Nutrition Basics for Gamers
By Casey Thomas
There are very few things in life that have the capacity to improve literally EVERY OTHER ASPECT of it. If you use a computer for work, going from an old model with slow internet speed to a new model with quick internet will yield immediate and significant performance improvements. Similarly, YOU are the fundamental unit in your existence. If you improve your body or mind, EVERYTHING that you do will be improved.
The saying ‘you are what you eat’ is literally true. Every single bit of you was created by some nutrients you ingested. Even now, your cells are continually dying off and being replaced. Some tissues replace much quicker than others, but every 7-10 years you are sitting in a brand new body.
But here’s the problem. Just like when you’re building anything else, the quality of the building blocks will determine the quality of the built product. Don’t input trash and expect an output of amazing.
Many gamers think they don’t need to take their nutrition seriously because they’re younger and their bodies let them get away with more. Many of them succeed despite their diet and not because of it.
Take Jian Zihao (gamertag “Uzi”), one of the best League of Legends players in the game’s history. He retired earlier this year at the age of 23 due to medical complications – obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and arm and shoulder overuse injuries. Jian himself says he had been battling these problems for years and lists poor nutrition as one of the prime causes.
Poor nutrition will catch up with anyone, regardless of age.
But besides offering you health and longevity in your chosen path, nutrition can actually be a secret strategy to improve your quality of life and performance.
We have countless records of elite athletes, as far back as the ancient Greeks and Romans training for the original Olympics, who have used special nutrition practices to enhance their training and performance .
And don’t fall into the trap of thinking I’m talking only about physical performance here. Not only do all physical actions originate in the brain, but specific dietary protocols have been used to enhance cognitive performance in all sorts of places:
- Reaction speed and hand eye coordination in baseball
- Accuracy in marksman
- Vigilance and wakefulness in tactical settings
- Visual planning and problem solving in chess
- Memorization and critical thinking in academia
Though it’s not common yet (but I do see the field moving this way!), I’ve also personally implemented dietary protocols with professional gamers to enhance Esports performance.
A Few Thoughts…
How many hours, days, weeks, months, and years have you spent on your craft? How good were you when you first started compared to you right now? I know for a fact you are better now. That sounds like an obvious observation, but I want to make a connection.
Many people ask me about meal timing, post-workout nutrition, and supplements. Yet that same person hasn’t seen a vegetable in over a year and eats burgers at 2am.
It’s time to get serious and stop looking for quick fixes. There is not a single supplement or ‘super food’ that can overcome the detriment caused by poor nutrition practices.
Performance nutrition is a skill that must be practiced and developed over time. You can’t short change the process. You’ll get 90% of the benefit of nutrition by focusing on the fundamentals, and you need to master those fundamentals before moving onto the specifics.
Once you get your daily nutrition right, you’ll be in a far better position to test out supplements and advanced nutrition protocols to see what actually works for you.
So right now you’re probably thinking: “Great…but where do I start?”
I’m glad you asked.
Here are 6 easy things you can look to start right now. Keep in mind this does not mean you should try to do ALL of these things right now. Pick one area you want to work on and then work on it. Only move on to another area when you’re confident in the first. Don’t ruin your journey by trying to do too much too fast.
Tip #1: Focus on whole, unprocessed foods
No…I’m not talking about organic, non-GMO, grass-fed, free-range, massaged every day cows imported from a small farm in New Zealand.
I’m talking about simply focusing on making whole foods be the biggest proportion of food in your daily diet.
What is a ‘whole food’?
If it didn’t run, swim, fly, or grow from the ground – it’s probably not a whole food. A whole food doesn’t have an ingredient list or nutrition facts label.
Pro Tip: When you’re at the grocery store, shop on the periphery. That’s where they put all the fresh protein and produce. The interior aisles have all the processed foods. You say you don’t shop? Have some conversations with your food providers and start taking control of what goes in your body.
Now, I’m not saying you can’t mix and match whole foods. You certainly can. If the item does have an ingredient label, you should be able to identify the ingredients. The more ingredients you can’t identify, the more likely the product is to be heavily processed.
Tip #2: Eat the amount you need
This is an easier said than done tip, but there is something to be said about getting more in-tune with your body.
If you were trying to lose weight and gained 20 lbs., something wrong happened. If you were trying to bulk up and lost 20 lbs., something wrong happened.
