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Tags:   Fitness,   Health,   Poker

By The Swag Team   -  July 21, 2015

Take a look at this year’s World Series of Poker attendees, and you wouldn’t necessarily think that physical fitness was a requirement for playing poker. For a game which involves sitting on your ass for hours on end, traditionally whilst drinking or smoking, it may be difficult to comprehend how six-pack abs and enormous leg muscles could give you any special advantage.


But poker players are increasingly taking measures to improve their health in an effort to achieve bigger and more frequent wins. In fact, maintaining good health has become so important for players that many poker sites have started featuring sections strictly related to diet and fitness.


Today, the link between physical health and mental performance is better understood than ever before, and masters of the game are consequently taking to the gym. In what way can fitness contribute to success in poker, and how are the poker pros achieving their desired level of fitness? 

Professional Poker Players Are Realising the Dangers of Sitting


A study published by Huffington Post reveals how regularly sitting down for an extended period of time slows your metabolism, increases the risk of bone fracture and heart disease, whilst only burning around 80 calories per hour. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, then consider that a Mars bar contains 280 calories. Besides the scary prospect of developing blood clots or heart disease, a sedentary lifestyle is very likely to cause weight gain.


These health hazards associated with a sedentary lifestyle naturally present a huge problem for a number of people whose jobs require them to sit at a desk – or card table – for up to twelve hours each day. Plenty of solutions have been proposed, such as standing up and taking a brief walk every hour or getting one of those questionable ‘treadmill desks’. This might work for online grinders, but the incorporation of treadmills into poker tournaments would prove somewhat more difficult. To avoid the negative health effects of a sedentary lifestyle, poker players must take special care to ensure they exercise frequently and attend regular medical check-ups.


In the space of 14 months, poker professional Eugene Katchalov was able to drop 63lbs (28.5kgs) and build considerable muscle from changing to a protein-based diet, frequent two-hour workouts and a series of fitness-related poker bets. Katchalov’s dedication to the intense lifestyle transformation might well be attributed to skills he’s developed at the card table, where one must be completely committed to the game whilst dealing with high levels of pressure.


What’s more – it is in fact easier to stay seated for a longer period of time if you are physically fit. Since poker games have known to go on for days, players have an extreme advantage if they are able to endure the physical demands of sitting in the same position for hours. Those which achy joints and weak muscles, on the other hand, are going to feel the discomfort of sitting for an extended period of time and this will naturally affect their performance.


When Bertrand ‘Elky’ Grospellier isn’t playing poker, he’s in a kick-boxing ring. The poker legend, who has cashed in more than $10 million in live tournament earnings, takes fitness very seriously; “I’m convinced that the physical constitution of poker players is of utmost importance. The main reason for this is the duration of most poker tournaments. Sometime you are playing 12-14 hours per day which is extremely exhausting. If you’re not in good condition, you’re going to be tired much faster and make more mistakes.”  As far as Grospellier’s concerned, staying fit is part of the job.



Diet Factors into Success at the Card Table


A fitness routine is great, but not worth much if you proceed to eat junk food after every work out. Just like it’s difficult for poker players to incorporate a consistent exercise routine into their lives, it’s also difficult for many players to maintain a balanced diet. Tournament pros are frequently travelling and don’t have time to cook healthy meals every day, whilst online grinders often have a tendency to resort to easy (and unhealthy!) take-away meals.


Although most casinos have now banned smoking inside premises, it’s safe to say that casual poker usually involves a degree of drinking. Combining frequent alcohol consumption with a diet of fatty foods is going to have terrible consequences for your energy levels. It’s somewhat ironic that poker players, who rely on being acute enough to employ strategic play and analyse their opponents, often eat foods that result in headaches, lethargy and general poor concentration. To avoid malnutrition and maximise energy levels, one should eat plenty of leafy greens, fish, nuts, bran cereal, bananas, oats and eggs. The stress and anxiety that comes from financial swings and emotional tilts can be combated with dark chocolate, berries and green tea



Health-Conscious People Are Naturally Better at Poker


But exercise can do more for poker players than fend off weight gain and physical illness. Though the debate on whether poker is a game of luck or skill remains indecisive, there is no denying that poker players perform better when they’re at their mental peak. Observing in detail the behaviour of other players, whilst keeping an eye on your hand’s statistical probability of success, requires focus. Fatigued or distracted, and you don’t stand a chance.


So what has this got to do with going to the gym? Recent studies have confirmed that exercise improves mental stamina as much as it does physical stamina, with fitter people being able to go longer without sleep whilst maintaining higher levels of energy. People who regularly work out also report that they can more easily concentrate on other tasks in their life, such as the challenges they may face at work. Furthermore, physical activity is said to improve quality of sleep, meaning you can wake up feeling more refreshed if you exercised the night before. When you have an erratic work schedule such as poker players do, better power naps could mean the world of difference. 



Sports Mentality Improves Performance in Poker Games


Just like most competitive games and sports, poker is emotionally demanding. A bad loss in poker can take a huge blow to your confidence, yet the occasional loss is inevitable. Even the best players suffer from emotional tilts and will have made plenty of mistakes at the card table throughout their career.


A confident attitude and positive approach to poker are key to staying in the game – literally. Unless you’re able to pick yourself up and move on, you’ll never recover from your losses.  In an interview with PokerListings.com, basketball star Earl Barron says he ‘always has a blast’ playing poker, whether he wins or loses. He goes on to explain; “It’s just like basketball. You’re not going to make every shot and you might make a bad play or a dumb foul but you got to move on and keep it moving.” Barron’s interpretation might explain why so many athletes both enjoy, and succeed at, poker.  Their ambitious and non-defeatist attitude keeps them coming back to the game, whilst their experience of playing strategic and stressful sports gives them an advantage over non-athletes. 


For the gym-goer, this is good news. It’s common for people to feel a boost in confidence as they start working out. Building up a sweat gives a sense of accomplishment, and losing weight or building muscle can have a positive impact upon body image. In other words, exercising results in self-assuredness – one of your biggest friends in poker.


In conclusion, it’s no surprise that physical fitness is considered not only beneficial for poker players, but crucial to their success. As for those who’ve never tried their hand at the game – if you’re eating right and feeling fit, you might just surprise yourself at the card table.


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