Keeping fit and healthy: Exercise, sleep and dietary advice for esports players

Keeping fit and healthy: Exercise, sleep and dietary advice for esports players

Dominic Sacco
12 min read | 6 Dec 2016

Diet, exercise and sleep can make a huge difference in wellbeing, and ensures esports players are ready for their next big in-game performance – both physically and mentally. Here are some top tips for staying in shape…

Esports might not be a physical activity as such, but at amateur and professional levels it can be mentally tiring.

Establishing regular sleep and exercise patterns is not only good for your general wellbeing and mental health, it can help improve your memory, boost your mood and reduce stress too – keeping players in tip top shape. Evidence also shows that a healthy diet is as important tomental healthas it is to physicalhealth.

“I think in the beginning of my career, I just thought if I played 16 hours every day for a whole year, I’d be the best player. But I think these days that’s one of the worst things you can do.”
Martin “Rekkles” Larsson, Fnatic

Many top-level teams and players now have set physical training regimes and specific diet requirements, and with esports games usually requiring fast reactions and/or strong mental skills, it’s important to look after yourself.

So what should you consider as an esports player, gamer or someone else who sits down for large parts of the day?

How often should you exercise?

The NHS advises 5- to 18-year-olds to do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day (for example cycling, running, playing sport), and exercise muscles and bones three days a week (like push-ups, jumping and running).

For adults aged 19 to 64 , the NHS recommends carrying out strength exercises for 2+ days a week that work all the major muscles, plus one of the following:

  • 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week (around 20-30 per day), such as cycling or brisk walking, OR
  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, such as running or a game of tennis, OR
  • A mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity per week, for example two half-hour runs plus half an hour of brisk walking

There’s a ton of other useful advice, ideas and examples on the NHS website . Try and find an activity you enjoy, for example a specific sport, or do bring a friend or family member along – that way you can encourage each other to keep going.

If you are disabled, there are some specific activities listed here .

When playing esports, try and take a 5 minute break every hour.

Regular breaks are important, and can help improve your overall concentration. Try and squeeze in some exercises, a walk or a healthy snack in if you can (see more advice from some pros at the bottom of this article).

Focusing on your diet

There are hundreds of different diets out there, and nutritionists with all different kinds of ideas as to what constitutes a healthy diet.

According to the Eatwell Guide , it’s recommended that men have around 2,500 calories a day, while women should have around 2,000 calories a day.

People are advised to:

  • Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day
  • Cut down on salt, sugar and saturated fat (including things like cream, cheese, pizzas, butter and ice cream, chocolate, cakes, biscuits and sugary soft drinks)
  • Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates. Choose wholegrain where possible
  • Drink plenty of fluids – the government recommends 6-8 cups/glasses a day
  • Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein. Aim for at least two portions of fish every week – one of which should be oily, such as salmon or mackerel
  • Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks and yoghurts). Choose lower-fat and lower-sugar options. Milk, cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais are good sources of protein and some vitamins
  • Don’t skip breakfast – awholegrain, low-sugar cerealwith fruit sliced over the top is a good recommendation

The NHS advises that if you’ve eaten a meal or a snack, allow between one and four hours to pass before you start exercising, to give your body time to digest.

If you’re serious about your diet, why not reach out to a nutritionist or dietician and ask them to build a plan specifically suited to you.

How to avoid RSI and minimise injuries with wrist exercises

This video from Dr Levi Harrison contains some useful wrist exercises and other health information for gamers:

Sleeping advice

Getting a good night’s sleep is important as it can reduce fatigue, short temper and lack of focus, and can decrease the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Here are some tips for sleeping well:

  • Get into a routine – sleep at regular hours (most adults need between six and nine hours per night, according to the NHS website)
  • Wind down – try having a bath, switching off screens, doing light relaxation exercises (like yoga stretches), reading a book or listening to a relaxation CD before bed
  • Try and keep your bedroom dark, quiet, tidy, free of entertainment devices like smartphones and TVs, and kept at a temperature between 18C and 24C
  • Avoid eating a large meal before sleeping – if you’re hungry late at night, try some carbohydrates such as bread or cereal
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine before sleeping

What about younger children?

The NHS advises children under five years old who can walk on their own “should be physically active every day for at least three hours. This should be spread throughout the day, indoors or outside”.

“The 180 minutes can include light activity such as standing up, moving around, rolling and playing, as well as more energetic activity like skipping, hopping, running and jumping. Active play, such as using a climbing frame, riding a bike, playing in water, chasing games and ball games, is the best way for this age group to get moving.”

There are video game initiatives specifically set up to get kids more active.

Active Gamerz is one such brand which looks to improve the sporting abilities in children using motion controlled technology.

