We’ve all been there; “I wanna lose 5lbs.”
It sounds so easy, too, doesn’t it? And then you get hit with the barrage of fad-diets and people who want to change your entire lifestyle.
Isn’t there some sort of middle ground? Isn’t it possible to live your life a little more healthy without it taking over your whole life and cutting severely into your gaming time?
Well, yes, yes there is. And today, since gamers tend to like knowing how stuff works, we’re going to show you how, in rather large detail so that you can understand why each of these things are important, and how to work them into your gaming day without getting in the way too much.
Today’s topic will be specifically about nutrition, since it’s actually quite dangerous to try to perform any exercises without a diet which can support such. Fortunately, you probably won’t have to make many changes.
Section 1: What is Healthy?
That’s obvious, right? If you lose weight, you’ll be healthy!
Whoa, now, kemosabe, it’s not that simple. Think about the starving children over in Africa! No, seriously, think about them. Does starvation seem healthy to you? Not really. So already we know there has to be more to it than just losing weight.
The key here, is that to be “healthy” you want to have less body fat while still getting enough nutrition. This can actually be pretty tricky to do since eating or drinking too much of otherwise good foods can still cause problems, and getting a good balance of the bits your body needs to build itself can require some real effort.
Keep in mind that your body doesn’t just magically build itself out of nothing; it needs things like calcium for bone – no calcium, no bone. No vitamins and minerals, and the rest of the organs start failing as well. Since these vitamins and minerals are spread out all over a wide variety of food types, a lot of people resort to just using a multi-vitamin and hoping that’s good enough. Honestly, taking vitamin supplements can help, but note the term “supplement” in there: they’re supposed to supplement your diet, not replace it. Ideally, you should get most of your nutrition from what you eat, with vitamin supplements just patching in the little gaps you may be missing.
Another major thing to note, is that fat isn’t as dense as muscle, and any exercise you perform will tend to build muscle as a side effect. As such, it’s fully possible to actually gain weight while doing a bit of exercise if you’re burning off all your fat and replacing it with muscle; you’d still wind up more healthy in the end, yet may actually weigh more from doing so. Due to this, don’t worry about things like BMI (Body Mass Index) or your weight so much, as these’re honestly a rather poor indicator of health in and of themselves.
Section 2: What do I need in my diet?
Aside from the obvious things, such as your vitamins and minerals, largely grouped up in accordance by the four main food groups (dairy, fruits & veggies, meats & poultry, and grains), you also tend to have need of four other groups many of you may not be aware of: carbohydrates, protein, fat and hydrants.
“But wait!”, I hear you cry, “aren’t carbs and fat BAD!?”
Not really, no. You actually need quite a bit of each daily or it does some rather nasty things to your body.
So let’s start with taking a look at carbs:
Section 2a: Carbohydrates
Due to that annoying fad diet, Atkins, a large number of people now honestly believe carbohydrates are bad. This isn’t the case. See, the thing is, your body burns carbohydrates as its favoured form of fuel, and not enough carbs can cause permanent brain damage (known as hypoglycemia). Note that absolutely all carbohydrates (with the one exception of fiber) are metabolized by your body into various forms of sugar. Your muscles need sugar, as does your brain. No sugar, you die.
There are some exceptions, and you can cut out carbohydrates in some cases, but only if you 100% remove them from your diet long enough for your body to change what it processes instead, and it requires a complete change of your entire diet and lifestyle, as well as very close monitoring by a doctor to make sure you don’t kill yourself in the process. Since we’re focusing on moderate, easy ways to be more healthy, preferably without redesigning our entire lives, we’re going to skip over the no-carb diet entirely for the purposes of the article, here.
For a gamer, think of your carbohydrates like your mana bar. If you run out of mana, no more spells, no more abilities, no more special stuff. Auto-attacks are kind of bland, and really just don’t work that well in most cases. So, we want carbohydrates, especially if we’re going to be doing any kind of exercise, even little ones at the desk.
An important part about carbs is to check how many carbs there are total in a meal, compared to how many are sugars. The reason for this is that complex carbohydrates, such as those found in grains, will eventually be converted into sugar anyway by your body, but it takes awhile for this to occur and as such, you’ll get a small, steady stream of fuel as your body digests the carbs. The “sugar” section of carbohydrates is already sugar so can be used immediately, so will burn very quickly.
The glyclemic index of a food is basically a combination of how much sugar it has total, and how fast it burns it. High sugar foods give you a huge burst of immediate energy, but your body goes “YAY! SUGAR!” and burns it really fast… until it runs out, which takes about 30-60 minutes in most cases, and then keeps burning at that same pace. This means you quickly run out of energy, and actually wind up even more tired than you would’ve been had you not eaten anything at all.
