Can Eating Better Help Me Win More Money Gambling?
I’ve spent most of my days as an adult cruising casinos from coast to coast, and while the life of a professional gambler has always suited me just fine, I do have one bone to pick: the buffet.
The centerpiece of your typical casino’s dining option is the buffet line, and most venues actually encourage players to grab a meal there via vouchers and comps. But for many of us, this easy access to an all you can eat smorgasbord can lead to disastrous consequences.
After decades spent filling up with second and third helpings, I was diagnosed with adult onset diabetes about five years back. The revelation came as a shock to my loved ones, as I’ve always been the athletic sort who takes pride in their physical fitness. I work out, I swim laps, I jog – but damned if none of that mattered.
As it turns out, my doctor’s diagnosis targeted high levels of cholesterol along with the elevated blood glucose that sparks Type 2 diabetes. Simply put, I wasn’t eating right and my bad buffet habit came back to bite me in a big way.
I was forced to take a good long look at my personal diet, and when that time came, it wasn’t pretty. Prime rib with plenty of au jus sauce. Mounds of mashed potatoes and all the gravy I could ask for. Eggs benedict for breakfast, lasagna for lunch, maybe even some duck confit for dinner. And don’t get me started on the dessert lineup… let’s just say crème brule is my nemesis and leave it at that.
To top things off, I took full advantage of the complimentary beverages every good casino offers. Between four or five Coca Colas a day, and a whiskey sour nightcap, I was doing my body a disservice with every day spent in the casino.
After taking a personal inventory of my daily diet, the time came to reconcile my new lifestyle with my career as a casino game advantage player. But before I dove headlong into some newfangled diet craze, I wanted to study up on the relationship between diet and gambling results.
What I found was interesting to say the least, so before revealing my own personal dietary improvements, I’d like to let you in a few discoveries:
The Power of Brain Food
If you’re a hardcore poker fan, you probably remember an oddball Hollywood agent by the name of Jamie Gold.
Back in 2006, Gold stormed through the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event, using table talk and aggressive play to plow through the toughest tournament on the planet. In the end, Gold claimed poker’s World Championship, along with a $12 million payday.
But during the course of a grueling week on the felt, with thousands of players still standing between him and the title, Gold stood out due to his peculiar choice of midgame snack: blueberries.
No matter how high the stakes climbed, Gold had his trusty bowl of blueberries close at hand. During his winner’s interviews on media row just after clinching the epic win, Gold was asked about his penchant for blueberries, and he gleefully called them his “brain food.”
While that concept may seem like nothing more than a bit of new age nonsense, modern science has confirmed the effectiveness of so called brain foods.
Here’s how the Medical Daily journal sums up the power of blueberries:
A 2009 study conducted at Reading University found participants who drank a blueberry smoothie in the morning did much better at mental tasks in the mid-afternoon than those who had a different drink. Those who didn’t have a blueberry smoothie saw their performance decline by 15 to 20 percent.
British researchers believe the antioxidants in blueberries stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, keeping the mind active.”
Not only was Gold ahead of the curve when it came to cards, he also held a distinct advantage over his opponents in terms of diet. While other players were succumbing to fatigue and stress – which was only natural after several 14-hour days of play in a row – Gold let his blueberry bowl serve as a natural pick me up.
Just go back and watch the footage from that memorable 2006 WSOP Main Event final table.
Gold is firing on all cylinders, with his mind moving a mile a minute and his mouth not far behind. His ability to read opponents was uncanny, and at no point did he appear to be tired or overwhelmed by the moment.
Blueberries aren’t the only proven brain food out there either, as many fruits and vegetables contain the essential antioxidants that the human cognitive system thrives on.
One of the easiest brain foods to bring with you while grinding casino games is the banana, which is a powerhouse for supplying potassium to the body.
Check out what World Poker Tour hostess and nutrition guru Lynn Gilmartin has to say about bananas and brainpower:
In the brain, potassium builds the electrical potential inside brain cells required for electrical signaling between cells.
Depletion of potassium from the body decreases the amount of electrical signaling in the brain, resulting in lethargy.”
If you’re looking to cut calories and lose weight, you can’t go wrong with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. And as an added benefit, brain foods like blueberries and bananas can actually give you a tremendous edge in terms of mental acuity, memory recall and concentration.
Taking the Vegetarian / Vegan Plunge
Another poker pro known for adapting his diet for better performance is Daniel Negreanu.
The winningest poker player in tournament history, with more than $35 million in cashes to his credit, “Kid Poker” is known for his strict commitment to the vegan lifestyle. That means no meat, no dairy, and nothing at all that utilizes animal byproducts.
