The Impact Food can have on a High Stakes Poker Game

Much has been written recently about the importance of self-care, especially when looking at the amount of stress people are put under in their day to day lives. The benefits of exercise, a good sleep regime and a healthy diet have all been praised, and for good reason. You wouldn’t buy an expensive sports car and then neglect to get it serviced, change the oil and tyres and repair the wear and tear – at least not if you want it to keep working well. Your body is just the same; if you want to get the best out of it, then you need to know how to keep it in good condition.

Good eating habits aren’t just about stopping you from putting on weight, they’re also about feeding your body and brain the right nutrients to help them grow. Usain Bolt notoriously once ate 1000 chicken nuggets during the Beijing Olympics – while that sounds like quite the junk food binge, it was actually a great way of getting his protein fix, which was essential for keeping in form. Athletes need to eat a lot of protein – chicken, fish, beans etc – in order to develop strong muscles. And while a poker player certainly doesn’t need to be fast and fit, there is one organ that they need to make sure is working very well: the brain.

A good poker strategy starts before the cards have even been dealt. As well as memorising probabilities and the different suggested actions for each card combination, you need to prime your hardware to keep making those calculations all night long. Keeping it simple, your brain needs specific chemicals in order to be able to process thoughts effectively and make links, hypotheses and predictions. There are certain foods which stimulate your body to produce these chemicals, and if you eat the right combinations before a game, then you should be sharp and primed for a good match.

It’s also a good idea to eat foods which will help you keep your focus. Stimulants like caffeine, found in chocolate, coffee and energy drinks, might make you feel awake to start with, but these effects are relatively short-lived and will wear off long before the end of your game. It’s far better to eat something which will produce the same effect over a longer period, like a banana or a bowl of unsweetened popcorn.

Selective Focus Photography of Popcorns on Bowl

One of the best foods you can eat to keep your brain happy is fish. Specifically an oily fish, like salmon or tuna. This is because these fish are rich in omega-3 oils and omega-3 oils stimulate your brain to produce all three of those magic chemicals. Because poker isn’t a physically demanding activity, you want to keep the fat content of your meals to a minimum. The best way to serve salmon is to grill it or pan fry it. You can do this in a little bit of flavoured oil, like sweet chilli, to give it a flavoursome kick. Dish it up with some vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage to get an extra dose of brain food.

Whole grains are another excellent source of brain food, and if you’re going to add some carbohydrate in there, this is the best way to get it. Processed grains, like white bread, have had almost all of their nutrients removed, so it’s good to switch to whole grain versions when buying pasta, breads and cereals. A tuna pasta bake, with tomatoes and whole grain pasta is another filling meal which will give you the energy and the brain power to get one over on your opponents on game night. It’s really easy to make too, which will give you more time to study those poker strategies.
If you fancy something sweet to nibble during the game, then whole grains like oats can be used to make biscuits and flapjacks. Add some dark chocolate or some berries, like blueberries, strawberries and raspberries, which all help to increase the blood flow to the brain. This in turn improves memory, alertness and cognitive function: all valuable tools in a poker showdown.

Another important thing to remember is to keep hydrated. Water is the best way to do this, as it cuts out all the extra sugars and stimulants which are present in soft drinks, hot drinks and energy drinks. Drinking water throughout the game will help keep your energy levels on an even keel, as well as flushing out any toxins that might be causing your brain to fog over.

In fact, there are a lot of healthy snacks which you can put out around the table if you’re hosting a game, or stash in your bag to nibble in between hands at a tournament. And you’ll find that if you switch to these low-sugar, high-protein and vitamin alternatives, you should see a real improvement in your ability to concentrate, as well as your general health. What might start as an attempt to tune up your brain for poker games, will spill out into other areas of your life. All of these foods are great for lifting your mood as well as your energy levels, and when you feel better in yourself, you perform better.

*this is a collaborative post*