So, ideally, you want a bit of initial sugar to get your body kick-started with a good amount of energy to start with, and then a good amount of non-sugar/non-fibre carbs to keep you going after that initial burst.
In the example above, there are 10 grams of carbohydrates in total, with 6 grams of that total being sugar. This means it’ll burn the 6g of sugar quickly, then gradually work through the remaining 4g over time.
Take a look at a box of cereal sometime, and you’ll find that grains are virtually pure carbohydrates. Most cereals will have about ~30g of carbs, with about ~10-15 or so of that being actual sugar, which is a pretty nice balance. Things like fruit or milk, however, have almost 100% of their carbohydrates as pure sugar, so be careful not to have too much of them – they’re great for that initial rush of energy, but don’t fare so well long-term.
The last thing to cover on carbohydrates is what they are: Carbo (carbon) hydrates (water), meaning they’re made primarily out of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Carbs really aren’t bad unless you have too much of them.
Section 2b: Protein
Next on our list is protein. Proteins do a lot of things, from helping to form cells, to managing various tasks that keep your body running correctly. In total, there are 20 different proteins which we need to survive, and fortunately, our body’s capable of producing 12 of these on it’s own. The other 8, however, need to be derived from our diet. Meat contains all 8 of the extra proteins we need, while virtually all other sources will only have a small number of the various types, so relying solely on peanut butter for protein isn’t a good idea since you’ll be missing a few important ones.
Proteins are surprisingly complex, especially in that they have to be folded into a certain shape to work properly. A mis-folded protein has the nasty habit of wanting to fold other proteins nearby it wrong, too, and this is where the prion diseases, such as mad cow disease, come in – they’re not really diseases as such, because there’s no germ, no bacteria, no virus; it’s just a misfolded protein, and it causes other proteins to misfold similar to how cancer is just a normal cell which has a few major defects in it and then goes on to replicate more of those defects, though the replication process is different.
Regardless, you need protein in your diet (preferably the kind that’s folded properly so you don’t go insane), and specifically, you need all eight of the proteins that your body can’t produce, so you either need a rather wide variety of non-meat sourced protein, one of the few super-grains which has all eight if your vegetarian or vegan, or just have enough meat every day.
One of the most important aspects of why you need protein in your diet while exercising, is that the proteins we lack the capacity to produce internally tend to primarily involve muscle development. If you’re working out, and you get that pain that feels like you’re suddenly exhausted in the muscle, that’s actually the muscle physically tearing. The fact that the muscle gets ripped like this (hence the phrase: get ripped), means that the body goes “Oh, that wasn’t strong enough, I’ll have to make it stronger when I rebuild it.” which is why it takes so long to build up your muscle mass, and why you need to space out exercising over a few days.
Essentially, it’s true: no pain really does mean no gain, as we’ll cover later in this series. For now, simply keep in mind that your muscles need to be torn in order to grow stronger, and the act of tearing your muscles means you need to rebuild them, which means you need protein to rebuild them with. The more intense your workout, the more protein you need in your diet.
More specifically than that, if you tear your muscles during a workout, don’t go trying to work out that muscle again until after you’ve had a good amount of protein and given it a day or two to repair the damage. This is why you always hear that it only takes 2-3 workouts a week; you literally don’t want to work out the same muscle every day of the week, you need to give time to heal in between.
As such, you’ll want protein in your diet just in general, but more if you’re doing any sort of exercise of any kind.
Section 2c: Fat
Being fat may be unhealthy, but eating fat doesn’t make you fat, oddly enough.
Let’s put this in very simple terms: losing weight is very, very simple – you eat more calories than you use. Any excess calories get converted into fat in your body for storage purposes, and can be burned later on as reserves in time of need. Think of your body fat in much the way you would a battery.
Now, why do we need fat?
Fatty acids are kind of needed for a wide range of cell functions, in much the same way proteins are needed. Our bodies literally can’t produce these manually, so they have to come from elsewhere: namely, our diet.
Another major issue is that these same fatty acids are used by our brains as part of how it transfers electrical signals between cells.
Fat’s also used as part of the membrane of all cell walls, to transport certain vitamins through the bloodstream so they don’t dissolve before they reach their destination, and in some forms of hormone production.
Much like carbohydrates, no fat means death, except that unlike carbohydrates, your body physically can’t replace it if you go on a zero-fat diet.
When working out, since you’ll be building a lot of new muscle tissue, as described under the protein section, you’re going to need a lot of fat to build the cell walls of those muscle cells. Fortunately, meat tends to have both fat and protein, making it quite an efficient food choice in that regard.
Food that we need tends to taste good, hence why fat and sugar tastes so good to us. We actually need these things in our diets.
Section 2d: Hydration
The last of our sections on diet is hydration. I’m sure you’d heard the standard “8 cups of water per day” saying before, but this isn’t exactly accurate.
