How To Build Proper Habits To Boost Your Poker Performance
The food you eat directly correlates with energy level, which in return affects your performance. Simple as that.
Why am I saying this?
Well, because I experienced it directly. I was able to lose 21 kg (46lbs) of my body weight, so I know what kind of difference it makes to energy level and everything else in your life.
I do remember the times when poker players didn’t talk much about healthy diets and exercise to help you perform at your best. And to be honest, I was also guilty of that.
10 years ago you could easily find many good players eating junk food, playing when exhausted, partying ‘till the morning before a big tournament, or even consuming alcohol at the table. But these days, you’ll hardly ever find that among the best players.
Everything has changed, and now players are looking to take that extra edge in any form they can, and this is precisely what I want to discuss today and how you can do it.
A good diet and healthy lifestyle is especially important for poker players since we tend to spend a lot of time sitting and playing the game.
So without proper preparation and following the basic principles of a healthy lifestyle, you’re likely to fall short of energy in the most important moments of your poker career.
Luckily, these days you can find a lot of information about performance, building habits, or following a proper diet, and in this article, I want to cover all of these fields.
How To Change Your Diet To Optimize Your Poker Perfomance
Over the years, I tried a lot of different things, and I can safely say that there’s no magic pill that can solve all of your problems overnight.
It’s very easy to have a positive short-term effect on your weight, but the biggest challenge is to keep these changes, and this is where many fail.
I have also failed with it more than I would like to admit, which is why I want to share what I’ve learned in the process.
I believe that the only way to avoid this “Yo-Yo” effect is to build proper and sustainable habits that you can follow for the rest of your life. As scary as it sounds, this is the only way.
So we will not talk about how to lose weight quickly, or how to boost your energy for a week. Instead, let’s concentrate on what matters and what can bring you long term results.
1. Understand Proper Food Balance
All of us have a favorite food that we could eat almost every day but that doesn’t mean you should.
For me, it’s pizza. I don’t know why but I just love it and used to enjoy it at least a couple of times per week. As you can guess, having it that frequently wasn’t exactly the best way to balance my diet.
This doesn’t mean you should altogether avoid the treats you like. Quite the contrary, it’s vital to include your favorite foods in your diet, otherwise it will feel like a battle and there’s no way to sustain it in the long run.
For me, it means I let myself enjoy a slice of pizza from time to time, but it definitely isn’t something I eat every day.
Extreme changes are not going to lead you to long-term success in poker. Completely removing carbohydrates from your diet, or drastically reducing food intake isn’t sustainable.
The goal is to have a balanced diet with everything in it. You do need carbohydrates as well as fat, so completely removing either is not going to help you. Instead, leave it in your ration, but make sure to consume enough protein as well.
I am not a nutritionist, so you probably should consult one if you decide to change your habits to get the best possible results.
However, whenever you start trying something new, ask yourself if you can sustain your new diet for years, and if the answer is NO, then this is most likely not for you.
2. Avoid Unhealthy Snacks
When following a proper diet, one of the most important things is getting healthy snacks.
It’s all too easy to grab a bag of chips or candies to nibble while you play but they’re not going to give you the brain power or energy you need to perform well.
Instead, opt for nuts, fruit, berries, or even a protein bar to get all the calories that you need.
It’s also not just about what you eat but also how much, and that could be a deciding factor.
If you grab one candy next to your coffee while taking a break, nothing terrible will happen, but people rarely stop after eating just one, and this is where all the problems begin.
The thing that helped me the most was deciding what I was going to eat and preparing it in advance before I even sat down to play.
This is effective because you can easily control how much and what you will eat during your sessions. It a painless and efficient way to make sure you follow a proper diet.
3. Give Yourself A Cheat Day
Giving yourself a cheat day can massively boost your motivation when you’re starting to try and change your habits.
When I started following a healthy diet, my nutritionist made a program where he included a “Cheat Sunday” where I could eat anything I wanted, and it was life-changing for me.
It was much easier to follow my food plan during the week because I knew I would be able to get that slice of pizza on Sunday and relax by eating something sweet.
To be honest, the first weeks didn’t go too well, and I consumed an insane amount of food on my Sundays.
But as time passed, I started eating less and less. Now I never overeat and most of the time I just eat regular and healthy dishes because it’s just become part of who I am, thanks to developing it as a habit.
Just be aware that such lifestyle changes do take some time, so don’t be too hard on yourself when you start out.
4. Eat At The Same Time Every Day
Another quick tip to always eat at the same time. I have a fixed time for my breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and that rarely changes.
Eating around the same time every day helps your body get used to consuming and processing food, which transitions to more energy for you.
While it may require some adjustments to your day-to-day life, I personally think it’s totally worth it.
When you see the changes it can bring to you both personally and at the poker table, I doubt you will ever want to go back to your old habits.
