What does it take for poker players to stay fit and healthy?
Playing cards for a living might sound like a dream job to many, but there are several factors that go into becoming a decent poker player. We’re not just talking about having the right poker strategy either. Mental and physical wellbeing of is just as important to how a player will approach a cash game or tournament.
Poker players must be committed to their diet and physical exercise as well as honing their craft at the tables. Playing cards is a somewhat sedentary lifestyle and it can be all too easy for regulars to get stuck in a rut. Below, we look at the lengths some poker players are prepared to go to eke every inch out of their card-playing potential.
Sometimes a little friendly banter is all you need to make a positive change
Walter Fisher is a player with well over half-a-million-dollars in live career earnings. Fisher was proof that life at the tables can have lasting effects on you physically. He was considerably overweight and lacking motivation; that was, until his friend wagered him $100,000 that he couldn’t get in top physical shape within six months. During that timeframe, Fisher managed to shed 70lbs in weight and slashed his body fat to just 9%.
Two-time US Women’s Chess Champion Jennifer Shahade has also turned her hand to the world of poker. Having played mind-based strategy games for decades, Shahade has a strong handle on what’s required to stay physically fit and mentally sharp when playing these games for long sessions.
In an interview in March 2022, she acknowledged that games like chess and poker “require a lot of confidence and stamina”. She said that exercise “can really help” both from a fitness and a motivational perspective. Her particular focus is on “weightlifting and CrossFit-style workouts”.
Gamify your exercise to feed your competitive streak
It seems like ‘gamifying’ the fitness training experience is what really motivates poker players to go the extra mile. Lex Veldhuis is a world-renowned poker player who’s won stacks of cash in big-money tournaments across Europe and the US.
In 2018, he took a prop bet with a fellow poker reg, requiring both to work out five times a week for at least 30 minutes. Should either of them fail to meet this brief, they would pay a forfeit of $10,000, or $3,000 for missing a single week. This helped Veldhuis to commit to sacrificing more time out of his daily routing to invest in working out.
Simple exercise routines for poker players can last as little as five minutes. London-based yoga instructor, Lauren Gasser, said that poker players are part of the category of of millions of people who sit on a chair “all day”. Gasser says that this is “detrimental to our bodies” in many ways, even if you sit at a chair with “professed lumbar support”.
Gasser recommended some brief yoga-style exercises that can be done while seated, all of which can help improve posture and minimise the pressure on the bodies of poker players. The backwards arm cross is one of the most effective positions, as it can realign posture and curb everyday aches and niggles. It could also be beneficial to pair these exercises with a sports massage during or post-sessions to stimulate blood flow and relieve mental tension.
Physical and mental wellbeing
You might wonder why physical exercise can be beneficial to winning at the poker tables, but physical activity does play a role in your mental wellbeing too. If you’re out of shape, it can be difficult to sit at a poker table for hours on end without losing concentration, which could result in making a bad call or a weak fold. Fatigue is everything in tournament poker – in many ways it’s the survival of the fittest.
Science backs up this point of view too. Regular workouts help to accelerate your brain’s metabolism, while improving the efficiency of the glucose and lactose that exists within your bloodstream. Sure, you don’t need a washboard stomach to become a poker champion, but a basic workout can redefine your state of mind. It’s all part of a disciplined, regimented routine that allows you to keep your mind sharp and fixed firmly on the cards.