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Energy Drinks: To Drink 'Em or Not?

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Poker is a game that requires plenty of stamina and it is often difficult for players to make it through several long sessions. In order to stay alert, many players have turned to energy drinks as a way to stay focused on the task at hand. During this year's World Series of Poker, energy drinks were being consumed at a record pace, documenting the fact that this trend is here to stay. One has to wonder, are energy drinks a good or bad idea for poker players and the game itself?

Michael Friedman, A True Believer

Poker is a game that requires plenty of focus and endurance. It is tough for players to keep their heads in the game these days, especially those sitting at home multi-tabling touraments over the course of a long day. There is nothing wrong with a little pick-me-up when a player feels as though they are fading fast. So why not suck down a cool, refreshing energy drink to get you back in the game.

Energy Drinks Keep Players Playing

Let’s face facts, when you’re playing for twelve hours a day, for five-to-six days in a row, it can be difficult to stay alert and focused. It makes sense that people would drink this stuff by the gallon. In essence, energy drinks are a cheap and legal way to jumpstart your nervous system and brain, so players who normally would have left a game because they were spent, now have the instant energy kick they need to keep them playing. Unlike previous eras in poker where players would resort to having to do drugs, such as cocaine and crystal meth to stay awake, today's players can enjoy legal stimulants that provide similar effects without having to risk addiction and jail time.

Energy Drinks Make Poker Players More Aggressive

Although this applies more to tournament action, the aggression-factor that energy drinks proivde certainly doesn't hurt the action in cash games either. The $1K WSOP Stimulus tournament was a donkfest, no doubt about that, but the fact that almost five players hit the rail with the passing of every minute suggests that there were other factors in play. It seemed as if every home game hero with a dream of beating the field was double-fisting Red Bull as soon as they took their seats for their Day One flight. Although this isn’t exactly a scientific fact, my theory is that if you have six out of nine players at the table jacked up on Red Bull, you’re going to see plenty of action by the fourth level of play (or the fifth can of Red Bull). Some of these players have very little patience as it is, so when you add several energy drinks into the mix, they’re jumping at pots faster than one can blink.

Energy Drinks Keep the Poker Economy Moving

This kind of goes along with my first point, in that energy drinks keep players playing and this means that the WSOP tournaments, cash games, and satellites remain filled regardless of the time of day. Players tend to stay at the tables longer and spend more money when they think they’ve got the best of it, so when the they walk in and see a table full of players who have been playing a long session and they are geeking on Red Bull, it’s like blood in the water. During the WSOP, after players busted out of the bracelet events, they were frequently too wired to walk away from the tables so many of them would go and jump into the cash games or satellites. A number of these players would end up spending the rest of their bankroll before walking away, as most probably should. In other words, energy drinks keep the poker economy flowing.

Matthew Parvis, Recovered and Rehabilitated

I'm not gonna lie, I've drank my fair share of energy drinks in my day. It used to help me with long sessions at both the poker table and the office, however as I've become more educated on health and nutrition in general, I think energy drinks are nothing but a glorified over the counter drug latching itself onto an industry filled with a quite impressionable audience. Sure, some of Michael's points on it helping fuel the poker economy may be justified, but hooking people to the game by using this liquid crack is just not a smart move.

Caffeine is Not Good for You

Let's face it, although caffeine is found in just about all soft drinks, coffee, and other beverages, the stimulant is highly addictive and not very healthy. Adults should be limited to about 300mg of caffeine per day, and one energy drink can typically pack between 250mg to 350mg per can. It's fairly common at the poker table to see players regularly drinking more than one can at a time, meaning they are ingesting far more caffeine than the body is happy to have, which can cause difficulty sleeping, rapid heart beat, anxiety, dehydration, and high blood pressure among other things. It's pretty safe to say that being overly anxious with a fiercely rapid heart beat does nothing for your poker game, in fact, it is probably detrimental, causing you to potentially make errors at the table you may not have made, had you stuck with healthier ways to achieve higher energy levels, like increased protein and regular exercise.

Lack of Regulation

It's usually safe to assume that if a product is on the shelves of your local convenience store or offered up by casinos, that it is safe, however energy drinks are currently not heavily regulated by the FDA, and are not required to list all their ingredients, or amounts of those ingredients. Not to beat a dead horse, but does that sound like something you'd want to regularly be putting into your body? Since the energy drink industry is still relatively young, more time is needed to fully understand the ramifications and side effects these beverages may cause. You wouldn't eat meat that didn't have full regulation, or for that matter, play at a casino or on a site where you weren't fully aware of the rake you were paying, would you? Why risk your health by ingesting something that hundreds of scientists and physicians feel needs further testing by the FDA?

A Game of Patience

Seems like a simple statement right? Michael asserts that energy drinks make the players more aggressive, which may be a good thing in some circumstances, but how about when the table is not ripe for overly aggressive play, what to do then? For an undisciplined player, this jolt from the caffeine and increased heart rate may prompt them into action with less than stellar holdings. This feeling of invincibility is a fallacy, and many inexperienced players don't account for this, resulting in less than optimal play. Think about it, when was the last time you saw a table of top professionals guzzling down cans of energy drinks? You'll be hard pressed to find pros like Daniel Negreanu sitting at the table with an energy drink, because these players understand that being alert at the table has a lot more to do with living a healthy lifestyle than getting a quick fix with an energy drink.

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