In addition to being the greatest mind game ever, poker is also a sometimes stressful sitting game. In order to cope with the psychological stresses of the game combined with the long hours spent sitting at poker tables or behind computers, an increasing number of poker players have incorporated healthy habits to their daily routine to stay fit and better their game. What are some of the healthy habits of poker players and do they make a difference?
What you do in daily life is often just as important as your technical knowledge of the game. Maria Ho, a Taiwanese American poker player who is known as one of the top ranking female players in the world, explains that many people don’t realize that poker players must have stamina and endurance to stay energized through up to 12-hour long poker sessions. She believes that an early morning workout gives her the energy boost and endurance needed to get through the long days of intense concentration.
Why exercise? Because we all know that poker can get very stressful at times. And unless you meditate in solitude all day long, there are going to be some other stressors in your life, such as bills, family life, relationships and traveling, that you need to deal with on top of all the poker related obstacles. So, regular exercise has become one of the most important healthy habits of poker players to help relive stress and tackle some of the problems caused by long hours spent sitting.
How regularly should one exercise? Regular physical exercise doesn’t mean that you need to put in an hour on the treadmill every day, swing kettlebells or train for a marathon. The most important thing is that you enjoy whatever activity you choose and then try to do it as frequently as possible. You could play some fun sports like badminton, tennis, basketball or soccer with friends or go hiking. Or why not just going for long sightseeing walks when visiting new cities during your poker travels? There are endless possibilities.
The main thing about exercise is just to get active. This also helps getting your mind completely away from the game for a while which is very important especially when you are struggling with a downswing. Sedentary life-style simply cannot be good for your mental state when having to deal with the highs and lows of poker.
What you put into your body is just as important as exercise when it comes to playing well. You do not need to go on crazy diets to get healthier. You simply need to make better overall food choices. As a poker player, healthy eating should become a part of your life-style. Why?
Physical health affects your mental health and your ability to make decisions. Think of the days when your body does not feel right – something is off, you are tired and cannot think clearly. Not the best days to make good decisions and ace your game. Maybe it has something to do with your regular diet of pizza and energy drinks. Why not choosing quality meals to test if it gets your body and brain back on track?
So, how should poker players go about eating? Certainly, you do not need to become a raw foodist like the world-class poker pro Andrew Lichtenberger did. Although, his personal health benefited greatly from the radical change. And the $2.2 million he won at the WPT Alpha8 event in Las Vegas does not hurt either.
Choose the food options that best fit your body and poker schedule. Start with small manageable changes. For example, instead of bringing Snickers bars to the grind, have some protein bars or nuts at hand. Or, instead of downing several energy drinks or many liters of coffee a day, cut down on the amount of these caffeine sources and opt for black or green tea or yerba mate tea instead. Get a salad with good protein source on the side instead of burgers and fries or pizza (although these won’t hurt from time to time and add to the joy of life). Cut all sugary snacks out of your diet. The wonderful sugar high is followed by a rather awful crash, leaving you drowsy and lethargic more often than not, especially when you consume the sugar with loads of caffeinated drinks. Getting hives just thinking about it.
In general, lighter meals do not weigh you down as much as heavy and oily options do. For example, Maria Ho has found that a green juice and light protein (such as a hard boiled egg) keeps her feeling alert and energized. Generally, the rest of her day consists of small healthy snacks and a salad with light protein for dinner. She also tries to limit her carbohydrate intake, particularly in the evenings.
Some health and nutrition coaches go as far as to suggest avoiding gluten altogether. For example, Liza Lim, the owner of Revive Touch massage and wellness company which is the official massage partner of the World Poker Tour (WPT), is all for cutting out gluten containing foods such as breads, pastas and pizzas. She suggests avoiding these foods for a week and observing how it makes you feel. Namely, she is a firm believer of the philosophy according to which gluten can harm your gut lining which, in turn, affects our brain. We don’t know enough about the gut-brain connection to suggest this radical step for you. However, if you are a poker pro looking to sharpen your mind why not testing as many variables as you can.
Sleep is the key! You need to get enough sleep to rest your precious brain. We can all tolerate a few all nighters here and there but if not getting enough snooze time has become your thing then you are potentially harming your game. A tired brain is not a good companion of yours on the felt. As a result of poor sleeping habits, you make poor choices in poker. How about trying to come up with the bed routine that fits your playing schedule, so that you won’t lose the most important hand of the day?
With sleepless nights comes excessive alcohol consumption at poker tables. A study in the U.K. conducted by London-based jackpot.co.uk found that poker players are arguably the healthiest out of all casino games players, but they probably need to cut back on the drinking. Apparently, poker players who participated in the study consumed the most alcohol of all casino guests, regardless of gender. So, boys an girls, a drink or two may help you relax and play well but in the longer run, consuming too much alcohol on a regular basis is going to fry your brain, leading to sub-bar results. Poker beer and shot games are fun but up to a certain point only. Leave alcohol out of your daily relaxation routine and find some other ways to wind down.
Meditate to handle stress. Meditation is not a miracle cure for all your troubles. Yet, there is something about the simple act of sitting quietly, so that it has become a part of an array of healthy habits of poker players. Why is that?
Apparently, meditation practice can help people train their brain to handle stress better. When you learn to handle your stress, you keep calm more easily. A calm player makes better decisions. So, you can choose your favorite technique from many different meditation types and get practicing. Start with 20 minutes a day and see if it makes any difference in your life.
So, get active, eat better, drink less, sleep and meditate more. However, don’t forget to have fun in the weekends. Also, keep in mind that when coming to Cash Game Festival, some unhealthy habits are encouraged 😉 It’s only 5 days. You’ll survive.
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