I don’t truly always like eating healthy, and sometimes I’d rather have a burger or a chocolate bar, but it’s already proven that it negatively affects your play if you eat bad foods. If I'm putting bad things in my body—especially on game day—I'd be wasting my time in a big tournament.
—David "The Maven" Chicotsky
Every year at the World Series of Poker I am amazed at how some players come to battle. Some fly across from another continent ready to invest $10,000 in a tournament the next day. Some players enjoy the nightlife into the wee hours of the morning arriving at noon for their big shot at tournament glory. Some wakeup and enjoy an all-you-can eat buffet with plates stacked with sausages, pancakes, syrup, bacon, and the likes. At dinner break, a full rack of ribs with French fries seems to always be a popular choice. Do these players really think that they could possibly be playing at their best?
The first time I played the Main Event back in 2004 I went rather deep finishing in 33rd. With less than 80 players remaining, there was quite a drama when one of the players didn’t show up for start time. It turns out, he went out drinking after play had ended the night before and overslept by two hours! We are playing for $5 million dollars and he comes to play with a hangover after blinding out a decent chunk of his stack for two hours!
When you are preparing to risk a good deal of money in a major tournament, it only makes sense to prepare yourself nutritionally, physically, and mentally to give yourself the best chance of performing at your very best. Athletes follow certain strategies before major events, both physically and mentally, and it makes sense for poker players to do the same. There are many studies that show that nutrition and exercise can impact mental cognition. Below are some tips and quotes from the book, Peak Performance Poker by Travis Steffen, published by my company Dimat Enterprises. These strategies are relevant whether you are playing in a major tournament or simply a large cash game. Ideally, you should follow these every time you sit down to play poker, but I like to think of game day as those specific times when you really want to reach peak performance for a major event or game.
The day before a tournament is, in my opinion, the most important day as a poker player.
- Your dinner the night before game day should be as strict as your breakfast on game day.
- Prepare your meals ahead of time if you believe it may be difficult to find healthy options on game day.
- Avoid fried foods, anything made with white flout (breads, pastas, cereals, etc.), sodas, and anything with high sugars.
- Avoid alcohol at least until after you’re done playing and you’ve got no game scheduled in the next few days.
I love to get a workout in before I play any poker. I think it helps me focus, and for some reason I feel like I run better, which is obviously important—not saying that I do, just that I feel like I do. It could just be a subconscious thing, but I just feel better if I get some exercise and eat healthy to start my day, and that translates into how you play.
—David “Raptor” Benefield
- If you know you’ve got a big event coming up, train with that event in mind. Keep your workouts intense, but taper that intensity off a few days before competition.
- If you workout on gameday, make sure your workout is light so that you don’t become physically fatigued late in your session. If you aren’t used to working out, move around and get your blood flowing before your session.
- As you play, periodically correct your posture and get up to stretch and move around.
Rest and Recovery
“It´s important to be well-rested before a long tournament because you need energy for several consecutive days. In the long-term, steady sleep cycles help you feel better physically and mentally.”
- Bertrand ElkY Grospellier
- Strive for a full night’s sleep each night—especially the night before game day.
- Schedule a massage the day before you play.
- Take jet lag into account when traveling abroad, as your biological clock will dictate how effective your body and mind are. If possible, give your body at least a few days to adapt to the new time zone and routine you’re starting before you play.
My mindset coach, Sam Chauhan, has gotten me into doing affirmations...Saying “I am the greatest” or “This is my day” or whatever, helps you turn any doubts into positive statements. Any lingering self destruction that might be there before you sit down to play poker, affirmations can help eliminate that.
- Wear a rubber band on your wrist, and snap yourself each time you notice yourself engaging in negative self-talk.
- Practice positive self-talk whenever possible.
- Practice visualization of you performing at your best.
- If you choose to listen to music as you play, select a type that allows you to concentrate, focus, and get into the ideal state of mind to play at your peak.
This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books”. The Math of Hold’em by Collin Moshman and Douglas Zare is available now at pokerbooks.InternetTexasHoldem.com.