How to Find an Edge in Poker: Holistic Health and Nutrition

Andrew ‘LuckyChewy’ Lichtenberger listens to the signals his body gives him.

He is fed up with the pain. He starts to learn about the importance of the things he puts into his body.

He changes his diet completely, he starts exercising, he reads the right things and he starts practicing yoga and meditation.

Before Christmas, he won $2.2m at the WPT Alpha8 event in Las Vegas.

Health + Nutrition = Better Poker

There is very little difference between the top No-Limit Hold’em (NLHE) players in the world. In most games it becomes a case of who happens to be the luckiest on the day.

It doesn’t have to be like this. There is a new edge amongst edges and it’s found in mind, body and spirit.

Liza Lim is the owner of Revive Touch, a massage and well-being company that has worked with some of poker’s top organizations including The World Poker Tour.

She is also a health and nutrition coach with numerous clients within the poker industry. This is what she has to say about the importance of holistic health in the poker industry.

Lee Davy: There is a significant relationship between holistic health and the game's biggest winners - why is this?

Liza BW 2
Liza Lim: Meditation helps you let things go.

Liza Lim: Lots of poker players are gravitating more towards things like healthy eating, massage, yoga and meditation because it’s good for the mind and body.

Considering poker players sit down for 10 hours a day, on average, it's important to take care of the body to an optimal level. 

Dr. Datis Kharrazian explains in his book, Why Isn’t My Brain Working?, the connection between the gut and the brain. If you eat lots of food that contain gluten such as bread, pizzas, pastas and certain grains, it affects the gut lining and in turn, affects the way people think.

If you get headaches or migraines, try cutting out gluten for a few weeks and see what happens.

Having a regular meditation practice can help people train their brain to handle stress better. The poker player who is calm will make better decisions than someone who doesn’t know how to control his or her own anger. 

Meditation also helps people to let things go easier too, so you don’t gripe about a bad hand for a long time. Massage is a great way to bring down stress levels and move the circulation in the body, which is very important especially with research done on the shortage of someone’s lifespan who sits down for long periods.

Getting massages and meditating brings the body into a parasympathetic state, which is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the body’s fight or flight response.

Sometimes it is appropriate to be in this state but many people are inundated with daily tasks that can keep them in a flight or fight state more than someone should be. So the tools to bring the body into a parasympathetic state are helpful and can really be an advantage for a poker player.

Also, if the body is in a parasympathetic state, foods can be digested better helping people to think clearer. 

LD: Why is meditation so important and what types of meditation would you recommend?

monster energy
Energy drinks not a good call.

LL: There are so many different types of meditation, but it doesn’t have to get complicated. A beginner can start meditating with just five minutes a day just noticing their breath.

The harder it is for someone to sit down quietly just means more practice would be highly valuable. If someone is interested in taking it to a deeper level, there is Transcendental Meditation,  Mindfulness, Zazen, and recently, I just learned about HeartMath.

Meditation doesn’t have to be done sitting down with your eyes closed either. For instance, Qi Gong is an ancient Chinese form of moving meditation.

Qi Gong is translated to “energy life force." It is a practice that was used by many ancient Chinese martial arts masters to develop self-cultivation and increase their life force.   

LD: What food types should poker players be avoiding and why?

LL: As a health coach, I learned about bio-individuality where one person is not going to be the same as another. Depending on how we were raised and our environmental influences, that can change what foods someone can really benefit from in their diet.

Having said that, I think people everywhere can always increase the amount of vegetables in the diet, especially leafy greens that are packed with vitamins A, C, E, and K minerals. They help to detox the system of congestion, which can impede clear thinking. 

LD: What drinks should poker players avoid and why?

LL: Foods and drink that should be avoided the day of and, probably, a few days before would be anything with a high sugar content.

Coconut drink pretty good call.

There are researches that show sugar will impair cognitive thinking. Energy drinks are the worst because of the high sugar content and it’s loaded with caffeine.

If a poker player is playing for a long time, it’s understandable they would want something that will keep them awake. I would advise green tea or Yerba Mate teas instead.

Or if you’re having coffee, have some nutritious food with it so there’s not a huge crash following.

LD: Why is yoga important for poker players?

LL: There are different types of yoga that will induce different states of the mind. An energizing yoga practice is better than coffee because you are tapping into your energy resources and bringing your cells alive.

It will also sustain you better in the day. And a relaxing yoga practice helps to calm the mind and slow down the craziness that some people experience in their lives.

Reducing stress levels this way also can reduce inflammation in the body and mind. By the way, there is a huge relation between stress and the digestive tract.

Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, said that all disease begins in the gut. 

LD: An online grinder can play for 12hrs+ with only one 5-min break per hour - what would your advice be regarding health and food?

LL: Preparation is key for anything. People are more successful at anything when they are more prepared and it feels good that you’ve taken time out to take care of yourself instead of mad rushing into a game at the last minute.

Have food made and put them in containers. You can have a chicken salad made and put the dressing on during the five-minute break. Or have your smoothie ingredients in a blender and keep it in the fridge.

Preparation is key before any long grind.

When you’re on that break, add some water or nut milk and blend away. There are so many wonderful brain foods you can add like walnuts, goji berries, blueberries, green vegetables, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds.

In fact, you can put all those ingredients into making a super brain smoothie. Adding some clean whey or pea protein powder will also help you balance your blood sugar levels, which will help you think better. 

LD: Live casinos are notoriously bad for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. What advice would you give to someone?

LL: Meditate daily, exercise and eat healthy. Do some research before heading out to a location and see what health food stores are around or just some grocery stores where you can load up on fresh fruits and vegetable snacks.

I also recommend bringing some things from home. I tell my clients to buy a super green protein powder and bring a travel cup so if they’re somewhere where they can’t load up on good stuff, at least they have their green drink. 

LD: What's the difference between a diet and a lifestyle choice - and why is the difference so important to poker players?

LL: When you hear the word “diet," it’s a temporary way of eating. You hear a lot about celebrity diets.

Celebrities will eat a certain way right before they get on the red carpet, or before they get naked in front of the camera.

Sleepy railbird
Sleep is key.

That is an excessive way of living, which is why is doesn’t work in the real world and why people are always going through dramatic changes in their weight.

A lifestyle offers a more balanced way to live. 

LD: What are the worst habits you have seen in poker?

LL: The worst I’ve seen are not sleeping, which actually fries the brain. So, while someone can not sleep and get away with it a few times, the more it happens it catches up and affects cognition.

Eating a poor diet, stuffing it down really fast, and binge drinking the night before are also destructive habits I see a lot.

Liza Lim specialises in helping poker players improve their games by improving their holistic health. If you would like to work with her then she can be contacted at liza (@) revivetouch.com.

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