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Dieting Is Extra Important To Esports Athletes. Here's Why.

Pizza and cola won’t help your reaction time, but esports docs say there’s more to it than that

Thom Fain
Apr 12, 2021

The difference between competitive gaming champions and the last place team can come down to a few split-second decisions throughout just a handful of half-hour matches. It's no wonder that pro teams are known to enroll team nutritionists at their performance centers, where they also get to enjoy full course meals chock full of the kinds of nutrients that battle fatigue and help sharpen the mind.

If you don't have those kinds of luxuries, rest assured you're not alone.

College teams are still catching onto the importance of nutrition in esports, while researchers at universities have begun developing an integrated health management model for esports athletes. A key objective is to prevent player injury while "helping players face challenges to master their gaming," and nutrition is a big component of their evolving game plan.

"Have your players talk about the things that they eat for breakfast and what they eat before games or before training," said Dr. Lindsey Migliore, a leader in esports medicine. "A lot of esports athletes are not eating healthily and don't know it. So it's about getting to the basics of nutrition, that's where coaches can make an impact – like explaining the difference between a simple carb and a complex carb." 

Sustained Energy Through Whole Foods

In case you're wondering, there's more to energy than great sleep followed by strong coffee – of course, caloric intake is a big part of the fuel we have to burn, but complex carbohydrates are another essential part of the equation.

Sadly, donuts and spaghetti don't count.

"Simple carbohydrates are processed foods like white bread, sugar and sweets," said Dr. Migliore. "And it spikes your blood sugar – You get a huge rush of energy, but that spike in sugar is followed by a spike in insulin, which lowers your blood pressure which is followed by a crash, right? You get fatigued; you get tired, your energy dips." 

And while some young athletes might be capable of chowing down on hot dogs and hamburgers while recharging after playing contact sports, esports players don't always enjoy that leisure. 

"It means that you might not be Marshawn Lynch who can eat Skittles right before kickoff; you need to sustain energy to not to avoid that crash," Dr. Migliore explained. "That means choosing complex carbs like whole-grain pasta, whole grain cereals, oatmeal, vegetables and sweet potatoes. Those all give you that sugar rush and energy spike – but it's sustained."

For instance, the CLG pro team uses a high-protein, low carb diet because carb-heavy meals can induce sleepiness.

What Esports Athletes Should Be Drinking

We all know the timeless doctor's advice: throughout a day, everyone should consume eight glasses of water. But for esports athletes, drinking water is critical since dehydration accounts for muscle cramping and fatigue, among other adverse effects. 

"I cannot stress the importance of hydration enough," said Dr. Migliore. "There are so many studies on the effect of dehydration on reaction time and on cognitive performance. That's why showing up to practice with a sealable water bottle is very important, so you can develop that habit of reaching for it while gaming."

That's why on top of preaching the kinds of nutrient-rich meals designed to create sustained energy, great esports coaches mandate that their players bring water bottles before every team meeting. 

And since players should be maintaining stretching and light exercise along the way, they should enjoy at least as much water as the average person while staying away from the types of energy drinks a person can crash from. For a pick-me-up, unsweetened or lightly sweetened tea is as good an option as any.  

"These are all practices that help to combat burnout, and as they're built into programs, it's going to be good for esports in the long run," said Dr. Migliore. "And for players who have the goal of playing for FaZe clan or Team Liquid, if you want to be taken seriously, it requires dedication and application to your physical training and diet."