Updated: Jan 10
Diet for chess champions? Here are 4 recommendations that highlight the importance of nutrition for chess players.
Image Source: Viswanathan Anand - File Photo , AFP
Chess, though a sedentary sport, is still extremely stressful. It may be physically exhausting too - a chess game can continue for hours on end. It is a common misconception that chess players do not need to take care of their diet. In a Polish study (with subjects from the Polish Chess Academy, winners of the Polish, European and World Youth Championships and members belonging to the Polish national team) conducted to understand the nutritional habits of young chess players ranging from 8 to 19 years of age, it was observed that 75% of the participants skipped their breakfasts, especially before tournaments while only 25% to 43% reported regular meal intakes during the day.
In 2017, Magnus Carlsen, (Norwegian Grandmaster) found a deceptively simple piece of advice to follow to avoid feeling fatigued at the end of a chess game - to drink chocolate milk with plain milk instead of orange juice. As Carlsen aged, it had now become difficult for his body to break down the sugar easily leading to sugar crashes that he described as feeling fatigued toward the end of the chess game.
Image source: Magnus Carlsen - en.chessbase.com
There is now a new trend emerging among chess players to incorporate a strict food regime to increase oxygen levels in the brain and prevent sugar related crashes mid-game.
1. BREAKFAST – BOON OR BANE?
In the paper, “What’s Eating Your Game?”, Kay Ummeakun recommends eating breakfast if chess is to be played or studied in the morning. Again, whatever sails your boat. The paper also suggests breakfast foods like bananas, peanut butter, oatmeal, eggs or toast. Anything that is moderate in carbohydrates is a good option.
2. WHAT TO EAT RIGHT BEFORE A GAME?
Referring to a recommendation from chess.com, it is good practice to consume food rich in carbohydrates and protein before a game. The proteins provide nutrients while the carbohydrates will help in maintaining focus. As a rule of thumb, one must not consume too much food before a game. Consuming too much food leads to much of your energy being utilised for digesting the food, leading you to feel fatigued or in need of a nap. And that is something chess players cannot afford!
3. IN-GAME SNACK?
In his book, “How I Play Gold”, Tiger Woods refers to his dietary habits and the advantages of vitamin supplements for vitamins B1, B6 and B12, especially as tension and stressful situations lead to a reduction of these vitamin levels.
Chess, golf and other sports that require players to have great amounts of extended periods of mental concentration may find this relevant.
Foods rich in vitamins, especially B1, B6, and B12 seem to be a good idea for an in-game snack.
Did you know that Magnus Carlson chews on gum mid-game to try to increase his brain function?
4. GIVE YOURSELF SOME MUCH-NEEDED H2O
In a paper on Nutritional Practices of Chess Grandmasters by Roberto H. Baglione, 72 Grandmasters were surveyed for their eating habits. As mentioned in his report, the feeling of thirst should not be considered as an ideal indicator of the levels of hydration for a chess player. By the time one feels thirsty, a certain proportion of water in the body might already be depleted and this in turn can affect mental concentration.
In the above-mentioned research paper, 50% of the surveyed Grandmasters were found to be consuming some form of fluid without the urge of feeling thirsty.
The right kind of nutritional balance can potentially give chess players that extra edge to sharpen their game as players need to optimize their mind as well as their body.
It is recommended to consult a nutritionist before starting a new diet or making a change in your lifestyle.