Monday, January 17, 2011

Nutrition and Diet: Tournament Day

As I have mentioned before, I am a fitness nut.  I keep track of not only the quantity of the food I eat in calories, but also the quality.  By doing that, I can control my weight to the pound, as well as my percentage of body fat composition.  This is all well an good for me as a bike racer, but how does my fitness obsession eccentricity help you as a fellow Warhammer tournament player?

The Food Pyramid is pretty much bullshit, but at least it knows the stuff on top is bad news.

Tournaments are physically and mentally grueling.  You have to keep your brain focused and keep razor sharp decision making skills for upwards of 12 hours, for as many as 3 days in a row.  That's a significant mental challenge.  Physically, you have to stand on your feet (since no tournament I ever attended had good places to sit in abundance) for12 hours consecutively.  This is very demanding on your legs.  I know most of you who have attended long 40k tournaments can vouch for how sore your legs are by the end of the day.

Both of these difficulties can be partially mitigated by proper diet and nutrition, especially on the day of the tournament.  Most people who attend tournaments eat empty carbs and drink more of them through soda or energy drinks.  This is the exact opposite thing from what they ought to be doing.  A proper, healthy diet at a tournament can help you feel fresher and more vigorous going into the final rounds, when being sharp and alert matter the most.

Many players will agonize over their lists for days or weeks, trying to find an extra 1% efficiency for the day of the tournament, but then they will eat garbage and cost themselves significantly more than that 1%.  Don't believe me?  Who would you rather be going into the final round of a GT between two equally skilled opponents, the guy who has been sucking down Funyions and Monster Energy Drink all day, or the guy who made healthy eating decisions for the previous 10 hours?  Pretty easy decision.

So what's the plan?  I could go into all sorts of things, like a breakfast with Steel Cut Oats and a lunch with quinoa and veggies, but I decided to keep it realistic.  Most times breakfast is at a hotel, and lunch is whatever you can find by the tournament location.  This usually leads to some inferior choices.  But even among inferior choices, there are still smart ones to make.  So here goes, a nutrition plan for the average 40k tournament player...

1.  Scrambled Eggs, Kashi Go Lean Cereal with fat free milk, Orange juice or fresh fruit.

Most hotels breakfast bars will have everything but the cereal.  My advice would be to pack your own cereal with your luggage just to be safe.  You don't want to rely on their crap sugar based cereal, because that stuff is just candy and not good for you at all.  The cereal provides you with complex carbohydrates for all day energy, while the low fat milk and the eggs give your the protein you'll need to push you through when the day gets grueling.  The orange juice or fresh fruit will give you healthy simple carbs to wake you up and get you going.  

2.  Midmorning Snack.  Assuming you eat breakfast at 7am, you will need a snack at around 10ish to keep you from feeling fatigued before lunch.  A lot of protein and "energy" bars you see on the shelf are packed with crap ingredients.  In my opinion, the best bars you can find on the shelf at 7/11 are Cliff Bars.  They are like a mutli-vitamin, and contain lots of complex carbs and protein.  If the store nearby doesn't carry Cliff Bars, I recommend Snickers Marathon Energy bars.  They are a few less calories than Cliff, but they have a few less vitamins and minerals.  But all told, despite the Snickers name, they are nutritious and quite a bit better for you than the granola candy bars masquerading as health food.

3.  Lunch.  Lunch is super important, but don't make the mistake of overeating.  If you eat too much at lunch you will get drowsy and it will impact your decision making ability.  I recommend getting a turkey deli sandwich with whole grain bread, and a banana.  The whole grain bread and the banana will provide complex carbs to give you a long term boost, while the turkey will give you lowfat protein.  You can get sandwiches like that at 7/11, Supermarkets, or even Arby's.  Make sure you avoid any sandwich that has a lot of mayo on it, or fatty meats like roast beef, steak, or ham.

4.  Afternoon snack.  At about 3-4pm you will be certainly feeling fatigued and probably starting to feel a bit hungry, so it's time for a snack.  At this point, I don't recommend anything heavy.  Another banana isn't a bad idea at all.  If that option isn't available, go for a protein shake.  I highly recommend Muscle Milk Light.  It's important to get the Light rather than the regular.  The regular has more protein, but also way more sugar and way more fat.  The Light cuts back on the fat drastically, while still providing some good carbs and lot's of protein.  Plus, I think it tastes good and it's available at pretty much every convenience store.

