I’ve come across a lot of posts and articles discussing proper nutrition for gamers that do little more than suggest a player eat more fruits and vegetables. Just like with fitness and exercise tips for gamers, competitive gamers need more than generic nutritional advice being haphazardly applied to them.
Here’s the short version of this post: competitive gamers and esports athletes will benefit from a diet and nutritional approach that focuses on improving digestion, providing optimal macro and micronutrient intakes and one that makes food preparation relatively effortless.
In this post, I bring a more esport specific training approach to diet and nutrition. Nutrition for gamers doesn’t need to be complicated with fancy recipes and meal ideas. In fact, nutrition for competitive gamers is relatively simple due to the sport placing minimal caloric demands on the athletes.
I may bring a bit of a biased perspective to nutrition for gamers as people are said to fall into two camps: those who eat to live and those who live to eat, and I definitely fall in the former’s camp. Hopefully, this post will help to shift your perspective on nutrition. Your food and meals don’t have to be a “trip into cuisine paradise full of flavour and experiences” every time you eat. In fact, most athletes in sports reach a point where they start eating with the specific intent on improving their athletic performance.
NUTRITION FOR GAMERS
Let’s get right into the “diet”. I use parentheses for diet because what follows is really just an easy approach to getting the bulk of vitamins and nutrients your body needs. You can continue reading after if you want to understand the reasoning behind it and why I think it’s a great choice for competitive gamers and esports athletes.
I use a rice cooker to prepare the bulk of my food along with a few other products. You can find the stuff I recommend in the Recommended Gear section. I use this method because it’s quick, easy and allows me to quickly transport my food into thermos’s where my meals will stay warm throughout the day. I’ll include a video near the end of this section demonstrating how I prepare everything each day.
VERTICAL DIET – BEST DIET FOR GAMERS?
Now, in case you think I’m pulling this diet approach out of nowhere, it’s actually called The Vertical Diet by Stan Efferding. There are numerous interviews with Stan Efferding on Youtube (like this one) discussing the diet. In case you’re into this sort of thing, you can get his Vertical Diet eBook here. It’s a little pricey but it contains tons of information and scientific resources to back up the diet. And before you get up in arms about eating red meat every day, check out this resource, because it’s not 1950 anymore.
Normally, this diet would start to get expensive for athletes who compete in certain sports like strongman due to the caloric demands from the sport. With gaming, however, unless you’re actively trying to pack on lots of muscle, this diet approach can be relatively cost-effective.
Why I think it’s such a great diet approach for competitive gamers is because it will improve digestion, and with the sedentary nature of esports competition, having optimal digestion means fewer distractions and discomfort while trying to compete. Additionally, the diet aims to make sure there are no nutrient deficiencies, something that can help boost performance for any athlete.
10 Minute Walks for Gamers – Improve Cardio & Digestion
If you want to improve your digestion even more, I recommend utilizing 10-minute walks after each meal. This is something backed up by research, like this study, as walking after meals was found to be more beneficial for improving symptoms of type 2 diabetes than pharmaceuticals.
Check out this video for more information on the benefits of walking for gamers and especially on walking after meals.
Part of optimal digestion is the feeling one has after eating food. The vertical diet ensures athletes aren’t fatigued or distracted with physical symptoms like gas, bloating and indigestion. This can be critical for competitive gamers where being sedentary means physical discomforts can become very distracting. You also don’t have to stick to this diet every single day. Perhaps you use it for a few months leading up to a competition. You may, however, find that once you start eating nutritious whole foods that are easily digestible, your cravings for junk start to go away.
And in case you’re vegetarian or vegan, I’ll include a few alternatives for you, but some of it will be up to you on how to best substitute.
This diet is currently being used by:
- Amateur/Pro Strongmen/Women
- Powerlifter’s Men/Women
- NCAA/NFL Football
- NCAA/Olympic Track and Field
- Amateur/Professional MMA fighters
- Recreational Athletes
- NPC/IFBB Men AND Women bodybuilding, bikini, figure, physique competitors.
- Regular everyday folk
In fact, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (who most of you probably know as “Thor” or “The Giant” from Game of Thrones) hired Stan Efferding prior to winning the world’s strongest man. Stan helped clean up Thor’s diet with the vertical diet and get his sleep on track (to name a few). I’m a big advocate for gamer’s to improve their sleep and I wrote a post about it that you can check out here.