Richard Tweed from Active Gamerz told the British Esports Association: Over the past five years we have worked with over 5,000 children to teach sport, but use the very tools that are blamed for the social problems we have as a society with childhood obesity and lack of participation in sport.

“Using PlayStation and Xbox equipment we teach six sporting disciplines, which work on improving co-ordination skills, physical fitness and the key components of each individual sport we teach. We also look to tackle the problem of how children cope with competition by setting up term-time World Championships events, which showcase the importance of healthy competition amongst children.

“Since its creation, this event has attracted over 7,000 spectators. We have also ran prizes to send kids on sporting trips of a lifetime which include trip to Scotland for the Commonwealth Games, Barcelona to watch FC Barcelona play and New York to watch the New York Yankees.

“Coming from a professional footballing background for club and country, staying active is vital. Obviously it keeps you from getting overweight but for me it’s the disciplines and mental advantages it gives you which is most important. When keeping fit or playing sport, you feel more confident, you have more energy and generally feel more positive. When you feel like this it creates a better person within you and that can only be a good thing for yourself or anyone who comes in contact with you.”

Tips from a caster

Ceirnan “Excoundrel” Lowe, member of the British Esports Association’s advisory board, esports caster and someone who has studied medicine and biomedical sciences at university, shared these tips:

  • Take breaks
  • Getting a good intake of light (vitamin D) can be helped by using sun light lamps – this also helps with seasonal affective disorder (make sure to talk to a doctor if you’re feeling down or have a low mood)
  • Remember, stress is normal but try to look at improving across multiple games instead of getting worked up at a singular loss
  • Playing after exercise can improve performance and co-ordination
  • Do wrist exercises and reflex exercises
  • In terms of your diet, lower sugar where possible and have a balanced diet

How to get the right posture and avoid tension

This video from ergonomics expert Frank Maas goes over some important posture tips, including how to sit at your desk correctly:

The NHS also has some good tips on sitting correctly here.

Can games be good for your health?

There’s evidence to suggest that games can help children develop logical, literary, executive and social skills.

The autumn 2014 American Journal of Play included anarticleby researchers Adam Eichenbaum, Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green, which suggests that games can help improve cognitive skills, such as the player’s perception, attention, memory anddecision making.

But like anything, it’s important to play in moderation. Some pro esports gamers play for up to 16 hours a day, but some professionals are now suggesting that may not be the best course of action.

Fnatic League of Legends pro Martin “Rekkles” Larsson told the British Esports Association: “I think in the beginning of my career, I just thought if I played 16 hours every day for a whole year, I’d be the best player. But I think these days that’s one of the worst things you can do. Obviously you should play as much as you can, but you shouldn’t block out other things due to it.

“These days I play as much as I can, but if we’re having dinner in 20 minutes, I won’t play an extra game and not have dinner with my teammates, because eating dinner with my teammates is going to help more than playing an extra game.”

Other tips from the pros

Bora “YellOwStaR” Kim, former League of Legends professional player for Fnatic, shared some valuable advice on the Fnatic website, which we’ve summarised below:

  • If you get hungry between meals, avoid sugary food and drink. Try water, fruits and vegetables instead
  • If you want to lose weight, reduce your carbohydrate intake and instead opt for meat and vegetables
  • If you can, cook your own meals so you know exactly what you’re eating (to expand on this, it’s a great idea to pick fresh foods and cook from scratch, that way you can avoid extra salt, sugar and flavourings which are typically added to ready meals)
  • After two or three games in a row, take a break. This retains your focus and helps you prevent yourself from getting frustrated if you’ve lost a few games
  • During breaks, try and get away from a screen, do some small exercises like push-ups or stretches, or go for a walk
  • If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to exercise alone, ask a friend or find a gym buddy and try to go to the gym together, three times a week

Elsewhere, retired StarCraft II player Samayan “BlinG” Kay told Red Bull : “There’s no question for me that a healthy lifestyle reduces fatigue and helps concentration levels. I definitely feel I’m more alert throughout the time I’m practising and can stay that way for longer compared to times where I slip away from keeping active and start to binge out a bit.

“I keep things the same pretty much all year round regardless of if I have tournaments upcoming or not. I workout 5-6 times per week, usually eat 6-7 relatively small meals throughout each day and drink about a gallon of water on top of that.”

“Most players I know that are competing at the highest level are already exercising or doing things to lead a healthy lifestyle, but if they weren’t I’d say definitely start as it really does improve the quality of practice you have and also your mindset as a whole.”

In terms of an example daily diet, pro League of Legends player Eugene “Pobelter” Park revealed some of the food he eats in aGQ interview.

His coach advises he consumes 2,300 calories per day; Pobelter’s typical eating schedule includes eggs, sausage and toast for breakfast, lemon and garlic chicken and rice for lunch, and Korean-style chicken and rice for dinner.


Further reading: 8 ways esports players can improve their wellbeing and performance

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