5. Avoid Too Much Caffeine
I know many players who love drinking tons of coffee and choose energy drinks instead of water whenever they want something to drink.
I doubt it has any positive effect, and this habit is more likely to hurt you than help achieve anything good.
You need to be hydrated to think clearly and make good decisions during play. And, if you’re forever running on caffeine, your sleep quality will be poor and will have a negative impact on your gameplay too, not to mention the risk of some other nasty side effects.
Of course, if you are not overconsuming caffeine, then it can give you some extra energy when you need it on an extended session or when you reach the final table after 10 hours of play.
I personally only drink water while playing, though, because I’ve found it to be the most effective.
6. Don’t Drink Alcohol During Or Before The Game
This one goes without saying, but I’ve so many players spewing their bankrolls and wasting a lot of money that it has to be mentioned.
There is no need to go over all the reasons because we all know that alcohol negatively affects your concentration, focus, energy, and even ability to make educated decisions.
Even though you think that one or two drinks don’t make a difference, they probably do. It’s just that you’re probably not able to notice the impact.
That being said, this is an extremely easy change to make, so just make the decision to leave the booze for non-game days.
7. Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself
Last but not least is accepting the reality of following a proper diet or building any new habit.
You are going to fail at some point, and that is fine!
The truth is that everyone has pitfalls from time to time, and the most important thing is how you react to it.
You, as a poker player, should be aware that you have to accept reality and only concentrate on something that you can control.
If you eat a whole cake before going to bed, don’t sweat about it. It already happened, and you will not change anything, so instead, concentrate on what you are going to do next.
The worst thing you can do is associate it with the failure, and stop following the diet just because you already “failed.” Just remember it was one slip-up, accept it, and continue on with your diet.
Don’t punish yourself for it, but instead use it as a stepping stone to progress even further.
What The Experts Think
All of the previously mentioned tips come from my personal experience, and I am thrilled to share them with you.
But don’t just take my word for it, many top poker pros attest their success to diet and lifestyle.
So we thought we’d ask some experts to weigh in with their top tips.
Here is what nutritionist Lisa Richards has to say for poker players:
“Mental clarity and focus are vital to any good poker player. Diet can play a major role in keeping these individuals performing at the best possible level. The nutrients we take in and our overall diet pattern has a greater impact on our cognitive function than we often realize.”
“Whole fruits and vegetables like blueberries, apples, bananas, and carrots are easy travel foods that can be taken to competitions and are packed with antioxidants and phytonutrients, which are known to improve your mood.”
“Foods high in essential fatty acids will provide the brain with good fats that will improve overall cognition as well. These types of foods include nuts, seeds, avocados, eggs, as well as chia and flax.”
“A diet high in refined carbohydrates results in chronic inflammation in the body which leads to poor cognitive function, including ability to focus, along with other health issues.”
“Therefore, its important for poker players to avoid the temptation to snack on processed convenience foods like chips, sodas, and candy.”
Lisa Richards is a nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet. She has been featured on Today, US News, Women’s Health magazine, Huffington Post, Healthline, the San Francisco Chronicle, Reader’s Digest, Lifehack, Insider, and Well+Good, among others. Through her website, thecandidadiet.com, she explains the benefits of a low-sugar, anti-inflammatory diet.
On top of that, Paulina Nowak, practicing dietitian and content director at Authority Dental also shared these tips:
- Take care of a balanced diet – let it contain protein, fats and carbohydrates. If you don’t have any allergies, it’s a good idea to provide your body with all the ingredients.
- Do not eat or drink very sweet food directly before the game. They will cause insulin release, and when it drops – after about 2 hours – you will be very sleepy and your perceptiveness will drop.
- You can afford more carbohydrates last night – a bit like preparing for a marathon. Eat spaghetti or salmon with rice and vegetables. Your brain will get the necessary fats and macro nutrients.
- If you’re a fan of energizing drinks – slowly put them away. These drinks are sweetened and the rule is that you drink more and more because after a while you feel very tired. If you get used to water – in a crisis, an energizer or coffee will really stimulate you.
- Avoid alcohol before the game – when alcohol evaporates from your body you will feel exhausted and smashed, and we don’t want that.
As you can see, following a proper diet is one of the most important things you can do to yourself.
Even if you do not believe that you lack energy at the moment, you will be surprised how much you can increase your performance by following these tips.
That being said, food is just one piece of the puzzle, and there are some extra steps you can take to go that extra mile that most players are not willing to go – where you’ll get an edge over them.
How To Increase Your Energy And Concentration
Most of these tips look very straightforward but while it’s easy to understand why they’re beneficial, it’s not always as easy to implement them in everyday life.
I also struggled and failed time and time again while building new habits, but trust me when I say it’s the only way to become successful in the long-run.
