Vanessa Rousso gets match fit

I think of poker as a mental sport. However, as tournaments take place over the course of a period of days, I've found that there is actually a strong correlation between physical well-being and my performance.

In 2009, I posed for Sports Illustrated--training for several months leading up to the photo shoot. Following the shoot, I had one of the best years of my career, earning well over a million dollars. I was in the best shape of my life and I was at the top of my game in the poker world. I don't think that this was a coincidence.

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Feeling good will help you play good

On the flip side, I have also noticed that there seems to be a relationship between not taking care of myself and going through dry spells in terms of my performance at the tables. As I reflect on my career, I must conclude that the manner in which I am taking care of my body plays a strong role in how well I am able to perform in poker.

I take a multifaceted approach to health. First, making effective life choices that serve to remove stress from the mind, allows my mind to clear the space that is necessary for precise decision making.

Secondly, I find that eating healthily, especially during tournaments, is of utmost importance. I try to avoid carbohydrates and practice clean eating habits. If I overload on carbohydrates during a tournament I tend to be fatigued from what has been described as "carb crash." Therefore, I try to eat lean proteins, vegetables, and maybe some whole grains like oatmeal on the morning before I play. This keeps me energized and upbeat.

Furthermore, maintaining physical fitness by engaging in regular workouts is definitely part of a healthy routine. Personally, I work out 2-3 times a week and I find that being in good physical condition has several additional benefits beyond simply helping me play better poker. While I have always focused on strength and stamina at the gym, this year I'm changing it up by adding Yoga to the regimen. Yoga builds stamina because you have to hold crazy positions for long periods of time. Yoga also plays a role in body definition, tone, and mental/psychological clarity.

Finally, sleep is probably the most important determining factor in mental acuity. The brain is an organ and it needs sleep in order to function. I try to make sure to get at least 8 hours of sleep before I play.

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Study, sleep, stretch (and party after you win)

I was sitting next to Daniel Negreanu at a table recently and he told me he has made a lifestyle change this year in terms of how he prepares for tournaments: Daniel has decided to avoid alcohol entirely on the nights before any tournaments that he plays. He has been following this guideline all year long and it has certainly translated into a hallmark year in terms of winnings.

Being physically fit has become part of the game at the elite level--and almost every top pro has made lifestyle changes to reflect this. Even though I have a busy schedule, focusing on my health is a top priority that is as important to me as analyzing hands or practicing regularly online. Not to mention that it isn't the worst thing to look good in a bikini!

Vanessa Rousso is a member of Team PokerStars Pro.
WSOP photos courtesy of PokerPhotoArchive.com.

Vanessa Rousso
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