Don’t fall for the gimmicky gamer supplements that are sweeping the internet. Most supplements are garbage and most “top supplement lists for gamers” are just marketing hype. Exercise, food and sleep are three of the most powerful tools for an athlete. If these three variables aren’t in check, you’re mistaken to think a supplement will make up for it. I do, however, understand that many gamers and competitive gamers are searching for the best supplements to help improve their health and give them an edge.
What are the top 5 supplements for gamers?
- Vitamin D3
- Fish Oil
- BONUS: B-complex Vitamin
- BONUS: Salt
Why the small list? Because any serious athlete competing in a sport knows that supplements fail in comparison to physical training, nutrition and sleep. If you want a few more options then check out the supplements on my Recommended Gear page. But again, there’s no magical “brain booster 5000” on it. If you aren’t on point with exercise, food and sleep, a supplement is going to do frig all; it’s like walking over $100 bills for nickels.
This list is made primarily to supplement common nutritional deficiencies in gamers. In fact, a lot of the general population probably lacks a lot of these nutrients. 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. Additionally, some of these supplements, especially if you are deficient, can help with recovery, aches & pains, boost energy and thus improve gaming performance.
If you want to pick up any of these supplements I’ve included a table at the end of the post.
#1 – VITAMIN D3
This is really the “true” supplement, as it’s extremely difficult to get enough vitamin D naturally. It’s even hard to get enough vitamin D if you’re fortunate enough to live in a warm sunny place. It’s really hard to get enough vitamin D if you’re a competitive gamer. Competitive gaming takes place indoors. Practice is indoors. Scrims are indoors. Matches are indoors. And tournaments are indoors. If you’re a serious competitive gamer, you probably don’t have enough time to be laying outside soaking up the sun on a consistent basis. I live in Canada, and as I write this post, it is -30 outside. For a good chunk of the year, I don’t even have the option to get natural vitamin D. So, out of all the supplements on this list, vitamin D is the only one I will say you must get. Here’s why.
Importance of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is vital, so much so that your body actually makes it on its own. It does, however, need exposure to sunlight first in order to make it. Without vitamin D, your body is unable to absorb calcium. Your body needs calcium to promote bone growth. Children who do not get enough vitamin D can develop “rickets” and adults can get “osteomalacia” which are, in a nutshell, the softening and weakening of bones. The importance of vitamin D goes beyond its ability to work with calcium to build strong bones. It plays a big role in regulating the immune system and the neuromuscular system.
How much Vitamin D?
This is where things can become unclear. Different health sites have different recommendations. A 2017 study recommended 60-80 ng/dL as the optimal range. This equates to 8000 IU/day. Typically, vitamin D supplements are in the form of 1000 IU tablets.
VITAMIN D RECOMMENDATION
I would be acting in bad faith if I didn’t recommend that you get and monitor regular blood tests while supplementing vitamin D (well, consult a medical doctor to do this). A blood test will be the best way to determine the amount of vitamin D in your body and how much you should/shouldn’t be supplementing. I do, however, understand that most of you reading this will not be getting a blood test when you start taking vitamin D. I believe elite esports teams should be monitoring their athlete’s blood work regularly to ensure that any deficiencies are addressed, but that’s a whole other post.
Me personally, I take 10, 000 IU a day. This is a little above the recommendation from the cited study, but far below any toxicity risk. For most supplements, I always recommend the Kirkland brand (from Costco). This brand, for supplements, is rated 5 stars by consumer reports, they’re high quality and very affordable.
Vitamin D Tip – Combine with Vitamin K2
Over the last few years, a lot of health sites are promoting adding vitamin K2 supplementation with your vitamin D3 supplementation. The reasoning behind this is that Vitamin D and Vitamin K2 work together to regulate how calcium is absorbed in the body. Basically, vitamin D controls how calcium is absorbed into the blood, and vitamin k2 controls where calcium ends up in your body (the bones). For a more in-depth look at vitamin k2 and foods that are high in vitamin k2, check out this article by Chris Kresser.
#2 – FISH OIL
Second on the list is fish oil. Fish oil is typically taken for the omega-3s fatty acids. There are many, many benefits to omega-3s and they’re backed up research. First, there are 3 omega fatty acids: omega 3, 6, and 9. Typically, people get enough omega-6 and 9. It’s omega-3 fatty acids that people lack. Some of you can probably skip this section and any omega-3 supplement altogether. If you live in an area and culture that eats plenty of fish, you’re probably getting enough omega-3s.
I’m in Canada, and North America as a whole is pretty deficient in omega-3s. In the United States, the majority of adults are not meeting recommendations for omega-3 fatty acid consumption. To understand why fish oil is a great supplement for gamers, competitive gamers and esports athletes, let’s look at the side effects of omega-3 deficiency and the benefits of getting adequate omega-3s.
