Pokémon (and any game for that matter) has important physical elements to it that cannot be ignored if one wants to succeed consistently. Although the Pokémon TCG is not a sport, it still relies heavily on a participant’s bodily state at the time of competition. By demanding intense mental concentration for long periods of time, how you treat your body can directly influence your tournament results.
In this article we will explore how to treat your body in preparation for the event, as well as how to treat your body during the event.
This is one of the most important factors of an individual’s success, and it goes largely ignored by many players. A lot of players in the game are young and feel that sleep can be ignored and have no impact on performance, but this is not true. Chugging caffeine on an hour of sleep after drilling your mind for two nights will not have great effects on your cognitive ability when it is 2 AM and you are playing for a Regional Championship.
You generally need at least 2 hours of sleep to fall into the REM cycle. This allows the brain to reset and process memories. Without falling into REM the body and mind have not truly rested, and the speed and ability to organize and access new information (changes in game state, and processing changes in strategy) will suffer as a consequence. It’s best to get a full night’s sleep the night before a major mental event, though, so that one can be fully refreshed and able to absorb and process information at the utmost speed and efficiency.
Fatigue and mental exhaustion can often set in during a long tournament. Participating in an event like the LCQ (Last Chance Qualifier) demands an individual to have a flawless or near flawless record, and after rounds of intense thought an individual can develop headaches or severely reduced cognition. The worst part is your brain is most refreshed at the start of a tournament- but the most important rounds are always the last rounds after the brain has used up whatever energy it had in earlier rounds.
Bottom line- get the rest your brain requires to function well. The effects of not sleeping can be amplified greatly by choices in diet and activity and can make things even worse than what I just described.
Sustaining the body is important. If you feel ill or tired, or are unable to physically perform then you will surely be unable to mentally perform. This makes eating of fundamental importance, as it can directly impact mental performance.
Many of the best brain foods are fatty and oily (I don’t mean McDonalds, I mean pistachios or eggs). We should consider this fact when we think of what to eat for a mental event like a tournament. There are also foods to avoid for a mental event- artificial colors and sweeteners can cause physical side effects, things with refined sugars and processed materials are foods to be avoided.
Don’t eat three twinkies before lunch, because the body processing the glucose will cause blood-sugar disparity and affect brain function. Eating the double cheese egg, sausage, and bacon breakfast sandwich will decrease blood flow to the brain by restricting the blood vessels.
The Night Before
Don’t eat much, because this will hinder your sleep. You want to sleep well, and have an appetite for tomorrow. Eating is fun, healthy, and can relieve stress while supplementing the body. Use it to your advantage at a tournament. I recommend eating plenty of lean proteins and carbohydrates prior to the tournament day in order to provide the body with plenty of energy for the brain and body come game day.
DON’T GAMBLE! You can avoid eating at the new Mexican restaurant, and forego sushi for one night. You don’t want to take an unnecessary risk. Play it safe. Don’t get wasted or drink any caffeine. Eat some carbs and go to bed.
I recommend eating light. Eggs are great brain food, but going light and eating yogurt, whole grains, fruits with natural sugars (especially ones that are high in anti-oxidants like blueberries), milk and cereal will also be great options. Either way, you don’t need to eat much because we are going to aim to have a big lunch. You want to lead the day right with light options that will not cause irritation to the stomach or nerves.
Coffee? Energy Drink?
I am for them. If you occasionally or regularly drink coffee/caffeine, then have one if you desire. A Red Bull really will stimulate the brain (especially if you get it sugar free)- but getting one loaded with artificial flavors and sweeteners might have adverse effects. Be wise with your choices and read the ingredients.
My preferred lunch location is Chipotle. Do yourself a favor and look up nearby locations to your tournament location. The lean meats, lack of processed ingredients, high energy products (tortilla, rice, pinto and black beans), option for guacamole (avocado is an amazing brain food, rich in oils and fats that are great for the brain’s functioning), and mouth-watering salsa options will provide you with plenty of energy and a great sensual experience.
But seriously, eat a lunch that will give you a lot of energy without hurting the brain. Don’t eat something overly fatty or stimulating, but do provide yourself with the energy you will need for the rest of the tournament- especially if you don’t have the opportunity for a dinner break.
By this point in the tournament your success should be dawning on you. You might be 1-0, 2-0, or 3-0 at this point. Use lunch to relax, relish, and clear your head to continue your success. If you have a rough start, then reorganize at this point. This is when you can go over your mistakes, shake your anxiety, and retake control.
You may or may not get this option, but if you do- then realize this is the home stretch. Absolutely do not risk foods like sushi or anything that could upset the stomach. Try to eat high energy foods. A smoothie, protein bar, PB&J would all be good options as well.
Many people have anxiety at this stage of the tournament. Money might be closing in, or the guaranteed spot in the cut or ratings. Keep that in mind as you eat throughout the day. Give yourself energy but don’t cause additional stress to an already fragile physical state.
In either case, I suggest a strategy similar to breakfast. Eat something that is high in brain energy, low in physical content and low impact on the digestive system.
This cannot be stressed enough. You should be drinking constantly during this tournament. Dehydration causes physical strain, headaches, nausea, and reduced mental function. Buy a bottle of water if you have to, but keep hydrated.
The Institute of Medicine (source: Mayo Clinic) recommends about 100 ounces of hydration for men, and 70 ounces of hydration for women a day: 3L and 2.2L respectively. Expect to fill up that water bottle quite a bit if you want to maintain optimum physical performance from your brain.
This doesn’t mean to chug soda all day, either. That is not hydrating, but filling yourself on processed sugar and actually diminishing your hydration. Drink water, or juice if you want more taste/energy. Drink the Gatorade. Stay away from the Coca Cola. Be smart about it.
If you are a smoker, today is not the day to quit. If you drink coffee every morning, now is not the day to say goodbye. Similarly, if you never smoke or consume caffeine, then now is probably not the time to try. Be smart about it. Drinking a third of a red bull might be a great idea for you come dinner time if you need that boost, even if you don’t normally drink caffeine. Splitting a 36 ounce Monster with your fiend who loves caffeine might not be a great idea though.
There are other drugs you need to consider as well. At a tournament it is very easy to become dehydrated, irritable, develop a headache, etc. I recommend having some basic first aid – tournament style. Do yourself a favor and buy some Goody’s Powder and Pepto Bismol Chewables.
Goody’s Powder is the fastest acting pain reliever- a mix of acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Aspirin (famous NSAID) with some caffeine (helps reduce blood vessel pressure as well as increasing the effectiveness of relieving headaches up to 40%- Source: WebMD). You pour the powdery substance in the back of your throat and quickly wash it down with water and relief is on its way.
Pepto Bismol chewables are ideal because they can be easily stored and maintained, and have minimal issues with distribution or consumption.
Along with these two drugs you should be sure to pick up plenty of water, mints or chewing gum, and lip balm! Many times tournaments feature different weather than your body is used to, and there is nothing worse than having chapped lips.
Drink plenty of water, get at least two hours of sleep, don’t go overboard with any substances (but make sure to bring everything you might need), and eat like a champ.