This diet is:
- Based on whole foods
- Based on optimizing gut health
- Based on correcting nutrient deficiencies.
- Based on correcting hormone deficiencies
- Based on improving energy, stamina, endurance and recovery.
- Based on a sustainable lifestyle
Here are the ingredients for this diet:
- White rice
- Red meat (high quality)
- Sweet potato
- White potato
- Red pepper
- Greek yogurt
- Orange juice
- Cranberry juice
- Bone Broth
- Lara Bars (these are what I use for snacks)
These foods will provide your body with almost all of the recommended macro and micronutrients. It can be easily prepared (as shown in my video below) and won’t break the bank, well, depending on how much you need to eat.
NUTRITION FOR GAMERS
Let’s take a look at why each of these ingredients is important.
It’s cheap, it’s a great source of carbs, it causes limited gas build up and it’s super easy to digest. What more could you want?
Other carbs like wheat and pasta can have anti-nutrients and satiating effects (feeling overly full). Getting proper nutrition without “feeling full” can lead to better performance as the body doesn’t have to work as hard to digest and there is less of a drowsy feeling.
Red Meat (lean)
Red meat is an extremely nutrient dense food and a much better option over chicken or turkey. Red meat (especially grass-fed) is rich in several bioavailable nutrients—like B12, zinc, iron, CLA, EPA and DHA—nutrients that Americans and people around the world are commonly deficient in.
I know this will be the most contested food on the list, so here’s some research you can look into:
- The truth about red meat
- The pure study
- Health reasons to eat red meat
- The nutrition of red meat
- Why red meat won’t kill you
- Fats and cholesterol
- Study Questions Fat and Heart Disease Link
- The Truth About Saturated Fat
Now, before you dismiss some of these sources, keep in mind they are a commentary on actual studies that can be found within the articles. I find most people do better with this style of information as barebones research is pretty boring and difficult to grasp without a research background.
*For vegetarians and vegans, a common substitute is beans and legumes. I do, however, recommend sprouting your beans and legumes as this will make digesting them much easier. I discuss sprouting more at the end of this post.
Salmon or Fish Oil
It’s recommended to have a couple of servings of salmon each week in order to get adequate omega 3s. Just aim to eat two 3.5oz servings of salmon each week and you should be good.
If you don’t really like salmon, or just prefer to skip having to buy it, then opt for a cod liver oil supplement. I prefer the liquid that you can keep in the fridge once open. Just a tablespoon a day should keep your omega 3s up to par.
This one is a little more optional. Eggs are a great protein and fat source and are packed with a bunch of vitamins and minerals. I like to have a few hard-boiled eggs with some rice for breakfast. Super easy to digest, especially before a workout.
Another great carbohydrate source that adds in more micronutrients and that is easily digestible. Sweet potato contains vitamin C & E, is a great source of potassium and beta carotene (which gets converted into Vitamin A). They are also a great prebiotic which helps improve gut health.
TIP: when starches like potatoes and rice cool down and are then reheated, they create resistance starches which can be more difficult to digest. This isn’t a big issue unless your focus is on optimizing digestion. This is why I cook my meals fresh every day in a rice cooker.
Similar to sweet potato, with a tad bit fewer vitamins but a lot more potassium. Potassium is a critical electrolyte, and many, especially athletes, are deficient in this. In fact, some research suggests over 95% of American diets do not meet potassium recommendations.
Here are some important potassium deficiency symptoms that I think will interest competitive gamers:
- constant fatigue
- high blood pressure
- achy or weak feeling muscles
- heart skipping a beat (not ideal when holding an AWP angle)
- feeling faint or dizzy
- tingling or numbness
Every cell in your body needs the right amount of potassium, so don’t neglect this vital mineral.
Spinach, Red Pepper & Carrots
Spinach and red peppers are easily digestible and low gas vegetables, especially when cooked. Together, they contain fibre, vitamins, omega 3’s and calcium. Carrots can be eaten raw and help add in a few more vitamins and fibre. Feel free to choose other non-gas vegetables like zucchini, cucumber, eggplant, Swiss chard and alfalfa.