Omega-3 Deficiency Symptoms
Before focusing on omega-3 and how it relates specifically to competitive gamers, I want to point out the big health risks around omega-3 deficiencies. Most of us are getting enough omega-6 and 9s (our bodies actually produce omega-9s) but when your body lacks a balance between omega-6 and omega-3s, the risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes and many other diseases increases. Here’s a list of some of the signs and symptoms associated with omega-3 deficiency:
- Poor Memory
- Poor circulation
- Excess Urination
These aren’t all the symptoms, but I think these ones will spike the interest of gamers. Many “gamer supplements” market their “ability” to improve fatigue, memory and cognitive function for gamers but probably fail in comparison to omega-3.
Benefits from Omega-3 Supplementation
Rather than spending money for some over-priced supplement that probably won’t come close to delivering its promises, why not supplement for something that is essential to your body while also reaping the benefits that carry over to gaming performance? Regarding depression and anxiety (an increasing concern for esports athletes), omega-3 has been shown to help. When people with symptoms of depression and/or anxiety begin supplementing omega-3s, or increasing their dietary intake, their symptoms improve (additional studies: 1; 2). I should really add omega-3 to my mental health tips for gamers post. Now, when it comes to thirst and urination, having both of these under control is obviously going to help competitive gamers. Less distraction means more focus.
For poor circulation, check out my post on why increasing blood flow brings many benefits for competitive gamers. Here’s a list of some other benefits from omega-3’s that can specifically help competitive gamers and improve performance:
- Improved eye health (1; 2)
- Reduce ADHD symptoms (3; 4; 5; 6)
- Reduce Inflammation (7; 8)
- Improve bone and joint health (9; 10)
- Improve sleep (11; 12)
- Improve cognition (13)
MAKE SURE YOU’RE GETTING YOUR OMEGA-3s
Don’t waste your money on silly supplements—give your body what it actually needs. For omega-3s, I recommend cod liver oil. I take 1 tablespoon a day (not teaspoon). This gives me roughly 2700 mg of EPA/DHA a day. It’s important to note that it can take up to three months for your body to reach adequate levels of omega-3s and to really reap its benefits. I personally find 1 tablespoon the easiest way to ensure I’m getting enough, and it’s backed up by lots of studies, such as this one.
#3 – IODINE
This one may be news to you. The importance of iodine is often overshadowed by many health trends despite how prevalent iodine deficiency is in the general population, especially athletes. In fact, iodine has been added to table salt in most developed countries. This has helped improve iodine deficiencies but not necessarily for people who are active. If you are training seriously, then you are sweating a lot. In fact, if you’re a competitive gamer, you probably sweat a lot during matches. When you sweat, you lose electrolytes and you lose iodine. Iodine powerfully stimulates thyroid function and improves the immune system by ridding toxins from the body such as fluoride, chlorine and Bromide.
Iodine is necessary for the normal growth and development of the brain and body. Iodine is needed for the body to produce thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism. Have you ever felt like no matter how hard you try you can’t lose weight? Making sure you are getting enough iodine can be a piece to that puzzle. Or have you still felt really tired after a full nights sleep and then continued to feel fatigued all day? An Iodine deficiency could be the culprit.
For competitive gamers especially, iodine may help improve cognition as one study found that iodine improves cognition in iodine-deficient school children and this study looks at how many parts of the brain are affected by iodine deficiency. When you first start increasing iodine intake it can be common to experience some flu-like symptoms. Toxins such as Chlorine, Fluoride and Bromide can occupy iodine. These toxins are displaced back into the bloodstream and filtered out of the system by your kidneys when iodine is taken in sufficient quantities.
BEST WAY TO GET IODINE?
Iodine is found in a lot of different foods. The problem is, you probably aren’t eating large enough quantities of those foods. You can also get too much iodine, but that is unlikely unless you’re taking high doses through pill form supplements. Cranberries, and especially 100% cranberry juice, is one of the best and easy sources. Cranberries also pack in a lot of antioxidants and tannins for urinary tract protection (DISCLAIMER: cranberry juice will not prevent urinary tract infections, but it may reduce the likelihood of contracting or reduce the severity/duration of one) 4oz of cranberries or 100% cranberry juice has about 400mcg of iodine. The recommended daily intake is around 150mcg.
If you’re on top of your physical training, I’d recommend 4oz a day. If you’re still primarily sedentary, start with 2oz or none at all, depending on how good your diet is. Just a quick note, cranberry juice is not delicious especially 100% juice. Expect to take it like a shot. You lose the majority of your iodine through urination. The more active you are and the more you’ll lose through sweat. In case you think esports isn’t causing stress on your body similar to other sports, check out my post about it.