The trick is to not only notice something wrong happened, which is where 90% of people stop their thought process. You need to notice something wrong happened, then figure out why, and then do something different.
The fastest way to keep getting what you’ve been getting is to keep doing what you’ve been doing. And if you want your results to change, then I’m sorry, but you need to change something.
As long as you’re not letting yourself spin your wheels, you’re bound to find what works for you eventually. Might as well start experimenting now.
Tip #3: Imagine a plate…
Imagine a plate is sitting in front of you. Here’s what I want you to do:
- Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, I don’t care what kind, pick your favorites.
- Fill a quarter of your plate with protein.
- Split the remainder of your plate between starches (sweet potatoes, whole grains, etc.) and fats (healthy oils, nuts/seeds, etc.).
- Add some fruit if you have a sweet tooth or just worked out.
If you make your plate look like this three times per day, you’ll be doing better than most of America. Don’t get hung up on the details.
Tip #4: No liquid calories
Liquid calories are easy to process and provide minimal satiety. You could drink a 2L of soda and not be full, but have consumed half your daily calories with a pitiful 0% of your needed micronutrients.
Stick to water and unsweetened coffee/tea.
Exception: If you absolutely HATE vegetables, you can make yourself a smoothie to mask the taste. But you should probably just grow up and learn to eat vegetables like an adult.
What about energy drinks? I don’t have the space to cover this topic in detail here, but know that most of them get 90+% of their benefit simply from caffeine and then add in a bunch of junk.
Tip #5: Follow a Mediterranean diet
The fact that you’re reading this tells me you plan on being a ‘knowledge’ worker of some sort (rather than a blue-collar worker). Knowledge workers need to protect their brains because it’s the money maker.
Countless research studies rank the Mediterranean dietary pattern as the undisputed #1 for long term cognitive health (other diets are good for other things).
The diet consists mainly of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fish, seafood, poultry, eggs, yogurt, and meat. They also regularly engage in periods of fasting.
Tip #6: Food is only one part of your life
Nutritionists like to think nutrition is all there is to life. They push the ‘all-or-none’ mentality.
I believe it’s about being happy and being as healthy as you can be to do all the things you want to do in life.
Can I find any nutritional redemption in my Mom’s fresh baked cookies? Not really, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to turn one down when I’m visiting my family for a holiday.
I’m trading a bit of food quality for some happiness. I know it, and I don’t feel guilty about it.
You know what junk foods are. I don’t need to give you a list. You need to weigh your danger foods against what you want out of life. If your danger foods are stopping you from getting what you want, then you definitely need to change something about them (see Tip #2 above).
The main point I want to get across here is that you need to be intentional with your food. It should always serve a purpose. Is this meal chosen to be healthy for you? Great. Does it contain some junk items but was chosen for happiness? Still great. Doesn’t matter, as long as it was chosen.
Don’t be one of those people who has a cookie, feels guilty, falls off the wagon, and binges the entire weekend.
Instead – choose to have a cookie, feel happy, and move forward.
I said above that the most important step was always the next one. I also like to say that the most important meal of your life is always the next one. You can’t do anything about your past meals. You’ll never meet a future meal. The only meal you’ll ever see is the next one. So be intentional with it.
That went on longer than I thought, but if you have any questions, feel free to shoot me a message – I love talking about this stuff!
- Ann C. Grandjean, Diets of elite athletes: Has the discipline of sports nutrition made an impact? The Journal of Nutrition. 1997:127(5):874S-877S. doi:10.1093/jn/127.5.874S.
About Casey Thomas
Casey spent five years working in clinical research before deciding to return to school to become a registered dietitian. He spearheaded the development of a sports nutrition program on campus and completed a thesis project examining cognitive supplements in elite Esports athletes. He is a published scientific author who regularly engages as an expert peer reviewer, and has been featured in media outlets for interviews about his nutrition strategies. Casey currently works as a performance dietitian, writer, and instructor. His unique research background has allowed him to implement protocols that have facilitated significant improvements in body composition, health, and performance among athletes – assisting several teams to championship victories at the D1 collegiate level. He has similarly enjoyed consulting for professional athletes and Olympians, Esports programs, universities, and businesses looking to gain a performance edge. Casey is currently focusing his efforts on Esports, where he is working to bring high-level, research-backed performance nutrition to the gaming world. Feel free to contact him with your nutrition-related questions: email@example.com