A lot of vegetables can be difficult to digest or can cause gas. This can be a little easier to deal with when you’re active or exercising, but it can be detrimental for competitive gamers who are primarily sedentary while competing.
*Later in the post, I discuss the benefits of sprouting vegetable seeds, like broccoli. Sprouting can be an easy way to drastically increase your vegetable intake as sprouts can contain upwards of 100x the nutritional content when compared to their adult counterparts.
Greek yogurt (whole fat)
This is a great way to meet your calcium needs and get a little more potassium. If you’re allergic to dairy or don’t tolerate it well, or you’re vegetarian/vegan, powdered eggs shells can work as a replacement.
Besides the obvious vitamin c, orange juice is great for stimulating the liver to help your body naturally detoxify. You don’t need much, just a 3oz serving a few times a day. Additionally, orange juice can help boost the immune system and provides antioxidants and minerals like magnesium and potassium.
You don’t need much, just 2oz-4oz a day to get Iodine. Iodine is one of those critical and essential nutrients that a lot of people are deficient in, especially athletes. The more active you are the more you need to pay attention to getting the right amount of iodine. And if you’ve been following Cyber Athletiks, you’re hopefully getting more active with esport specific training.
If you live in the US, it’s really affordable to get pure cranberry juice. I recommend getting it from Amazon here. It can be difficult to find pure cranberry juice as most are actually “juice blends” which contain a bunch of other juices.
These aren’t mentioned in the Vertical Diet but they’re my favourite bars for snacks. They are typically made from just three to four natural ingredients, making them super easy to digest and full of nutrition.
You can try this variety pack to find out which flavours you like the best.
This has been getting a lot of attention lately. Bone broth helps improve digestion and gut health and it can easily be added to meals to give them a boost and improve flavour. Just make sure you get the real stuff and avoid broths/stocks that have things like corn starch, canola oil or chicken flavour. You can check out this article for more info.
Sodium also helps increase stamina and endurance. It allows athletes to hold more water in the muscles, which increases strength and explosiveness. It also helps improve the integrity of the joints.
More and more articles are being published stating that the restrictions around salt aren’t grounded in evidence, and are sometimes opposed to the evidence.
Salt can help lower your heart rate, decrease muscle cramping and increase stamina (great for competitive gaming). Plus, it’s much healthier than any energy drink on the market.
Salt is more dependent on your physical activity. If you are taking esport specific training serious and training hard then you may want to consider upping your intake of sodium. You can check out this article for more info.
All I’m saying is just make sure you salt your meals and don’t try to purposefully restrict sodium (especially if you’re eating natural whole foods). How much sodium depends on you and your activity level.
A word of warning, if you don’t do any physical training or any exercise in general and eat a poor diet, you should probably avoid purposefully increasing your salt intake as it could exacerbate the negative effects of being sedentary.
VIDEO – An Easy Way to Prepare the Vertical Diet for Gamers
After seeing a video on youtube showcasing how to prepare this diet using a rice cooker, I was hooked. In fact, I’ve been primarily eating this for the past year (most weekends excluded). I work a 9-5 job, and being able to effortlessly prepare a full day worth of food and bring it with me has not only improved my health, but it has also saved me a lot of money as I rarely eat out.
If you have small caloric demands, meaning you don’t need to consume much food, you are likely deficient in some vitamins or minerals. If you are training hard outside of competitive gaming and not making nutrition a priority, you are definitely deficient in some vitamins and minerals.
You can check out my post REAL Supplements for Gamers & Esports – Top 5 for more information on the top supplements I recommend for gamers and why I think they’re more important than the currently marketed “gamer supplements” sweeping the internet.
By improving nutrient deficiencies, gamers can get closer to their peak performance. If the body isn’t running at 100%, no magic “brain boost” supplement is going to make up for that.
Some of the discussed supplements, especially if you are deficient, can help with recovery, aches & pains, boost energy and thus improve gaming performance.
Here are 3 supplements I recommend looking into as most people are deficient in them:
In the next page, I discuss more of the reasoning behind why this diet approach can be great for competitive gamers in not only improving their health but their performance too.
