You’re a hardcore gamer, or even an Esporter, playing competitively. You train like an athlete but do you also eat like an athlete?
Nutrition for gamers and Esports
Since this subject is way too big to cover in a single article, I’ll dedicate a small series of articles. Two start off with two, but more will follow.
As an Esporter, a competitive gamer, you need to improve your skills. Just like athletes this means long hours of training. But unlike athletes your sport means hours of sitting down, moving mainly your fingers. So what does this mean for your need for energy?
Where athletes need to fuel their muscles for performance, your main focus may be on the brains. Instead of muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness, your priority is cognitive ability. So what kind of nutrition benefits brain function the most.
Caloric needs for Esporters
Let’s start off with the ugly elephant in the room. Gaming, in most cases, adversely affects physical activity levels [1,2].
A 2020 study showed that as a result Esporters had higher body fat percentages, lower lean body mass, and lower bone density . Another 2020 showed similar results on lower activity levels and higher amounts of body fat. But in that study it was notable that the top 10 percent of high ranking gamers tended to show higher activity levels than other gamers. Maybe this group realizes that as a serious athlete they need physical exercise as well.
While gaming heart rates and blood pressure rise. This also translates in a higher amount of calories burned than while sitting and doing nothing. Of course, “compared to doing nothing” doesn’t necessarily say much. Especially if you could have been outside running or lifting weights in the gym instead.
More over, the extra calories burned while gaming are overcompensated by the fact that gamers tend to eat more after gaming . In a 2011 study gaming for one hour a day increased daily caloric intake by 163 kcal while the gamers only burned 21 kcal extra gaming.
Using formulas for your caloric needs
There are widely used formulas to estimate your personal caloric needs. Or more accurately, your basal metabolic rate.
Formulas like Catch-McKardle that uses the amount of lean body mass to calculate how much calories your body needs to sustain this lean mass. This so called Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of energy your body needs in rest. On average this is about 60% of your caloric needs. The brain is a heavy consumer of energy, using about 25% of your total energy intake.
where ℓ is the lean body mass (LBM in kg). f is body fat percentage.
Another widely used formula is Harris-Benedict. This formula uses the data age, gender, weight and height to estimate lean body mass based on statistical data. Less accurate, especially for athletes who tend to have relatively more lean mass and less body fat. But also easier in huge because you don’t have to measure body fat percentage.
Harris – Benedict (1984 revision ):
Calories needed for physical activity
After BMR is estimated we still need to account for the calories burned by physical activity. After all BMR is only what your body uses to maintain itself. All energy needed to move about and be active needs to be taken into account.
For this we use the activity factors to multiply with the estimated BMR.
- Sedentary (little or no exercise) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.2
- Lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.375
- Moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.55
- Very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days a week) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.725
- If you are extra active (very hard exercise/sports & a physical job) : Calorie-Calculation = BMR x 1.9
Example: Estimating your daily caloric needs as a gamer
So let’s say you’re a 20 year old man, weighing in at 80 kilograms, a height of 1,80m. According to Harris Benedict your BMR would be around 1910 kcal per day.
BMR = (13.397 * 80) + (4.799 * 180) – (5.677 * 20) + 88.362
BMR = 1071,76 + 863,82 – 113,54 + 88.362 = 1910, 40 kcal
But of course you don’t have to calculate this yourself. There a lot of site offering to do this for you. Iike where I entered this same example on calculator.net.
Now if gaming is your only activity then you can only multiply the BMR of 1910 with an activity factor of 1.2. This makes your estimated total daily caloric expenditure 2292 kcal. As opposed to someone who hits the gym three times a week and may need 2961 kcal.
And yes if we do this correctly then we need to take into account the study that showed that gaming burns more calories than being sedentary doing nothing. I’m not sure however if this is enough to categorize it as “Lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week)”. This would lead to 2627 kcal as a daily need. So 335 kcal more. In the 2011 study an hour of gaming meant burning 163 kcal more than sitting down. So this would lead to thinking that you would need to game for two hours a day to qualify as ‘light exercise/sports’.
And now what?
Now that you have an estimate of how much calories your body needs, it’s time to find out how much you’re actually getting. This doesn’t mean you need to count calories for the rest of your life. But it does mean that you can do this for, let’s say, a week to get a proper base line.
There are plenty of apps that can help you do this. Try to eat like you use to do and register every meal and drink.
Having that baseline will show you if you’re on track to a healthy future or to morbid obesity. If you calculated a daily need of 2000 kcal but your baseline intake shows 4000 kcal a day, you need wonder no more why you’re getting fat.
Setting up a diet
But maybe your baseline tells you “all’s well”. Your weight scale may also say “all’s well”. But the mirror shows something different. See, calories are only part of the story and the weight scale doesn’t discriminate between body fat and lean mass. So you might be seeing fat where you’d like to see muscle.
In the next part I’ll talk about the different sources of calories. The macro nutrients carbohydrates, dietary fats and proteins. What is a healthy balance between these in general? But also more specifically, which nutrients improve (or impair) cognitive abilities and therefore your gaming performance?
- Trotter MG, Coulter TJ, Davis PA, Poulus DR, Polman R. The Association between Esports Participation, Health and Physical Activity Behaviour. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Oct 8;17(19):7329. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17197329. PMID: 33049914; PMCID: PMC7579013.
- DiFrancisco-Donoghue J, Werner WG, Douris PC, Zwibel H. Esports players, got muscle? Competitive video game players’ physical activity, body fat, bone mineral content, and muscle mass in comparison to matched controls. J Sport Health Sci. 2020 Jul 23:S2095-2546(20)30093-4. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2020.07.006. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32711155.
- Chaput JP, Visby T, Nyby S, Klingenberg L, Gregersen NT, Tremblay A, Astrup A, Sjödin A. Video game playing increases food intake in adolescents: a randomized crossover study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jun;93(6):1196-203. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.008680. Epub 2011 Apr 13. PMID: 21490141.