We’ve all seen it, and some of us have lived it: The stigma, which has long afflicted the gaming community, of downing soda, potato chips, and energy drinks during an hours-long gaming run, without a break or a non-packaged food in sight.
For the esports athlete, such habits are not only unhealthy, but actively damaging. Contrary to popular belief, a pro gamer’s most valuable asset is not skills or strategic knowledge, but his or her body — and not taking care of this machine can shorten (or even halt) one’s career.
Fortunately, major strides have been made in raising awareness about the importance of health and wellness for gamers as a whole. But when it is your job to be the best you can possibly be at a particular game, good health is critical to ensure you’re operating at peak performance.
If bodily health is somewhat less of a concern for esports athletes vs. traditional athletes, keeping vision in tip-top shape is arguably even more important. Fortunately, exercising and resting your eyes from the strain of gaming naturally complement one another. But there are further things you can do to protect your eyes and vision. Baltimore optometrist Paul Harris had several pieces of advice to keep your eyes in top gear:
“A lot depends on the visual environment you play in, but a key point would be that most people would be much more visually relaxed — and you might actually play better — if you were to get a pair of glasses which relieve the visual stress for the specific distances of your screen or screens,” he says.
These yellow-tinted lenses are used by a wide array of gamers, from streamers to pros. They are designed to reduce the blue-light effect that monitors give off, resulting in a dimmer, softer view, which reduces eye strain. This allows you to play for much longer, while greatly reducing the chance of common symptoms like headaches, migraines, or eye twitching. These glasses can be purchased online, or you can even get a (covered) prescription from your doctor.
Eliminating sugar and unhealthy fats from your diet is something that anyone who is serious about improving his or her health will swear by. But for esports athletes, the stakes are higher. As such, Vitality NYC dietician Tom DeVito spoke to me about the effect that the brain’s vagus nerve has on hunger.
He says, “When the vagus nerve is at a lower sensitivity, your body takes longer to feel full, which causes you to eat more. This can cause that cloudy feeling when trying to focus on a task, and can also hamper motor skills. To keep your vagus nerve sensitive and active, avoid empty foods — like potato chips, too much starch, and candy — and anything that provides a lot of sugar in one sitting.”
For me, it’s important to focus not only on what I’m eating, but when and how much. Everyone’s body is different, so there is no concrete method of getting to the level of nutrition that you’re looking for. But at the very least, it’s important to clean up your act. Seltzer can replace soda. Sub in fruit, light nuts, and cheese for sweets. Even small steps can go a long way towards your goal.
Eating right before you sleep should also be avoided. You eat to gain energy, so why gain energy right before bed? If I know that I’m going to be hitting the rack right after a long gaming session, I prefer to do some light (yet healthful) eating during the session, rather than plan on a big meal afterward. Again, keeping a stash of nuts or fruit on hand to snack on during downtime can go a long way.
Eating isn’t everything. Diet goes hand-in-hand with exercise. In my personal experience, any kind of exercise can be great exercise. And, of course, it isn’t necessary for an esports athlete to spend quite as much time working out as he or she does practicing flick shots or scrimming with teammates. Smaller physical “reminders” will go a long way towards keeping your body primed and ready for competition.
I personally focus on strength training, mostly because I want to be able to have long sessions without feeling physically fatigued. Arm exercises, like curls, pushups, and the like, were key factors in my progression as a competitive gamer, as well as anything that strengthened my shoulders and neck. There would be times where I would feel fatigued in that area, especially after a flight or a long trip, and putting work into these areas has greatly reduced that strain.
Many personal trainers and fitness experts assert that, for long gaming sessions, taking a small break after every hour or so of gameplay is crucial, as well as finding ways to get your legs moving before and after. Are you going to spend the next three hours being a healer for your teammates? Spend 20 to 30 minutes walking or jogging beforehand. Did you lose a close match that went down to the last few seconds? Stretch your arms and legs for a bit of physical decompression at the same time as you mentally try to decompress. Even a 10-second respawn can be an opportunity to flex your fingers and shake out your hands. Every little bit helps!
After a long gaming session, perform all of these exercises to keep your body from tightening up after being in a more-or-less fixed position (as well as tensed up from competition) for so long. Moving frequently throughout the day can enhance your ability to focus and maintain optimal performance for that much longer.
Maintaining yourself outside of the game in order to maximize your play in the game is of utmost importance. Whether you are in the upper echelons of the pro gaming world, or you are aspiring to be there, you have to take your body with you. Make sure your body is as ready as your mind.
Anthony Lowry is a former professional gamer, streamer, and columnist, with a focus on gaming, esports, and culture, both on- and offline. He currently resides in New York City, and manages multiple competitive players and teams across a number of games.