DO GAMERS REALLY NEED TO PAY ATTENTION TO NUTRITION?
Well, this depends. I largely focus on competitive gamers who are trying to improve their performance. If you’re a recreational gamer, this post doesn’t really apply to you, unless you are actively trying to find a better diet or nutritional plan. This post focuses on how you can you can put in the least amount of effort while still maximizing your nutritional intake and diet. So, if you are a recreational gamer trying to eat more healthy, I would absolutely recommend following this approach as it will not only boost health but also save you time and money.
If you are a competitive gamer wondering if you really do need to pay attention to nutrition, let me explain why you should make it a priority. At Cyber Athletiks I advocate for gamers, especially competitive gamers, to train more like athletes. I also focus on what gamers can do outside of esports to improve inside of esports. For more on this, check out the Athletiks section and the Recommended Gear section to get your training started.
There are reasons why I take this approach for competitive gamers in case you’re skeptical at this point. Professor Ingo Froböse has been studying esports at the German Sports University of Cologne for over five years now. In fact, Professor Ingo Froböse was one of the first scientists to study individuals who compete in esports. Most people laugh at the idea of considering pro gamers athletes, whereas Professor Ingo Froböse actually studied them and the demands placed on players who compete in esports.
Here are some interesting points found by Professor Ingo Froböse’s research:
- esports athletes can achieve up to 400 movements on the keyboard and mouse per minute
- various parts of the brain are being used simultaneously
- esports athletes are exposed to physical strains similar to those of in other sports
- the needed hand-eye-coordination goes far beyond table tennis as both hands work asymmetrically
- The amount of cortisol produced is about the same level as that of a race-car driver
- esports athletes have a pulse as high as 160-180 beats per minute (akin to fast running)
- esports are just as demanding as traditional sports
Even when gamers start to understand this, they can still go astray. In strength and conditioning for sports, every sport has a sport specific training approach. Essentially, athletes train with the specific intent on becoming better at their specific sport.
An American Football player doesn’t train by running marathons because it doesn’t carry over to their sport. In fact, if they did start trying to complete marathons, their performance inside their sport would be negatively impacted, as American Football requires strength with explosiveness, not endurance.
There’s still a lot of general fitness advice in esports where people trying to promote physical training just assume that as long as gamers are moving it must be good. I wrote a post on Exercises to Avoid for competitive gamers as some exercises can increase the risk of injury for competitive gamers and there are often far better alternatives.
Alright, rant over. Back to why competitive gamers should consider improving their diet and nutrition. I think esport specific training can go beyond just making gamers healthier, it can improve performance and reduce injury rates. I’m glad to see I’m not alone in this thinking: Professor Ingo Froböse states with regard to his research findings on esports athletes:
“In terms of their fitness, many of our test subjects are simply average citizens, and average citizens worry me. They simply aren’t fit. For example, they fail to do exercises that would strengthen the whole support system in the shoulder and neck areas. Were they to do this, this would improve their fine-motor skills in the arm area, something that is extremely important in competition […] In fact, not only would they improve their performance through a focus on training, nutrition and fitness, they’d increase the length of their careers as well”.
It’s exciting to see some sport specific research targeting esports. Professor Ingo Froböse is right to warn esports athletes on the dangers of neglecting their nutrition and fitness.
In the above points that Professor Ingo Froböse found in his research, what stood out for me was that esports athletes are exposed to physical strains similar to those of traditional athletes. If gamers are enduring high amounts of both physical and mental stress during a competition, their body needs to be able to endure it. Professor Ingo Froböse is finding that average citizens are taking part in highly intensive activities and this is just asking for injury, burnout or suboptimal performance.
So yes, athletes are supposed to be fit as it provides many advantages for performance during competition, and this includes nutrition. Esports athletes and competitive gamers have a lot to gain if they explore other avenues for boosting performance outside of just playing their chosen game.
As Professor Ingo Froböse points out, proper strength and conditioning, along with better nutrition, will not only boost performance, but it can extend esports careers. If you’re trying to make it as a pro gamer, wouldn’t you want that to last as long as possible once it happened? I know I would.
WHAT IS THE BEST DIET FOR COMPETITIVE GAMERS & ESPORTS?