“Habit” is the most important word here because everyone can concentrate and perform great in the short term, but if you force yourself too much, you’ll quickly burn out and will have to start all over again.
Therefore, it’s much better to take it slowly and concentrate just on one thing at a time. I do believe that everything starts with a proper routine, so this is going to be the first point of this list.
1. Make A Routine And Stick To It
If you want to perform at your best, you have to structure how you approach poker.
I know this can be particularly hard for poker players because we tend to imagine that freedom means doing whatever we want whenever we want, but that’s not what it is.
There are many factors, but let’s briefly mention a few.
First of all, you need to crank up the volume to pay the bills. Unless you are playing the highest stakes, you’ll have to put in long hours playing – there’s no way around it.
This brings us to the second point that if you want to compete in today’s environment, there is no way you can skip the learning part, so you need to devote significant time to it.
Also, it makes sense to play when the best games are running, not when you feel like it, so there’s not so much freedom in that part either.
Having a proper routine is your best shot at succeeding with all of these tasks in the long run.
I believe that it’s especially important to have your schedule and know in advance when you’re going to play and when you’ll be devoting time to studying so you can save your mental efforts of deciding this every single day.
There is no one-size-fits-all method, so you should experiment to see what helps you the most.
However, another thing that benefited me a lot is having a strict morning routine, which looks like the following:
- I wake up, get up and instantly make my bed (there are many reasons why making a bed first thing in the morning is beneficial for your mental state, so I am happy to invest one minute into that)
- I drink a big glass of water
- I go to the shower
- I exercise and meditate
- Then I go to have breakfasts and start the day
The first part of the day where I have my morning routine is basically non-negotiable and I only allow myself to skip a step under extreme conditions, and that rarely happens to be honest.
It just sets me up for the day.
This way, I have more energy, I can manage my time better and perform more efficiently, so I love my routine and believe it can be beneficial for anyone.
2. Prepare Before Playing
It’s also helpful to have a short routine before you play.
It can be anything like getting proper food, as we already discussed, having water next to your side, reviewing a couple of hands to get in the zone, or anything else that works for you.
However, I do believe that some parts are essential, so you just have to choose the best option for you:
- Taking care of your basic needs (resting, getting food and water, taking care of bathroom needs, etc.)
- Removing distractions (muting your phone, turning off your browsers, chats, TV and anything else that can interfere with your ability to concentrate)
- Warming up (reading a strategy article, reviewing some hands, watching poker video and so on)
You only need about 15 minutes to do all of that. These changes had a significant effect on my results, so I firmly believe it could be beneficial for you as well.
3. Exercise Regulary
This one is also very straightforward, and there is not much to discuss but I just had to mention it.
Just like a proper diet, exercising regularly can massively increase your energy. And this is the end goal.
I personally like to do a big workout before a session to keep me boosted for hours.
Try it for yourself and see if it has a positive influence on your performance.
Even if you choose not to exercise before your session, you can do it whenever you want, and I am confident that it will have a substantial positive impact in the long-run.
Meditation has numerous benefits for people in all kinds of situations, and poker players are not an exception.
These days, many top poker players talk are big advocaters of meditation and how it helps them concentrate for the duration of the session, how it can help to calm down after playing and detach from negative emotions.
It is undoubtedly worth a try.
One of the great benefits of meditation for poker players is that it can lower stress levels, which is also very important to perform at your best.
If it’s new to you, you can quickly learn by starting with a guided meditation that is available via many apps.
I also use this app, which guides you through meditation sessions and you only need to devote 10 minutes per day to it.
5. Get Proper Rest
Last but not least is rest.
I would say this is probably one of the most critical parts because if you are exhausted when you sit down to play, nothing will help you to perform well at the tables.
Firstly, you need to make sure you get proper sleep.
And by that, I am not just saying that you should be leaving enough time for that (which is obviously very important), but you also should do everything you can to improve the quality of your resting time.
So that could be:
- Avoiding using your phone, PC, or even watching TV directly before going to bed – let your brain shut down after the day.
- Sleep in a dark and cool room – it will help you fall asleep faster and get better sleep throughout the night.
- Avoid caffeine too late in the day as it can drastically reduce the quality of your sleep.
- Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every single day. The routine will help your body to get used to resting regime and will lead to better sleep quality in the long run.
- Leave yourself enough time for rest – at least 8 hours.
So as you see, there are many small things that you can do to increase the quality of your sleep. Getting good quality sleep will not just have a massive impact on your overall poker performance but on your whole life as well.
Following all of these tips and making sure you have a proper diet will help you boost your energy in a way you probably didn’t even know was possible.
I did all of those things, and as I mentioned in the beginning, I lost 21kg of body weight in the process, learned to increase my energy level, and boosted my performance in all of the fields.
Therefore, I am thrilled I tried it and highly recommend these tips for anyone looking to boost their performance on any side of the table!
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