Nutrition is a key element of every athlete’s success — including esports athletes.

A healthy diet benefits an athlete’s performance, focus, and recovery. Healthy eating helps them be at their best for their sport.

Esports and Nutrition

Esports athletes often game from 6 to 10 hours or more a day. They spend a lot of time practicing for competitions or matches with other players or teammates. Many esports athletes also practice on their own time.

“Esports athletes should remember that they are, in fact, athletes,” says Jeffrey Lucchino, MS, RDN, CSSD, director of Sports Nutrition for UPMC Sports Medicine. “They may be a different type of athlete, but they are athletes. That means they should take care of their bodies just like athletes in active sports like baseball, basketball, or football. In fact, some could argue that they need to care of their bodies even more.”

Compared to traditional athletes, those in esports do not have as much downtime. According to Lucchino, the average esports athlete may game for 10 hours after a planning and strategy session. They often work 12-hour days for 3 or 4 consecutive days every week.

“Rather than a physically active workout, esports athletes complete more of a drawn-out brain workout, which is still a body workout that gets the heart pumping and releases cortisol,” says Lucchino. “There’s a lot of repetition and cognitive function involved, along with a lot of energy being used, so it’s very important for them to take ownership of their body and their care. Nutrition is a big part of that.”

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A Gamer’s Diet

When thinking about esports, many people picture a stereotype — the gamer who sits all day playing video games and loading up on pizza, snacks, and sugary drinks. Esports athletes often use good nutrition, working out, and lifestyle changes to get an edge on the competition and improve their skills.

“I always tell esports athletes to focus on a lean and high-protein diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. They should stay away from processed carbohydrates, simple carbs like candy, simple sugars, sodas, and even heavy carbs like pasta and potatoes,” says Lucchino. “Those foods aren’t terrible to eat esports athletes,” he adds. “But they should limit them in their diet.”

Esports athletes should also incorporate omega 3s like fatty fish, nuts, and seeds into their diet for the brain health benefits. It’s also important to maintain good electrolyte levels, which impact coordination and muscle contractions.

Potassium and magnesium, often found in nuts, fruits, and vegetables, play a big part in reflexes, coordination, and muscle function.

When it comes to beverages, water is the way to go. According to Lucchino, there’s no need for an esports athlete to drink sugar-laced beverages. There are some benefits to caffeine, but only in moderation.

“Everyone has a different limit and tolerance for caffeine that’s based on their body weight and genetic profile. A high amount of caffeine can have reverse effects like overstimulation, less focus, and delayed reaction time,” says Lucchino. “When an esports athlete is playing a game for hours on end, it is better to have a stable and sustained energy level throughout, rather than a simple sugar- or caffeine-induced peak followed by a crash.”

Forming Good Habits Early On

Professional esports athletes are often much younger than athletes in other sports. An esports athlete’s career usually peaks during their teenage years. By their early- or mid-20s, esports athletes are in the later stages of their careers.

“Think back to when you were a teenager. When I was 17, I took care of my body, but not to the same extent as a professional athlete,” says Lucchino. “Esports athletes have to mature quickly and understand that they have to make themselves, their self-care, nutrition, sleep, and exercise a high priority. They should create good habits. And if they don’t, it could shorten their career.”

A daily or weekly workout regimen is key to keeping the mind and body healthy and maintaining a good body weight. To help esports athletes set up good eating habits, Lucchino has them create a schedule to outline their daily routines for sleep, meals, gaming, exercise, and more.

“I want to see what their day-to-day life looks like, and then we go from there to develop a personalized nutrition, gaming, and workout schedule,” says Lucchino. “When you set up an athlete with a schedule, it’s important to make sure the schedule benefits their routine, their gaming, their team, and their lifestyle.

“By fueling their bodies, esports athletes will have better stamina, energy levels, focus, and concentration. Good nutrition can boost performance and improve the outcomes in their games.”

About Sports Medicine

Sports and physical activity bring with them a potential for injury. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury – or improve athletic performance – UPMC Sports Medicine and the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program can help. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our experts partner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers, and about 100 other high school, college, and regional teams and events throughout Pennsylvania – working daily to build better athletes.