As esports continues to grow, a lot of top tiers professional teams are starting to have chefs on site in gaming houses. This makes sense for organizations that have multiple teams in various esports titles. But if it’s just one team with less than ten people living in a home, that money could be better spent on an esports physiotherapist or esports doctor. Also, if management in organizations doesn’t have any background in sports science, the chef is likely left with no direction on what sort of foods and meals will best help the players in optimizing performance. For elite athletes, it’s not enough to just offer “healthy foods”.
But I’m going to assume that most of your reading this are not on a team that has a personal chef. There is a shift in esports to take the health and well being of players more serious, but this is only impacting professional players at the moment. The vast majority of competitive gamers are amateurs who have to juggle their dream of being pro with other responsibilities in their life. This is a big reason why I started Cyber Athletiks. Having professional teams get esports doctors and physiotherapists is great, but what about the majority of the players who don’t have the resources to access these types of services?
In more traditional sports, amateur athletes often have to take it upon themselves to optimize their training and nutrition. Esports is no different. So, what is the best diet for competitive gamers & esports? Well, I hope you have some idea by now, but let’s look at what esports athletes and competitive gamers really need to perform optimally.
As mentioned earlier, competitive gamers are enduring significant amounts of physical and mental stress. This is incredibly draining and taxing for the body. Most people don’t get an adequate intake of micronutrients and their intake of macronutrients typically comes from poor sources.
Macronutrients: a type of food (e.g. fat, protein, carbohydrate) required in large amounts in the diet.
An athlete experiencing nutrient deficiencies will be unable to achieve optimal performance. Sure, they may be able to achieve success in competition, but could they have done better? Will they last over the long term? The body and mind require various nutrients, minerals and vitamins, and if they do not get them, performance will suffer. Athletes with nutrient deficiencies can see their performance suffer, competitive gamers included. If you can’t buy into the whole “physically taxing” aspect of esports you can focus on the mind at least. In order for your brain and cognition to function optimally, it needs various nutrients such as omega 3’s and vitamin B’s.
Common Nutrient Deficiencies in Athletes (Gamers Included)
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B’s
- Omega 3s
*The vertical diet ensures these deficiencies will never be a problem
The point I’m trying to make is that athletes will always fare better if their bodies are given the nutrients they require and these nutrients are best found in real food. This should be a no brainer. And no, this doesn’t mean you just need to eat more salads and drink more smoothies. Although these can help, they aren’t the complete answer.
Ok, so what’s specific to gamers here? Well, competitive gaming is sedentary. In esports, the players compete seated. When players are seated, digestion starts to play a critical role, as any type of indigestion will impact how the player feels and will affect their levels of concentration.
Eating a diet that causes gas, bloating, indigestion or acid reflux can be detrimental to competitive gaming performance. Players take in inordinate amounts of information, process it and then make split-second decisions, over, and over. Having poor digestion can cause physical distractions during competition and affect performance. Would you purposefully drink alcohol to the point of intoxication before a competitive match? And I mean one where money is on the line. Probably not. So why eat foods that can cause you to feel fatigued or uncomfortable?
Proper nutrition can also help reduce the likelihood of injury. Competitive gamers are at risk for injuries such as repetitive strain injuries, and if they’re lacking vital nutrients, their bodies may be lacking in their ability to recover from the damage and inflammation.
VERTICAL DIET – A GREAT DIET FOR GAMERS
One of the reasons it’s called the vertical diet is due to the vertical and horizontal axis. The horizontal axis represents the micronutrients, and these are all staples, the amounts are never changed. The vertical axis is the macronutrients, i.e., carbs, fats and protein (yes, there’s some crossover between the two, but that will always happen with whole foods). The vertical axis represents the bulk of the calories you’ll be consuming.
Do you have to follow this diet to a tee to get the benefits? No, and I never advocate black and white thinking. Experiment with it for yourself. I personally found using the rice cooker created an easy approach to eating high-quality foods every day. Maybe you hate spinach and prefer a different leafy green. Maybe you enjoy cooking and the time spent doing it.
All I’m saying is that gamers can do more than just try and eat more “healthy”. They can eat to improve performance. Esports isn’t a competition of health, gamers aren’t competing to see who the healthiest gamers are, they’re competing to see which gamers are the best. Eating with the intention of avoiding nutrient deficiencies and improving digestion is a great place for competitive gamers to start when trying to improve their nutrition.
