If you want to play like a high-performing gamer, you must eat like a high-performing athlete—not an athlete that needs to carbo-load, but an athlete that appropriately balances their nutrition for their competing needs.
So, what should you be doing? What are the foods and practices that will get (and keep) your body and brain in top shape for game day?
Rule #1: Whole foods are your best friends. Processed foods and beverages are not.
Stick to whole foods—a.k.a. those as close to their original forms as possible. Processed foods have lots of additives, like sugars, sodium, and saturated fats, and don’t have the proper vitamins and nutrients to sustain high-performing muscles and brains, and will only lead to faster fatigue, slower reflexes, and foggy decision-making. Whole foods will keep your physical and mental capacities stronger for way longer. Here are some of your best bets:
Walnuts: A super-food in many senses, walnuts are high in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and polyphenols, which all aid brain function. Polyphenols also work well with your gut microbiome, aiding digestion—which is ideal for long, seated days.
Blueberries: Another big “yes” food rich in antioxidants, they also have lots of gallic acids, helping to decrease oxidative stress and increase memory and brain function.
Avocados: Packed full of vitamins (especially B and K!) and monounsaturated fats, avos help out your memory and brain. Their antioxidants protect your eyes—an obvious need with so much screen time—and their high-fiber content also optimizes your digestion.
Greens: True food for your brain, vitamins abound in leafy greens and help to lower oxidative stress.
Salmon, tuna, sardines: So many omega-3s! Those fatty acids are queen bees in improving brain function, mood and mental health. All highly necessary for optimal competing systems.
Rule #2: Level up your water intake.
You cannot drink too much water when you’re gaming! Your body needs to stay hydrated in order to maintain quick thinking, speedy reflexes, muscle control, and a happy digestive system. Water, of course, is your best bet, whereas performance drinks are usually loaded with unnecessary sugars that will spike your blood sugar levels and leave you feeling lethargic shortly thereafter.
Rule #3: Plan, schedule and prep your meals ahead of time.
First, your meals should be 60 percent carbohydrates, 10-15 percent protein and 25-30% fats. Keep your carbs low in starches and sugars, your proteins lean (preferably fish), and your fats healthy, and you’ve got all your bases covered.
Second, you want to be fresh and energized for competition, so avoid eating big meals within two hours before competing. Giving ample time allows your body to digest and metabolize before you need to be fully on and locked in.
Lastly, prepare all your meals and snacks in advance to save you from making poorer food choices in moments of stress and high intensity during competition.
Rule #4: Nutrition prep for tournaments isn’t just for the day of.
Your tournament preparation is really happening all the time, and that’s perhaps the truest for your nutrition. To truly get your body and brain in the best shape for long days of gaming, you need to prioritize good nutrition at all times, not solely on the days leading up to a tournament.
Rule #5: Move your body before and after.
Competition days are loooong. And while that’s amazing for our souls, it’s not as amazing for our bodies. Gaming is largely sedentary—your arms, wrists, and hands have their work cut out for them, but the rest of your body doesn’t. So, first, be sure you can warm up your upper body before you play so that your arm, wrist and hand muscles are ready to go and don’t strain or fatigue as easily. Second, exercise outside of the tournament. Your body needs to move to be healthy, and it will help your overall performance, your physical well-being, and your mind’s ability to focus and remain clear if you keep your muscles developed and active outside of the game.
Rule #6: Find the balance.
Just like balancing your food choices and timing, it’s also important to balance your intake with your movement level. While certainly athletes, gamers are not running marathons, so you don’t need to eat as much as a marathon-runner or pro soccer player (unless of course you are, in fact, running marathons outside of gaming). Choose your food as wisely as those pros would, but match it to your activity level.
There has not yet been research done around nutrition specific to eSports athletes, so until that research gets underway, stick to tried and true standards of good nutrition for athletes (and people) in general, and keep your overall body as healthy as you can, and your gaming will thrive.