-wheat pasta etc.) that are a great long-term source of energy instead of simple ones you get from sugar and that give you short energy boosts. Contrary to the popular belief carbs aren't your enemy especially if you're doing something that's mentally draining like playing poker. So unless you're trying to lose weight and you're trying to avoid some of the calorie-dense foods (like starchy vegetables, pasta etc.) picking a low-carb diet isn't necessary.
- Remember about healthy fats - Fat is another macro-nutrient that often gets a bad rap. In reality, healthy fats are an essential part of every diet and there's a good amount of research suggesting that high-fat, ketogenic diets might be a viable option for some people. In any case, try to include some avocados, nuts, coconut/olive/hemp oil, and/or fatty fish and whole eggs in your diet to make sure your body can function properly.
- Micro-nutrients - Macro-nutrients are just a part of the equation. Aside from the adequate amount of protein, carbs and fat in your diet you should also make sure that you're getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet. It's important to include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet
- The food you should avoid - Sweets, soda, fast food, chips, some of the pre-made sauces (MSG) etc.
- The importance of cheat meals - Sustainability is the most important aspect of every diet and that's why it's important to occasionally treat yourself to something that's perhaps not the healthiest option out there (like a can of Pepsi or a slice of pizza), but will help you realize that you're not in the food prison.[divider[
The supplement industry tends to market their merchandise very aggressively and every new product is painted as this magic potion that will transform you into a superhuman being. In reality, most of the dietary supplements are just that - supplements. If you have a well thought out and balance diet, you don't need to supplement it with anything, but it might be a good idea to use some supplements for the sake of convenience.
- Melatonin - If you're having trouble sleeping, melatonin can be a very effective solution to the problem. That being said I wouldn't suggest a prolonged use unless it's absolutely necessary since even though melatonin seems to be fairly safe it can have some side-effects like a headache, dizziness or even feelings of depression. Most people are able to regulate their sleeping schedule without the use of drugs, but it might be a good idea to have melatonin handy in case of an emergency situation.
- Vitamins - If you're consuming a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods there's a small chance of being vitamin deficient. The two most common exceptions are vitamins D3 and B12. Even though being deficient in those vitamins is mostly associated with people on vegetarian and vegan diets, in reality, most common causes are environmental changes and sedentary lifestyles. Try to catch at least 15 minutes of sunlight every day and you can skip supplementation of the vitamin D3.
- Protein powder - Unless you're into heavy resistance training you don't really need it. Protein powders are convenient when you're short on time, and can be a very useful tool in the active, busy poker player's arsenal, but most people really don't need them.
- Creatine - This supplement is associated mostly with strength training, but studies suggest that it can also boost cognitive function in some people. Creatine is very well researched and we can trust those claims, but studies also show that up to 30% of the population don't respond to this substance so check it out for yourself.
- Omega 3 - Another important nutrient when it comes to our cognitive functions and overall health. Like before, if you have a balanced diet including nuts, seeds, and fish there's a big chance you don't need to supplement it, but the possible consequences of deficiency may convince some people to pop one pill a day just in case.
- Mind-boosters - This is a tricky category. Many of the dietary supplements that claim to be boosting our mental capacity are just a glorified multi-vitamins, some of them can actually give us a mental edge and some of them are very potent and might have unpleasant side-effects. This is a very broad subject worthy of a separate article. As a general rule, most of the generic supplements won't offer enough of a benefit to warrant our interest and if you want to go for the ones that actually work you should spend a lot of time researching the subject so you can make informed decisions.
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