This article offers five quick and easy health tips that you can implement right now to enhance your poker sessions. It’s not a health guide, as such, just a gently reminder that poker is a game of focus and endurance, with tips on how you can enhance your sessions.
Poker requires skill, a lot of run good, and also an unbreakable focus. It’s all good knowing the theory of how to play a hand, or how extract the maximum value from a particular spot, but doing so in practice is a different story. Especially when you’re five or six hours deep in a tournament.
At the top level, poker professionals emphasis not only strategy but also health. Staying physically active, resting, eating well – it all contributes to enhanced performance at the tables.
Let’s imagine for a moment two evenly matched players. Both have the same knowledge of poker. One player is well hydrated and occasionally grazing away on a nutritious mix of nuts and berries. The other has just finished a kebab. All things equal, which is likely to focus more for the next couple of hours?
No matter your stakes, looking after your health before, during and after a poker session is important. Today we’re going to focus on the ‘during’. Four quick and easy ways you can improve health, and therefore focus, during a long tournament.
1. Cut out the sugar
I’m no dietician and, to be honest, there are so many ‘miraculous’ solutions out there that you can take your pick. Or just try to eat a balanced diet, maybe. But one food group that you could safely cut out, especially during your poker session, is refined sugars.
Sugar is not great for concentration. A study by UCLA has shown that it forms free radicals in the brain’s membrane which impair nerve cells ability to communicate. In layperson’s terms, it fogs the brain.
Sugar also causes instability in mood. This is due to spiking dopamine levels in the brain, dopamine spike and the inevitable craving for more.
On top of this, excessive consumption of sugar reduces levels of a brain chemical called BDNF which helps us to learn. As well as being more likely to make mistakes, you’re less likely to learn from them.
For those who play poker, whether live or online, this combination of cognitive decline, mood instability and reduced learning is a recipe for disaster. Top poker health tip: cut out the sugar, at least while you play.
2. Brain food snacks
Okay, I hear you… there’s nothing better than a packet of fruit pastels. Except there is. There are loads of healthy snacks you can bring to the poker tables to enhance your session instead of hinder it.
Ideal brain foods for poker players include nuts, especially walnuts, which have been shown to improve cognition. Berries are full of antioxidants and are great for memory. They’ll also satisfy your sweet tooth. Food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as avocados and flaxseeds, have also been linked to improved cognition.
If you’re planning to eat a meal during a long poker session, then fish and leafy green vegetables are an ideal choice, much better than hamburger and fries, which are full of saturated fats that will make you feel sluggish.
Diet really will effect focus and concentration during poker sessions, so there’s no harm aiming to improve your eating habits.
Poker tournaments are mammoth affairs. They involve sitting in a (hopefully) comfortable chair for many hours. It’s pretty sedentary. Anyone who does play for consecutive days should definitely be balancing this with lots of exercise.
Of course, we all know that exercise is good for you. One thousand steps here. Ten thousand there. But did you know you can also keep the blood flowing during a poker session?
In this article by Howard Swains, London based yoga instructor Lauren Gasser offers five yoga positions that you can do whilst sitting down playing poker. Mix that in with a good stretch during the breaks and enjoy enhanced focus at the tables.
4. Find the balance between play and rest
Those who play poker online as professionals or serious amateurs look to put in lots of volume. That’s fine until the quality of your decision making starts to decline. At that point, additional volume does more harm than good.
Actually, it’s all about how much volume you can put in whilst still playing at your best. Experience will quickly tell you how long you can concentrate for and play optimally. It may be four hours. It may be eight. Try to choose tournaments that you can stay awake for!
Feeling well rested before you start will improve your focus for longer. Sleep will allow your body and mind to recover ready for the next assault on your favorite MTT.
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