What’s the Buzz?
Can nourishing your brain give you an edge in competitive esports?
What does the science say?
Esports, or competitive video gaming, is expected to grow rapidly over the next five years to become a $1.5 billion global industry: more than 170 collegiate athletic programs are now part of esport leagues. Nutrition has not been a focus for most pro gamers since — let’s face it — there’s little physical exertion required. However, esports challenge the mind, requiring intense focus, quick reactions, and the ability to make fast decisions. As research begins to show the benefits of a balanced diet for physical and mental health, esport athletes may want to think about nutrition like traditional athletes do, to give them a competitive edge.
Although there hasn’t been much research on esports specifically, research on nutrition for optimizing physical and mental performance abounds.
Sports nutrition plans typically focus on a balance of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Because esport training and competition can last up to 10 hours per day, gamers should include complex carbohydrates for sustained energy. Choosing high-fiber whole grains, vegetables, and fruits while also avoiding added sugars can help prevent a late energy slump. Most esport athletes can meet their protein needs by consuming a palm-size portion of high-quality proteins such as beans, eggs, fish, and/or low-fat meat and poultry with each meal. High–fat and high–sodium processed meats, like deli meat or beef jerky, should be limited, as studies show these are linked to cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer. Heart–healthy fat from plant oils, avocado, or nuts and seeds have been shown to improve brain function; however, gamers should keep portion size in mind (pun intended!) to limit excess calories that contribute to weight gain.
Hydration is just as important for esports as for more physically demanding sports. Studies show that even mild dehydration — defined as a deficit of 2% of body water — can cause decreased reaction times and difficulty concentrating. A general recommendation for adults is to drink 8-10 cups of fluid per day, most of which should be plain water. While energy drinks, caffeinated sugar-sweetened beverages, or sports drinks might be tempting to provide a quick energy boost, these will ultimately cause blood sugar and energy to crash later in the day.
Finally, esport athletes should pay attention to their actual energy needs. While traditional athletes often need to eat more to support the physical demands of their sport, esports are (mostly) sedentary. (Is Dance Dance Revolution still big?) Gamers may need to keep their calorie intake similar to the average person’s. On the other hand, gamers who skip meals may not meet their energy needs. Esport athletes, just like other athletes, should balance their calories to maintain a healthy body weight.
What’s the takeaway?
Professional gamers can use tried-and-true nutrition strategies to gain a competitive edge against opponents. Nutrient–dense foods, hydration, and energy balance are important for not only the physical demands of traditional sports but also the mental aspect of esports.