First off, you don’t need water specifically to be hydrated. Things like tomatoes, which have a large amount of fluid within them, are also counted as being hydrating, as are things like milk or juice, which may contain other handy nutrients as well.
Note that alcohol, such as beer, has a dehydrating effect, so even though it’s a fluid, you actually feel more thirsty after drinking it than when you don’t. For a bonus, note that a hangover stems primarily from this dehydrating effect; you can actually prevent a hangover by ensuring you have a good amount of hydration, with electrolyte-laced options being especially effective against it. As such, drinking something like gatorade, will actually prevent a hangover; but once the hangover begins proper, it’s a bit too late to fix in that manner.
Regardless, your body really is comprised of a large amount of water, and it goes through a lot. If you have overly high blood sugar, for example, your body fixes this problem by urinating the sugar out, which can dehydrate you considerably. Working out causes you to sweat a lot, which also means you lose a lot of both salt and water, so you need a bit of each to replenish your body back to full strength again.
Note that it is, strangely enough, possible to get high from drinking water. DON’T DO THIS. By the time you’ve ingested enough water to cause this euphoric state, you’ve already suffered permanent brain damage because the euphoria stems from your brain chemistry being so saturated with water that it can’t transmit electrical signals properly anymore. You can, in fact, die from drinking too much water, but this takes an absurd amount of water to cause particularly negative effects.
Regardless, you need water to live, and if you’re going to be doing any kind of exercise, or even if you’re just going to do an all-night gaming session, you’re going to need to keep yourself hydrated. Water’s the easiest way to keep hydrated, and has nothing else in it like sugar, fat, or other things which you may not want as much of, so just keeping a bottle of water at your desk is a handy thing to do in general.
Keep in mind that the vast majority of bottled water from stores is literally just tap water, often from your own location. As such, don’t fall for the con artist job of buying super expensive bottles of water which cost more than gasoline: instead, buy a single drink with a nice bottle (gatorade and poweraide have some of the best bottles I find, often with a valve so they can’t be spilled on a keyboard by accident), and just wash it out with hot water in between refills.
Section 3: Diet
Weren’t we just talking about diet?
Oh, no, we were just talking about the nutritional aspects we need to keep in mind. Riiight, got it.
Just eating “the right stuff” isn’t good enough; we also need to eat the right amount of stuff, and at the right times.
The biggest problem with a diet is that it’s different for everyone: some people naturally have higher metabolisms and will burn through extra calories much quicker than others. There was a study done a few years back where the organizers had six test subjects double their caloric intake per day, and found that some of them bloated out like balloons almost instantly, while others barely gained any weight at all.
This only makes sense, as if you go back to a tribal society, if everyone built muscle fast… well, muscle costs a lot of energy to maintain, as in much more than fat. You’d only want a small number of hunters consuming extra food, while others who tended to the fire, cooked, or gathered other food sources would necessarily want to build fat more readily so that, when a famine occurred, only the hunters would need to eat a lot, while the rest could rely on fat reserves.
The point is, though, that some people will burn through calories quicker than others. Some will build muscle easier than others. Some will simply need larger amounts of nutrients than other people, especially if you’re working out a lot.
Take a look at an Olympic swimmer: they go through about 9,000 calories per day, every day. They also tend to be exercising for about 10-14 hours per day as well, however, so no big surprise there.
A sumo wrestler eats about 20,000 calories per day, and the scary part about sumo wrestlers is… that’s not fat. The vast majority of a sumo’s weight stems from muscle, rather than fat; they just have a thin layer of fat over top of an enormous amount of sheer muscle. Keep in mind that sumo wrestling is also a lifestyle, and they work even longer hours per day than the Olympic swimmer we just covered.
Clearly, if you’re going to be using a lot of energy and building new muscle, you’re going to need a lot more calories and nutrition than someone who’s sitting down all day. I can’t hope to give you accurate information for you, personally, and for that, you’re going to have to talk to a dietician to figure out what your best options are.
What I can do, however, is tell you that the average female gamer will probably need about 1,400 calories per day, and the average male gamer will probably need about 2,000. Part of this stems from males typically being a bit larger, in muscle mass and height, and part of it stems from metabolism.
If you work out and gain muscle mass, these numbers will tend to increase, since muscle not only burns calories during the creation of the muscle in the first place, muscle also burns calories every day to maintain that muscle. Fat also burns calories every day to maintain it, but not nearly as much as muscle.
Now, for the average person who isn’t working out at all, your stereotypical gamer? You’re probably not going to have a lot of muscle mass being built nor maintained, as such, you don’t need that much more.
For carbohydrates, you’ll probably want about 150+ grams per day; it’s a pretty large amount, and note that a bowl of cereal is worth about 30-40 grams, as is a glass of juice.