I personally buy frozen cranberries, let about 1 cup thaw and then blend them in a little bit of orange juice and water. In Canada, this has been the most cost effective solution I’ve found so far since most cranberry juices contain small amounts of actual cranberry juice. I recommend this blender on Amazon if you’ve got the extra cash, you’ll be able to make some seriously nutrient-dense smoothies with it.
There are also cheaper/more expensive versions available. Ya, it’s a little pricey, but some of you spent more on a keyboard, and I bet the blender will last longer. For some of you, Amazon has some very economical choices for pure cranberry juice, like this pack of 8 1L bottles. For roughly $40 US, you get a 2-4 month supply, depending on how much you consume.
#4 – CURCUMIN
Here’s another supplement that’s probably not on your radar but should be. I like to think of curcumin as a “natural ibuprofen” with many other health benefits. First, curcumin is a curcuminoid, a compound found in the spice of turmeric and its medicinal properties have been researched quite a bit. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been found to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects and is also a strong antioxidant. So why not just start cooking with turmeric more? Well, turmeric has a pretty low content of curcumin. The studies I’ll mention soon look at extracts containing dosages that often exceed 1 gram per day and this would be very difficult to do with just turmeric.
Benefits from Curcumin
It’s a strong anti-inflammatory, so much so that it has been shown to be just as effective as some common anti-inflammatory drugs without the dreaded side effects (1; 2; 3). This is good news for competitive gamers who are at a higher risk for repetitive strain injuries. When these injuries start to occur, daily use of curcumin is a much better idea than constant ibuprofen use. Curcumin has also been linked to improved brain function and has helped with lowering the risks for different brain diseases (4; 5). It has also been claimed that curcumin can make you smarter and improve memory since it helps increase brain levels of BDNF, although studies in people still need to confirm this (6). And as a bonus, curcumin can help lower your risk of heart disease (7), although given the sedentary nature of esports, and the associated health risks of being sedentary, exercising and moving more will be of greater benefit for reducing heart disease.
HOW TO USE CURCUMIN
Curcumin doesn’t get into your body very easily as it is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream. Piperine (a substance found in black pepper) has been found to increase curcumin’s absorption, up to 2000% (8). Clearly then, the best curcumin supplements contain piperine. I mention this as there are many curcumin supplements without piperine and you’d likely be wasting your money with them. Curcumin is also fat soluble, so I’ve always taken it with my tablespoon of fish oil. I’ve been taking curcumin daily for several years and have noticed a reduction in aches and pains, especially the ones associated with computer use and gaming. With the above-listed benefits (and many more you can google about), I figure it’s worth it.
#5 – ZMA
ZMA= Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate, Magnesium Aspartate and Vitamin B6. You’re probably getting an adequate amount of zinc, magnesium and vitamin b6. At the very least, you’re getting enough to survive (at least I hope so). Magnesium is an essential mineral that the body stores and needs to maintain healthy bones. It also plays a role in maintaining the healthy function of the cardiovascular system.
Zinc is an essential element that needs to replenished daily. One of zincs critical roles is supporting the body’s immune system. It is been found to be critical for protein synthesis which can help with both muscle recovery and growth, although these claims are largely unfounded. Now, this is going to sound odd but this supplement can be a great sleep aid supplement. I’ve personally found that I have deeper and more restful nights of sleep when I take it. In fact, my dreams become much more vivid when I take ZMA. Anecdotal reports on ZMA and sleep are plentiful, which is what piqued my interest in it.
I believe sleep is critical for competitive gamers, and it can be one of their best tools for improving performance. You can check out more of my thoughts on sleep for competitive gamers in my Sleeping for Gamers. If you’re looking for something to improve sleep, I would recommend ZMA over any of the often harmful sleeping aid pills found in pharmacies. This is the product I use and I continue to notice positive effects on my sleep. I do want to point out, ZMA won’t necessarily help you fall asleep, but it may help you sleep deeper and longer. Don’t expect to pop this after a night of intense gaming and expect to knocked out. You still need to practice good sleep hygiene.
BONUS – SALT
This is where things get murky. Most of us have grown up being told to reduce our sodium intake. The truth is, salt is critical for athletic performance. There is an absurd amount of conflicting research on salt. A consistent pattern on salt intake and health has never been clearly established. What’s more absurd, given how weak the evidence is, is the recommendation to lower salt intake. Optimal sodium intake will help increase blood volume and circulation, which helps deliver more oxygen and nutrients to cells and helps repair and remove waste.
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. In my post on whether pro gamers should be considered real athletes, I discuss the research done on esports athletes by Professor Ingo Froböse. The research found that esports athletes are being exposed to similar physical strains that are found in other sports, and can have their pulse as high as 160-180 beats per minute.