Negreanu is a proud vegan who uses his platform as poker’s top pro to teach the public about veganism’s health benefits. But it wasn’t always that way.
Years ago, when he was still working his way up the ladder, Negreanu found himself feeling fatigued and lethargic – even as he was winning big at the tables. Eventually, he traced his physical ailments to the typical casino gambler’s diet of junk food, sweets, soda, and alcohol.
Negreanu penned an ode to his healthier eating habits in a 2015 article for Vice News, titled “Being Vegan Makes Me a Better Poker Player”. In the post, the six-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) champion recounts his dietary awakening:
There was nothing fresh in my diet and I felt terrible.
My bank balance was healthy but my guts weren’t – I knew something had to give. I didn’t want to blame the alcohol so I decided it must be the meat that didn’t make me feel good and in 2000, I became a vegetarian.
I became vegan in 2006 when I started taking healthy eating seriously.”
By embracing a vegan diet based around fruit smoothies, nuts, chia seeds, crackers, and fresh produce, Negreanu rebalanced his body to better cope with the demands of the tournament circuit.
He may have been stuck in the casino for days on end, but even with buffets calling out from every corner, Negreanu committed himself fully to veganism.
As it turns out, he blazed a trail for fellow poker players as a result. The new crop of poker hotshots at the WSOP can be found grinding while grubbing on vegan meal delivered by nutritionist All American Dave, and they have Negreanu to thank for that.
The Empty Stomach Theory
Another avenue of scientific discovery suggests that gamblers are better off not eating at all.
Well, you can eat of course, just not before or during your session. So says Denise de Ridder and a team of Dutch researchers behind a 2014 study titled “Always Gamble on an Empty Stomach: Hunger Is Associated with Advantageous Decision Making”.
According to Ridder’s research, a hungry body naturally enters something known as a “hot state,” which is defined by a visceral drive to satisfy an immediate need. In other words, when you’re hungry, your brain and body combine to focus on filling that need for a meal.
As a result, hungry people have been found to exhibit better decision-making abilities. Forced to focus on hunger, your brain doesn’t have the same window to make impulsive or rash choices.
Here’s what Ridder had to say in her findings once the study was completed:
Participants with a larger appetite were more likely to make advantageous decisions as witnessed by more choices involving small wins and small losses, regardless their level of trait self-control.”
If her theory is accurate, Ridder has identified a simple and effective way to improve your gambling results through dietary adjustments. By skipping that pregame meal and hitting the casino on an empty stomach, your brain will be better attuned to the task at hand, without letting distractions like side bets and sucker games prey on its impulsive side.
My Own Personal Journey to Diet-Induced Improvement
After the diabetes diagnosis, I explored several diet plans designed to work with my body’s insulin restrictions. While most came and went uneventfully, I finally managed to strike gold with the ketogenic diet, which is popularly known as the keto diet.
You can read more about my conversion to the keto diet here, but for a quick primer, the idea involves tricking the brain by removing carbohydrates from the equation.
Normally, your body converts carbs into usable energy, but when access to bread, pasta, and carbs is curtailed, the brain sends a signal to start using fat instead. This process is called ketosis, and it’s been used as a natural cure for epileptic seizures and other health issues for a century and counting.
Long story short, I’ve cut my carb intake down as much as humanly possible. Instead, my diet consists mostly of seafood, light meats, fruit, and vegetables. With no carbs entering my system, the brain initiates ketosis to supply energy, burning off fat as a result.
It’s only been a couple years now, but I can safely say that the keto diet has changed my life – both as a diabetic and a gambler.
I have more energy than I ever did, even at the ripe old age of 53. My stamina has increased by leaps and bounds, so those 10-hour heaters can be extended to 12 and 14 hour days whenever I wish.
My ability to recall basic strategy information and other tools of the trade has also improved, which I attribute to the infusion of blueberries and bananas the keto diet calls for.
Best of all, I really don’t miss the old way of doing things. The keto diet isn’t as restrictive as other popular meal plans, so while fettucine alfredo is out, I can still eat steak, lobster, shrimp, and all of the other culinary delights casinos have on hand.
I’ve even been back to the buffet a few times here and there – with a one plate limit of course – which is especially useful when I’m visiting a smaller casino that lacks a full complement of restaurant options. A piece of chicken or pork combined with a heaping helping of steamed vegetables, and a blueberry/banana bowl for dessert is the perfect buffet meal for folks trying to stay keto compliant.
I can’t promise that the keto diet, or any of the diets reviewed above for that matter, will work for you. However, I am confident that your own research – combined with a genuine commitment to eating better – will pay dividends when it comes to your gambling results. Increased energy, improved memory, impulse control – your plate will always be full of benefits like these when you make the choice to upgrade your diet.