Every year throughout the World Series of Poker, at least one Starbucks coffee cup is sitting on each of the hundreds of tables filling out the Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino. Members of the poker media strategically avoid their coffee runs during tournament breaks to avoid suffering in the Starbucks line that stretches out the door. Then there’s the Poker Kitchen with its seemingly never-ending supply of energy drinks that are consumed by the hundreds every day.
Countless articles exist convincing us why we should, and why we should not, have caffeine in our diets. Whether it’s Red Bull, coffee, or Coke, most adults around the world consume caffeine every day. Yes, sipping on a cup of coffee wakes you up in the morning and gives you that second wind of alertness and energy in the afternoon, but that artificial high fades quite quickly.
Studies have shown that caffeine intake reduces the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, but so do apples along with a heck of a lot more health-risk reductions. Are these studies just isolated to particular areas without looking at the broader picture on the impact of the body? According to a Men’s Health article, a constant infusion of caffeine can set your nerves on edge, decreasing hand steadiness and increasing anxiety. Now how are you supposed to maintain a poker face with those kinds of tells?
I’m certainly not here to convince you to eliminate caffeine from your diet since that would make me a hypocrite, seeing as how I do continue to enjoy my daily skinny latte treat. Instead, I’ve been inspired to share some alternative “cognitive enhancers,” substances that stimulate healthy brain function, that are probably more suitable for those long grinds than a cup of Joe.
Just like caffeine-based drinks, various energy drinks also dish out that instant high, along with a sugar overload. Have you ever seen a three-year-old one-hour after eating a bowl of candy? Well, adults get that “sugar crash” too. If you’re wondering how or why, Lifehack explains it perfectly: "After drinking [or eating] something high in sugar, your pancreas starts to secrete insulin, which triggers cells throughout your body to pull the excess glucose out of your bloodstream and store it. This sucks glucose from the brain, which leaves it without energy, known as hypoglycemia. As a result, your ability to focus decreases, leaving you weak and confused, unable to think properly."
When playing a long session of poker, many players set themselves up on the mental and physical roller-coaster that comes with caffeine and/or sugar. Poker sessions rarely go for just two hours, so what happens when that artificial high comes crashing down and your concentration is all over the place? If you find that you’re continuously building up your stack early but then consistently spewing it off later in the day, then here are some alternative drinks to try that should maintain a balanced stimulation of activity in the brain to help keep you focused for your entire session.
Well, obviously on a list of fluids to drink, I’m going to put water in pole position. Our bodies are made up of approximately 60 percent of it, our brains, 75 percent. Without it, life cannot exist. Humans are recommended to flush two liters of water through our body per day because it rehydrates the body and invigorates the mind, giving clarity of thought and increased ability to learn and retain information.
Jo Hartley from NaturalNews explains, "Sometimes a boost is as simple as a drink of water. Dehydration is a significant factor in fatigue. A recent study found that even a 2 percent dip in hydration level (the point where you would start to feel thirst) contributes to a decrease in short-term memory and even the ability to add and subtract." How are you supposed to calculate pot odds if your brain is dehydrated?
The beauty about any kind of tea is that it tastes just as good served cold as it does hot. We don’t always have the time or access to a kettle to heat up a cup of tea when we’re grinding, so a chilled variation is just as tasty, and of course, nutritious. According to Lifehack, "drinking non-caffeinated tea, like green tea, relaxes the brain and induces mental alertness."
It’s hard to find a substance that has more benefits than what green tea offers the human body. The powerful antioxidant called catechins can help inhibit cancer growth, heart disease and Parkinson’s, reduce the effects of aging and increasing metabolism to burn fat. On top of all of this, Green tea also contains a tannin which can energize you and increase your overall alertness in a gentle, continuous way, unlike the caffeine that can cause spikes and dips throughout the day. (Source: Refocuser)
Freshly Squeezed Juice
I don’t mean the bottled kind that is full of preservatives and sugar, but more of the freshly squeezed kind. Think about all the fruits and vegetables you can fit into a glass of tasty juice, checking off your two-and-five requirement for the day?
As explained by Livestrong, fruit juices contain folic acid, which helps raise serotonin levels. Folic acid deficiencies have been found in patients with depression. Only small amounts of folic acid are needed to lift moods. A glass of orange juice may alleviate depressive moods.
But isn’t fruit high in sugar, contradicting what I said earlier? Well, sugar is a carbohydrate, but fruit offers complex carbohydrates that, "instead of a short burst of energy, these carbohydrates have long chains of sugar molecules that the body breaks down gradually, releasing glucose to fuel the brain over time." (Source: Lifehack). Along with that nicely-paced energy source comes antioxidants that have all sorts of benefits for the body.
If you have access to a smoothie bar or have your own blender at home, consider including these fruits in your concoctions:
- Fresh Acai Berries are known as a super food, it’s "a berry that possesses not only all of the antioxidant, vitamin and brain benefits of other purple berries such as blueberries and blackberries but also (oddly, for a berry) contains essential fatty acids like omega-3's, like salmon, and and is even high in protein." (Source: BrainReady) You can read up more on Acai in this BrainReady article.
- Blueberries are a little easier to find and also known as a super food. Don’t underestimate these sweet-tasting blue balls of goodness. Adding a cup of blueberries to your diet each day (which taste great in a fruit smoothie) was found by the USDA and Tufts University to slow (and even reverse) age-related brain decline, as well as improve short-term memory loss. Hello break time hand-recall.
- Do you think you could try a green smoothie? This one was recommended by a friend of mine and includes spinach, lettuce, celery, apple, pear, banana, lemon and water. My personal favorite concoction is apple, carrot, celery and ginger blended with ice. If you follow @KristyArnett on Twitter then you would know she recently bought herself a juicer for this very purpose and is in love with it, so feel free to hit her up for her flavors of the week!
Instead of energy drinks that typically contain eight teaspoons of sugar, try a herbal-mineral tonic instead. A good tonic will invigorate and refresh you physically and mentally. Energy supplements that contain both herbs and minerals will give a boost. Look for supplements that contain potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and an energizing assortment of herbs. Herbal tonics are effective for increasing stamina, reaction speed, concentration and mental alertness. Ginkgo Biloba helps to improve memory and Ginseng is a performance optimizer. These are the two most common supplements found in energy drinks, however, consuming them in a sugar-free herbal-tonic instead will prevent that sugar crash later on. (Source: NaturalNews)
So, perhaps the coffee grind isn't so complimentary to your grind after all. The good news is there are plenty of alternatives that may have that positive influence on your game that you've been needing. If anyone has or does try any of the above alternatives, please leave your feedback below!
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*Lead image courtesy of 123RF.com