Adequate Salt Intake
I am not suggesting you start dumping salt on every meal. What I am suggesting is that you never purposefully restrict salt. Additionally, if you primarily eat out, especially take out or fast food, you’re probably already leaning on the high end of sodium/salt intake. Personally, I make sure to salt every meal and use salt before and after workouts. I take in around 2-3 teaspoons of salt a day unless I’m doing something very active for an extended period (e.g., running, biking). 2-3 teaspoons places me right around the middle of the recommended sodium intake (depending on who you consult) which is between 3000-7000 mg a day (or 1.5-3.5). The more active you are as an athlete, the more you will benefit from a higher dose, as you’ll be losing more salt.
Additionally, I’ve always been a heavy sweater, especially after drinking coffee. My palms and feet are often always sweaty throughout the day (sorry for that image). But, in my defence, there are over 250, 000 sweat glands in each foot.
Table salt is sodium chloride, which means it’s actually only about 40% salt/sodium. I really like the unrefined versions of natural salt. You’ll notice a much better taste with these salts. What I tell gamers who I work with is to take a 1/2 teaspoon of salt before a big match or tournament. Just place the salt on your tongue (which is much easier to do with unrefined real salts) and wash it down with water.
This can help lower your heart rate, decrease muscle cramping and increase stamina. Plus, it’s much healthier than any energy drink on the market. 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 increasing your salt intake as it could exacerbate the negative effects of being sedentary. Besides, if you aren’t physically active and not paying attention to diet, then you aren’t taking your esport seriously, and you have much bigger things to worry about besides your sodium levels.
BONUS #2 – B-COMPLEX VITAMIN
Chances are you get a lot of different B vitamins from your diet. There is also the chance that you do not. You need to consume a lot of animal products to get your vitamin B’s, especially the unpopular ones like organs, and you need to eat a lot of vegetables if you’re vegan. Most people don’t eat lots of healthy foods. They eat some, but not in large quantities. That double cheeseburger from McD’s isn’t exactly the best red meat source for vitamin B’s. There are benefits from taking a B-complex vitamin even when you don’t necessarily need it. Some of these benefits may occur for individuals that take them:
- reduce stress (1)
- boost mood
- enhanced cognitive performance (2)
- reduce anxiety symptoms (3)
- reduce depression symptoms (4)
B-complex is cheap and if you’re deficient in B vitamins, you’ll likely notice some sort of improvement. I’d recommend this over some “gamer brain boost extreme focus” supplement.
WHAT ABOUT MULTI-VITAMINS?
You can find evidence to support taking multi-vitamins and you can find evidence to support not taking multi-vitamins (thanks science!).
I’ve never personally taken them, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea to take them. They’re cheap, and they may help. If you decide you want to take a multi-vitamin each day just to “cover all your bases”, and you have a few extra bucks, I’d recommend the Kirkland brand.
WHAT ABOUT CAFFEINE FOR GAMERS?
I don’t necessarily recommend caffeine, but I do see benefits from it for athletes, especially competitive gamers. The problem is, it can also cause problems for competitive gamers. There’s plenty of negative side effects of caffeine use, such as:
- digestive issues
- high blood pressure
- rapid heart rate
None of these sound like sound like a good time for competitive gamers. Quick tip, if you do find yourself getting anxious due to caffeine but can’t muster the courage to quit, try combining your caffeine consumption with L-theanine, it can amplify the good effects and reduce the unwanted ones. Of course, there’s the argument that you can save caffeine for competition or tournament day. This can be a good idea and increase performance. The problem with this is that the caffeine may adversely affect you, especially since you’re not used to playing while on caffeine.
Once you’re using caffeine regularly, the benefits quickly decrease. You become addicted and more prone to feeling fatigued and less than optimal. My suggestion, if you’re able to, is to be caffeine free, especially if you consume large amounts. Try kicking caffeine for a few months, you may realize you were much better off without it. You can always go back. When you drink caffeine regularly, your body attenuates to it, so you really don’t get any benefit from it on game day.
For a more detailed discussion on caffeine, you can check out my post ‘Should Gamer’s Use Caffeine? Maybe.’ by clicking here.
There you have it. It ain’t sexy, but these are what I consider the best supplements for gamers. The first two, Vitamin D and Omega-3s are critical. B-complex, Curcumin, Iodine and ZMA are more of a “your mileage may vary” type of deal, and something you can experiment with if you have the extra cash.
Stop searching for some magic pill. Optimal training, diet and sleep should be 95% of your supplementation. Focusing on that 5% instead is like stepping over $100 bills for nickels.
Here’s my list of supplements from the Recommended Gear-Supplements section.
|Click for Amazon
|100% Cranberry Juice (Iodine)|
|Iodine (but cranberry juice is better)|
|Onnit Alpha Brain (ok, I'll recommend one "magic" brain booster)|