5.  Dinner.  Dinner is super important, because it will come prior to the final round when you will want to be at your best because your opponent will be on his worst.  This is the time when you want to be sharp, in order to capitalize on any potential mistakes or sloppy play by your opponent.  My recommendation is a grilled chicken sandwich.  Most venues will have some fast food place nearby that makes chicken sandwiches.  The best would be the Chic Fil A grilled chicken sandwich.  Arby's makes a decent grilled chicken too, as does Boston Market.  Here you get good lean protein from the chicken, with minimal bad carbs.  On the side, I'd avoid french fries, obviously.  The fat and salt from the fries will leave you feeling bloated, greasy, and lethargic.  Not what you want before the most important game of the tourney!  Get a nice red apple instead.  The apple will provide healthy simple carbs to give you a quick boost, but it's not caloric-ally dense, so it won't cause you to crash like candy will.

6.  Drinks.  Here is where many tournament players make their biggest nutrition mistakes all day.  They wash each meal down with high sugar sodas, and suck down high sugar energy drinks during and between rounds.  You do not want a sugar rush, or a sugar crash.  Nothing will cause you to feel worse during a tournament than being on a blood sugar rollercoaster.  Caffeine, however, is good.  It's been shown in a variety of studies to be a mental and physical performance enhancer even at relatively low doses.  To get that caffeine, I recommend something sugar free.  Pepsi Max, Coke Zero, Diet Coke, Sugar Free Redbull, Black Coffee etc.  Any of these can play the role, so pick whatever you like the taste of.  But remember, hydration is very important.  For every soda or sugarfree energy drink you have, be sure to have water in that same amount.  Generally speaking, I would have water with my meals, and Coke Zero with my mid-morning and afternoon snacks.  This way you balance hydration with the caffeine boost to get exactly what you need.

So there ya go, a pretty comprehensive guide to what to eat the day of the tournament to optimize your chances of success.  Good luck, and eat well!


  1. This is the basically same eating advice I would give to someone who's going sit for a bar exam, although I can tell from the article you eat much better than I do! I passed the bar on the first try and my eating plan did help manage my stress levels during the exam.

  2. Heh... that's a lot of food. Whereas I eat somewhat differently from you (usually just what the event has cheaply at hand, for convenience sake), I agree entirely with the no energy drink thing. I've noticed a marked improvement in my tournament games when not drinking 24 oz Rockstars :-p

    Good advice overall... and you're right to keep it realistic- I bet most people have never even heard of Quinoa. I hadn't until about a year and a half ago when I married a vegetarian. lol

  3. I looks like a lot of food, but I would bet its under 2200 calories all together, and you will burn at least that attending a long tournament, maybe even significantly more if you are a bigger guy.

  4. Good advice all around, mostly looks like my diet as it is now, just for day to day.

    The sugar free drinks are an asolute must, but on top of that I'd add, stay hydrated - I.E get water (or a heavy water based drink, like your own water w/ squash in it). While you'll visit the loo a bit during the day, it helps keep those hunger pangs away.

    Even when I am gaming I just keep protein bars in the bag, if it goes on a bit longer than expected and I'd probably have to skip a meal (I eat 5 times a day typically), bosh out comes a nice dose of 20g's of protein and 10g's of carbs in 1 hit.

    Forward planning goes a long way when it comes to nutrition, if its for weight cutting or energy boosting.

  5. RIP food pyramid. We'll miss you.... or not.

    Gotta give a big +1 on the sugar free drinks as well. Sadly, and this is coming from an A1 diet coke addict, there's a lot of credence being given to artificial sweeteners jacking up your metabolism, though.

  6. I used to be anti-artificial sweetener for a long time. Then a guy I train with told me that most anti-artificial studies are actually paid for by Big Sugar, who you might imagine have an axe to grind. Then I researched it a bit, and honestly my conclusion is I don't know what to think. A lot of the anti-sweeteners stuff IS paid for by Big Sugar with predictable results, but some isn't. But there are just as many studies that say there is no problem, and I have no idea who is paying for those and what their agenda is.

    My decision is that whatever damage (and I'm definitely not convinced there is any) aspartame does to your metabolism is insignificant compared to what sucrose or high fructose corn syrup does to you.