Food and poker

Food and poker are two things that at first glance have nothing to do with each other. Unless of course we're talking about a night in with friends, where you're all munching on pizza slices, drinking beer and playing poker at the same time. Fun times, but that's not where I'm getting at.

Poker is all about maximizing your expected value in a given situation. And even though studying the game and finding ways to improve your poker skills are obviously the top priorities of any player, there are other ways that can bring you one step closer to success. Let's assume, for example, that you go out at night and have a couple (and then a couple more) drinks with your friends. If you wake up hangover the next day, then you're more likely to take the day off rather than hit the poker tables which could potentially have disastrous results on your bankroll.

The effects of alcohol are easily detectable. But when it comes to food we rarely think about how it's going to affect our performance. You know that drowsiness that you get sometimes after eating? People tend to underestimate it, but apart from being unpleasant it can also have a negative impact on your game. And if you're playing while feeling sleepy then you're obviously not playing your A game. Maybe it's not too bad and you're not playing your C game either (depending on whether you ate some slices of pizza or the whole box of a family-sized one). Unfortunately, even if you're playing your A minus you are losing money.


Coffee and sugary snacks... Probably not the best thing before a poker session

You are very likely to try to fight that drowsiness with a coffee (and I'm saying this from personal experience). That's going to work great! Until the effects of the coffee start wearing off, that is. Then you'll come crushing down from your caffeine high and feel tired and worn out, probably worse than before when you had the sleepiness that made you drink that coffee in the first place.

The best way I found to make sure I'm feeling fine when it's time to work is to be careful with what I'm eating. When I say that I go to a nutritionist people often tell me "What for? You're not fat!". I think that happens because we have wrongly associated diets with obesity. It's true that obese people are most frequently the ones who turn to diets, but that doesn't mean that it's okay for someone with a faster metabolism to live on burgers.

I see going to the nutritionist as a way to get educated on food. There's plenty of things most people don't know such as which combinations of food are bad, what causes sleepiness, what gives more energy etc. For example, rice and beans is a traditional food in many countries. It was introduced during the times of slavery because rice is rich in starch that provides energy and has iron and protein. Beans are also rich in protein and iron. When combined with rice they create a complete protein which substitutes meat. That made sense back when people had many hours of physical labor ahead of them. They needed the energy and meat was harder to find because of the different economy. Nowadays, we get to eat the exact same thing in a gourmet restaurant only we use it as a side to go with our juicy steak. The result is a bigger intake of protein than what our body needs.


Why not have a healthy, yummy salad for dinner?

The first thing I discuss with my nutritionist is my daily schedule. Meals have to be carefully planned depending on what time I wake up, work, take a break. We also discuss what times of the day I feel tired or lacking energy and try to improve it by having the appropriate snack. Apart from feeling a lot better overall, I don't need a nap after my lunch anymore. I can go straight back to playing poker and I'm able to maintain my sharpness for longer periods of time.

I bet you've heard a lot of poker players talking about a healthy nutrition lately. It's not just a trend. I agree that the benefits of it are hard to measure and they're also not going to appear from one day to the other. Like most things, it takes time. But if you start eating healthy and stick to it, I guarantee that you'll see an improvement. Inevitably your poker game will benefit since you'll be focused while your opponents are almost falling asleep on their keyboards. And don't worry, you can still succumb to the temptation of a nice burger or an ice-cream when it's your day off!

Katerina Malasidou is a member of Team Online