Poker has a notorious history as a backroom game enjoyed primarily by drinkers and smokers.
But there’s a growing movement of poker players who are doing everything they can to keep their bodies in peak physical condition.
Jason Koon, Eugene Katchalov and Sorel Mizzi are just a handful of the players who seem to spend as much time in the gym as they do studying the game these days.
It’s getting hard to ignore just how much of an edge it can give you as one of the game’s most health-conscious players — Sweden’s Martin Jacobson — won the Main Event for $10 million this November.
“I think it's very important if you want to reach your full potential,” said the 27 year old.
“For me it came naturally because it has always been a passion of mine and a lifestyle I adopted early on in my life.”
Like many young poker players Jacobson hits the gym regularly but he’s also a proponent of yoga, meditation, mental supplements like CILTEP and, most intriguingly, Bulletproof Coffee.
Bulletproof Coffee: The Perfect Poker Fuel?
Bulletproof Coffee, which combines grass-fed unsalted butter, upgraded coffee and highly concentrated form of coconut oil called Brain Octane oil, has been making the rounds as the wonder-drink of the moment and it’s certainly had an impact on the poker world.
The idea is that the coffee provides a satisfying breakfast with six hours of energy that helps your body burn fat.
Poker players used to chug energy drinks like Red Bull in an effort to get that same boost but Bulletproof Coffee allegedly doesn’t have the same crash associated with sugary energy drinks.
Jacobson was sipping Bulletproof Coffee on the day he won $10 million at the WSOP Main Event.
“I drink it almost every day and especially on the days when I play poker,” said Jacobson.
“I've always been a coffee drinker but mixing it with grass fed butter and MCT oil/coconut oil has really revolutionized my relationship with it.
"The healthy fat acid creates a slow release of the caffeine so you get a steady energy and concentration boost for 6-7 hours with no crash and no jitters.”
Sometimes Jacobson also practices intermittent fasting so Bulletproof Coffee is the only thing he consumes for the first 6-7 hours of his day.
“I actually have more energy and a clearer mind on those days than I have when I eat a normal breakfast and lunch,” he said.
Bulletproof Exec: Poker Players Need Huge Amounts of Focus, Energy
Dave Asprey, who founded The Bulletproof Executive and invented Bulletproof Coffee, wasn’t surprised to hear poker players were finding benefits from the beverage.
“Mentally stimulating games like poker require the ability to 'bring it' - a state of resilience where you have huge energy reserves to tap into when the cards are good, and enough to pay attention to the other players the rest of the time,” he said.
“Bulletproof pulls out all the stops when it comes to upgrading cognitive performance – from delivering multiple forms of fuel to the brain simultaneously, to optimizing neurotransmitters, to increasing mitochondrial energy in the cells — how could it not help with poker?”
Of course results can vary and even Asprey admits there can be negative side effects if Bulletproof Coffee is used incorrectly.
“When you use Bulletproof Coffee, the most common side effects are a dramatic decrease in hunger and huge amounts of focus and energy,” he said.
“When you add too much Brain Octane oil, the main side effect is called ‘disaster pants.’ Too much of any oil will do this, but since Brain Octane is 18x concentrated from coconut oil, it’s very strong. Start slowly with Bulletproof Coffee and there won’t be that kind of side effect.
Meanwhile Jacobson warns that it can be a bit deceiving to throw around the word “healthy” since it’s such a broad term.
“Lately I have become a bit allergic to the term 'healthy' because I realize that it is all relative,” he said.
“As we're all different individuals you should be careful when classifying something as healthy because it might actually be unhealthy for somebody else.
"For me personally, healthy is to stay open minded and carefully listen to your body's signals and make decisions accordingly.”
Other Health Hacks to Optimize Poker Ability
Of course Bulletproof Coffee is hardly the only way to get your body in peak condition for playing poker.
Smoothies, green tea and blueberries have all spent their share of time at the poker table.
There are numerous supplements to look into and nutrition is a key way to improve almost everything.
It’s also about finding the right balance of physical exercise and avoiding fatigue.
“Invest in your health, just like you invest in your poker game,” suggests Jacobson.
“Money and time. Talk to a professional nutritionist and a personal trainer for advice but remember that your body is your most important judge of what works for you.
"Listen to it and make adjustments along the way. I'd also highly recommend to try yoga and meditation. It's a great way to get to know your body better and helps with concentration and focus for long hours.”
Balancing Poker and Physical Fitness
Asprey warned that it's very easy for people with mentally-stimulating jobs to burn themselves out at the gym.
“If you work out, and you’re playing in tournaments, you’re probably burning the candle at both ends, grinding yourself down more than you think,” he said.
“Don’t follow a tournament with a hard workout. Get some sleep and wait a day or two before hitting the gym. If you’re like most poker players, and you never see the inside of a gym, know that you can get better brain performance just by working out really hard for 15 minutes once a week.”
Asprey, who just released The Bulletproof Diet book in December, also believes in the importance of managing your diet.
“Food cravings suck your willpower, and poker is a game of willpower,” he said.
“You know when you’ve broken your opponent’s will. What if you arranged your life so you had more of your own willpower intact? You’d be able to stand up better in tough situations at the table, and you’d take more home at the end of the night.”
It’s becoming obvious at this point anyone who complete ignores their health is just creating a potential leak in their game down the road.
Jacobson, for one, is thrilled about the current potential for poker players to improve both body and mind.
“It's a really interesting world right now because we're finally starting to realize how little we've actually known about our body’s potential and what we need in order to perform optimally.”