As a general rule of thumb, you need about 0.5~0.7 grams of protein per pound of total body weight if you’re not really working out any. For most people, this comes out to about 80-100 grams per day. As we start getting into the exercises in the next article, this will probably increase to closer to 150 grams of protein per day.
For fats, almost everyone needs at least 50 grams per day, and this doesn’t really go up that much based on how much exercise you get, but it will increase a bit due to needing to build cell walls for your newly gained muscles.
Section 3b: When to eat
When you eat is almost as important as what you eat, oddly enough. While most of us really just don’t have the time to do this, the ideal amount of meals per day is actually about 5 or 6, not three square meals per day.
Having five smaller meals over the course of the day keeps your body’s metabolism higher, ensures you don’t wind up feeling overly hungry and therefore overeating, and avoids entering into a catabolic state.
The catabolic state happens when you don’t eat often enough; your body goes “OH CRAP! There’s not enough food! Shut. Down. EVERYTHING.”
The biggest problem with a catabolic state is that, while in it, your body assumes you don’t have enough food available to maintain your current state, so it immediately starts cannibalizing your muscle tissue instead of your fat reserves, since it figures that muscle costs more calories per day to maintain, therefore you’re better off with less muscle mass if you can’t afford to maintain it.
As such, having five small meals per day, spaced out fairly evenly, will tend to have you eating less food in total, as well as burning fat instead of muscle. This, of course, has the added advantage of having a higher muscle mass which means you burn calories faster as well, so will lose weight easier.
So what about all those carbohydrates, protein, fat, and hydration?
Simple enough: you want a little bit of each during every meal, and you want to keep your hydration up all day long. In general, you’ll want about 30-50g of carbs per meal, about 20g+ of protein, and 10g+ of fat per each of your now-smaller meals. For hydration, you get some from the food you eat (tomatoes were mentioned earlier, this includes sauce on a pizza), but you’ll also want a small amount fairly often; don’t even bother waiting until you’re actually thirsty as that’s a sign that you’re already too low, so just take a little sip now and then whenever you think about it, maybe every 5-10 minutes or so. As such, a water bottle with even just some flavoured water is a good idea to have handy at your desk.
For a gamer, I’d personally recommend just taking a sip of water or whatever any time you see a loading screen, or every time you die in a game, or any time you have to pause. Consider it a drinking game sans the alcohol, since alcohol is a dehydrating agent.
Due to how sugar and carbohydrates work as well, you’ll probably want about 1/3rd of your carb intake to be actual sugar, with the rest being non-sugar/non-fibre. This ensures that you get that initial jolt of energy, and then as that wears off, your body will digest the rest so you have a steady replenishment of more sugars over time, rather than crashing hard after half an hour.
For another handy little fact, is that it takes 75 calories to raise the temperature of 8 cups of ice-cold water to body temperature. While it’s not a huge amount, drinking colder fluids will actually burn calories a bit faster than drinking room-temperature fluids, so if you really want to lose a bit of weight, that’s a simple and easy way to give yourself a nudge in the right direction.
The last bit of information for today’s article, is simply to sate your cravings. If you reaaally want pizza? Have some pizza. It sounds counter-intuitive, but here’s why: If you don’t have the pizza, anything else you eat simply won’t satisfy you, so you’ll probably eat more than you would otherwise, and then you’ll break down and have the pizza anyway after having eating a ton more of other stuff than you would’ve had you just had the pizza in the first place. As such, if you just have the pizza you wanted in the first place, you sate the craving and won’t be nearly as likely to overeat. Just try cutting back a bit; instead of an extra-large pizza solo, try a medium instead with a bit more veggies as toppings if you can. (Hint: jalapino peppers, pineapple and mushrooms are all quite good toppings for pizzas, though your tastes may vary.)
So, with that, you now have all the basic tools needed to eat a little more healthily while working out, without really needing to reorganize your entire lifestyle or all of your eating habits, and have an explanation for why they work.
In the second article of deskercise, we’ll cover some simple, easy exercises you can can do at your own desk, couch or chair, and can be done during loading screens or while waiting on a respawn timer. Another article series will be starting shortly which covers cooking for gamers, which will help out with making more than just ramen noodles, and will help make fairly healthy, yet delicious meals and snacks (yes, there will still be chocolate and chips!). A little, tiny change here and there can make a big difference without taking over your whole life or butting into valuable gaming time!
Special thanks for the Deskercise series goes out to Nathanael de Lemos, a personal trainer and gamer from London who has helped immensely with a wealth of first-hand information, fact-checking, and personal expertise when it comes to nutrition, diet, workouts and how to work them into gaming culture.
Look forwards to the next articles in the Deskercise series, which will get into specific exercises you can do while in your desk while gaming, or even while still in bed! We’ll also be covering extra health tips and ways to slim down or beef up, depending on your goals, without completely overtaking your life in the process!