HOW GAMERS CAN GET MORE VEGETABLES
No matter what the diet fad is, almost every nutritional expert will agree on one thing, people need to eat more vegetables (yes, even vegans). With the vertical diet, you’ll be getting a lot of vegetables, probably more than what you were previously eating, but you could probably do with some more.
Now I like things to be relatively simple, fast and efficient. That’s why I do a lot of sprouting. Sprouting is nothing new, it’s been practiced for thousands of years. Sprouting entails germinating a seed (grains, nuts, beans, legumes etc.) to make them easier to digest and more nutritious.
When it comes to certain vegetable seeds, sprouting can be more nutrient dense when compared to the adult counterparts. Take broccoli for example. Broccoli sprouts can contain up to 100 times more sulforaphane when compared to fully grown broccoli. Sulforaphane, among other chemicals in broccoli sprouts, is a powerful environmental detoxifier and has cancer preventive properties.
Sprouting can also be more cost effective when compared to buying lots of fresh produce from the grocery store. I recommend starting with a sprouter like this one and broccoli seeds like these ones. If you find you like the sprouting life, you can upgrade to a device like this sprouter, which will automate most of the sprouting process for you. And if you’re vegetarian or vegan eating a lot of beans and legumes, start sprouting them. It will make it easier to digest and allow you to absorb more of the nutrients.
If you don’t see yourself sprouting then I recommend investing in a high-quality blender and taking some tips from Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D (such as this video). I always recommend Vitamix blenders, like this one. Ya it’s expensive (and there are even pricier models) but just remember what you’ve already invested into esports and competitive gaming, don’t be afraid to invest in you.
HOW GAMERS CAN LOSE WEIGHT
A benefit I found while following the philosophy of the vertical diet is that my cravings for junk food started to dissipate. Eating chips and dip became kind of gross. Drinking pop upset my stomach. And grabbing random take-out meant an evening of bloating and gas. You may find that once you start consistently eating nutrient dense whole foods that your body simply doesn’t crave junk food, and, if you were to eat junk, it just isn’t all that appealing.
If you utilize the vertical diet, this is simple. Simply focus on the vertical axis of the above picture, i.e., eat less rice and red meat. For me, I use about 1 cup of uncooked white rice and 1 lb. of ground sirloin. If I wanted to start losing weight, I’d simply start slowly reducing these two foods.
If you’ve made up your mind that eating something like the vertical diet isn’t for you, then at least start tracking your calories using a tracker like myfitnesspal. Track what you eat for a month or two to find out just how many calories you’re eating and start to cut back.
The science behind losing/gaining weight is relatively simple. It’s all about total calories consumed/burned each day. Head over to tdeecalculator.net and find out what your maintenance calories are (the number of calories you need to stay the size you are already). Once you have that number, use a calorie counter to ensure you’re eating slightly less than maintenance. I recommend dropping slowly, say 200-300 calories for a few weeks, as this helps ensure consistency.
Additionally, start adding in 10 minute walks after every meal. At the beginning of this post, I discussed in my video why 10 minute walks after eating are not only great for digestion but are a great cardio option too, especially for gamers. The biggest difference between running and walking is that one is more likely to get you injured. Both are a great way to condition the body and lose weight. By cutting calories and moving more, your body will have no option but to cut weight.
Are you trying to be a competitive gamer or runner? If the former, then stick to walking. Unless, of course, you enjoy running and have been doing it for some time. But if that’s the case, you probably aren’t trying to lose weight.
HOW GAMERS CAN GAIN WEIGHT
Simple. Eat more rice and steak. But seriously, if you’ve been trying to gain weight and think that no matter what you do you just can’t gain any size, you’re probably eating less than you think.
When people are trying to gain weight, they often remember that “one time” they ate a full pizza and think that they can eat anything and everything without ever gaining any weight.
Unless you are consistently tracking your calories using a tracker like myfitnesspal, you probably eat a lot less than you think. So, if you’re going to follow the vertical diet, start slow by adding more rice and red meat to every meal for a few weeks, and when those meals become easier to eat, add a little more.