How to eat like a professional gamer
To achieve peak performance, pro gamers should ditch stereotypical junk food in favor of stuff that belongs on Tom Brady's plate.
The dietary habits of professional athletes are well-documented and oft-discussed, especially at the elite level. Tom Brady won't eat tomatoes. Serena Williams digs a plant-based diet. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson drinks four (yes, four) gallons of water per day.
But professional gamers? Let’s just say that their snacking reputation is a bit more Fritos than fresh fruit. A little more Gardetto’s than Gatorade. A touch more Pop-Tarts than protein shake.
You get the picture.
It’s a gaming stereotype that’s stuck in the past. Just as most modern players aren’t teenage boys living in their parents’ basements—no offense if you are one!—most competitive gamers aren’t crushing a convenience store’s worth of junk food while they play. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the upper reaches of professional gaming.
Esports competitions may allow for less muscle-flexing than conventional sports, but hitting your macros is just as important for competitors behind the keyboard as it is for those on the field.
Casey Thomas is a registered dietician with 1HP, a small company that works with casual and professional gamers to improve their health and performance. In his work with pro esports players, pro athletes, and Olympians, Thomas found some common ground.
Below, his recommendations for a diet fit for a pro gamer.
First: Drink water. “Hydration is key,” he says.
Second: Play the short game by eating foods that sharpen your body’s gaming systems. “A serving of fruits and vegetables a day can make a huge difference,” he says. “Berries of any kind enhance blood flow to the brain. Dark chocolate enhances ocular blood flow.”
Third: Play the long game by eating foods that support your brain. “Instead of fried foods or foods high in saturated fat, look for healthy fats” that can be found in fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados, and eggs, Thomas says. These foods are certainly healthy in the short term, but the broad reduction of saturated fat in a diet puts the brain in a better position to function, he says, because saturated fat inhibits blood flow to the brain.
Fourth: Stick to a routine. “If you’re a breakfast-skipper, that’s okay, but do it consistently,” Thomas says. “If you eat breakfast, try to get about 20 grams of protein from something like steak and eggs.”
Fifth: Snack responsibly. Looking for a mid-practice snack? Simple carbohydrates (like fruit) or something that has protein and carbs (such as yogurt and berries) or protein and fat (like jerky or nuts) will do the trick.
Sixth: Keep supplements supplementary. “If your diet is poor or you aren’t drinking enough fluids to maintain your hydration,” he says, “no supplement in the world is going to replace that.”
And when it’s almost time to compete, what then?
Thomas says players should strive to achieve optimal hydration the day before a competitive match. “I recommend the players I work with to drink 12 gulps of water when they first wake up, which is equivalent to about 16 ounces,” he says. “Drinking fluid throughout the day and staying hydrated is crucial.”
On the food front, Thomas encourages “safe” food that won’t upset the competitor’s stomach. Chicken pasta, a sandwich on white bread, or sushi? A-OK. A soup you’ve never tried in a foreign country the night before an event? Perhaps pass. “Breakfast should be moderately high in carbs, low fat, low fiber, and with some protein,” he adds.
In the end, the secret sauce for elite performance is how you treat the brain. “At the Olympic level,” Thomas says, “the difference between first and last [place] is more neurological than it is physical.”
So: Buy the broccoli. Consume the quinoa. Make short work of the salmon.
“You want to make sure that if you have another match the following day, you’re doing everything you can to maintain your level of performance,” he says. “Unless you just won the title. Then go party.”