"If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls who live under tyranny" - Thomas Jefferson
You say you're in a big tournament this week? You really need this one. There's not only a lot of money on the line, but also respect. A win is just what you need to get back on track. You're anxious, but also excited. You've got a lot of energy now, but how about after 5 hours of non-stop poker action? You couldn't imagine the feeling of falling just shy of the money. That's the last thing you want: to get knocked out because of a mistake from mental fatigue. It's happened before. Why can't it happen again? Don't you worry about a thing. I'm about to share with you my "recipe for success."
The recommendations below were specifically designed with a poker player in mind. Lots of energy for a long time. No ups, no downs. A steady supply of energy throughout the tournament. I personally use a meal plan similar to the one below before all of my big presentations, and all-day projects. Nutrition can make a world of difference. I can personally attest to the difference a sound nutritional plan has on mental performance. For you, it could mean a difference between a 50 dollar buy-in and a wasted 6 hours of your life or a huge payoff. Don't make that mistake.
The basic philosophy behind the meal plan designed below was to minimize blood sugar fluctuations while still supplying a steady source of carbohydrates for energy production. In layman's turns: prevent the crash associated with high GI carbohydrates. A couple things to remember:
- the brain relies on glucose (the breakdown product of carbohydrate metabolism) for energy production
- high GI carbohydrates tend to cause a large insulin response resulting in rebound hypoglycemia (aka the crash). Thus, it's important to avoid foods that have high GI carbs. The initial energy burst is not worth the risk of the dreaded crash.
- studies have shown that the individual macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) each have a specific cognitive-enhancing effect. Meals that include all 3 have been shown to be superior with regards to mental performance to meals that include just one macronutrient
- Because you'll be playing for a long duration, the more energy that is needed usually results in an increase in free radical production. Thus, it's important to consume foods that are high in antioxidants. You don't want to be killing your brain cells while you play.
- Never eat a meal or drink that contains only high glycemic carbohydrates. I do not care what the package says about energy. Those products were not created for the energy required for a poker tournament. Poker is a marathon, not a sprint. You'll need a steady supply of energy, not an injection of energy.
- If you must have an energy drink, wait until the end of the tournament. If you drink one during the beginning or middle of the tournament, you're sure to crash when it counts. Nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing a player make a critical mistake during the money hands because of mental fatigue. If you wait until close to the end, hopefully you'll crash after celebrating your big win.
- If you consume caffeine or nicotine on a regular basis, now is not the time to stop. Withdrawal from either one of those ingredients can be severely detrimental to your mental performance. Think PMS.
- Gatorade, non-diet sodas, candy bars, etc are extremely bad choices. They contain way too many high GI carbohydrates. You will definitely take a ride on the blood sugar rollercoaster if you consume those products.
- If you're getting mentally fatigued, and tired of eating, try a peppermint. Studies have shown that sucking on a peppermint during a cognitive task can actually improve performance. You can take it one step further and chew some peppermint gum. Numerous studies have shown the benefit of chewing gum with relation to cognitive performance. Give it a try. You may be shocked.
You're pre-tournament meal should be eaten 1-2 hours before the tournament begins. It should contain the following:
- A good source of lean protein: Remember studies have shown that a balanced meal (containing all 3 macronutrients) is superior to meals that include just macronutrient. Many people also think protein makes them feel much fuller, thereby eliminating those hunger pains halfway through the tournament
- A good source of fats, particularly omega 3s: You know I'm in love with fish oil and omega 3 fatty acids. They are vital for cognitive performance. In addition, any kind of fat tends to slow down digestion thereby decreasing the rate of glucose entering the bloodstream. It actually protects you from the high GI crash.
- A good source of carbohydrates: Bottom line, your brain needs carbohydrates for mental functioning. They are the most efficient source for energy production. The key is picking carbohydrates that provide a steady supply of glucose for the brain, instead of just dumping it into the bloodstream all at once.
- Caffeine, R-ALA, and acetyl-l-carnitine: I'll talk more about this combo in an upcoming article.
During snack meals
- A light snack containing all 3 macronutrients. Even though the pre-tournament meal should be enough, this is just an added layer of protection.
My specific recommendations
My personal favorite is fish, especially wild salmon. Not only is it an excellent source of protein, but it is even a better source of omega 3 fatty acids. You kill two birds with one stone. However, whole eggs, beef jerky, or any lean meat will do.
The majority of nuts are a good source of healthy fats. Walnuts are the best with regards to cognitive health. Cashews, pecans, and peanuts are also good choices. However, like I said above, fish takes the cake. If you are completely against eating fish, take about 10 fish oil capsules along with your protein and carbohydrate source, along with eating some walnuts.
Fruits and vegetables. Did you hear me? Fruits and vegetables. One more time. Fruits and vegetables. Blueberries are considered cognitive fruits. They're the best. Apples are another good choice. Any vegetable is a good choice. The majority of fruits and veggies are considered low GI carbohydrates, thus preventing the dreaded crash. They also contain a number of antioxidants that are extremely important for cognitive health. Like fats, the fiber contained in fruits and vegetables prevents the rapid release of glucose into the bloodstream, and that's exactly what we're looking for.
Whole grains and oatmeal are also good choices IN ADDITION to fruits and veggies. They're considered low GI carbs. They help replenish your glucose stores while also providing a steady supply of glucose in the bloodstream.
My favorite snack is apples with natural peanut butter. You get your fats and protein from the peanut butter and your low GI carbs from the apple. Actually, you can use pretty much any fruit or vegetable with peanut butter. A low carb protein bar along with a fruit or vegetable is also a good choice.
Like I said above, if you are a caffeine-holic, make sure you consume beverage with caffeine in it, preferably a diet soda. Water is an excellent choice throughout the tournament. Just make sure you don't drink too much. You don't want to miss anything by spending most of your time in the bathroom. I actually take a crystal light packet, along with 5 teaspoons of branched chain amino acids, and sip on that throughout my presentation along with some fruit.
There you have it. You have no reason now not to win it all. You now have my recipe for success. I personally guarantee that if you follow this meal plan, you'll have loads of energy throughout the ENTIRE tournament. Remember, a sound nutrition plan will always knock the socks of any energy drink with regards to mental performance.
Hopefully you'll incorporate the above meal plan on your non-tournament days too. It's not only great for cognitive performance, but also overall general health. You may even lose a couple pounds too.
By the way, a good book on healthy foods: The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth by Jonny Bowden. It's worth its weight in gold.