Hey there everyone! During the holiday period, I took a bit of a break from writing articles for ChannelFireball so that I could finish a project I was working on (you’ll learn more about it at the end of this article), but I’m happy to be back!

Although today’s topic isn’t 100% directly related to the mental game of Magic, it still plays a relevant role—sleeping, eating, and hydrating appropriately both before and during a performance can maximize your ability to perform in Magic tournaments.

As I’ve discussed many times before, doing well in tournament Magic goes beyond just the cards themselves. Your mind and body both need to be in peak working condition, because if they’re not, then not only will you not be able to perform optimally, it’s also much more difficult to sustain yourself physically and mentally for longer tournaments. This means that sleeping well, eating the right foods, and hydrating with the correct liquids is extremely important for your overall preparation and performance.

It helps to start by analyzing the mind and body and how much energy they burn. In a day with very little to zero physical activity, the body burns, on average, around 1,300 calories. This is called RMR, or resting metabolic rate. Although the brain only accounts for 2% of the body’s total weight, it demands 20% of its available energy, and that’s only for keeping things in order and taking care of basic bodily functions such as regulating your breathing, keeping your heart pounding, etc. This means that your brain burns around 260 calories per day, or 10.83 calories per hour. And again, that’s just for basic bodily functions and upkeep.

But what happens when the brain kicks into full gear and is forced to work hard, such as when you’re playing games of Magic? Those numbers ramp upwards in a pretty impressive way. When thinking hard, the brain burns around 1.5 calories per minute. A round of Magic lasts around 50 minutes. That means that, when playing Magic, your brain is burning around 75 calories per round of Magic. Let’s say that you’re playing a Grand Prix that’s 15 rounds long, along with a Top 8, Top 4, and finals. That means that if you go all the way to the finals, by the end of the tournament, you’ll have burnt around 1,350 calories, and that’s purely just from your brain thinking hard. That doesn’t account for all of the walking around you do during the course of the weekend.

Let’s put those numbers into perspective a bit. Going hiking for two hours burns around 1,110 calories. Running at 8 mph for one hour burns around 985 calories. Playing tennis for two hours burns around 1,200 calories. Playing soccer competitively for one hour burns around 900 calories. Swimming fast for two hours burns around 1,000 calories. This means that playing in one single Grand Prix over the course of one single weekend uses the same amount of energy or more as going hiking for two hours, running for an hour, playing tennis for two hours, playing soccer competitively for an hour, or swimming fast two hours. That’s pretty astounding. This shows just how serious of an issue burnout can be in tournaments.

Getting Enough Sleep

You’ve been there before, haven’t you? It’s a Friday night, and you have a big tournament coming up the next day. But you’re up until midnight or 1:00 a.m. testing or still trying to figure out what deck you’re going to play. You don’t end up going to bed until 1:00 am or 2:00 a.m., and you have to be up at 7:00 a.m. the next day for the tournament. As a result, you get little to no sleep and are basically no more than a walking zombie for the entire duration of the day on Saturday. Because you got so little sleep, you have to dump every kind of energy-boosting source you can find into your body, and almost all of it is unhealthy junk that isn’t conducive for maximum performance.

Before an event such as a Grand Prix, Pro Tour, or World Championships, you will find many players that will spend as much as 12 hours a day testing for days or weeks leading up to the event. We discussed earlier in this lesson the amount of work that the brain puts in when playing intensive games of Magic and how many calories that can burn. When the brain is functioning that hard day in day out, it needs to appropriately rest so that it can recover and allow it to regain its ability to function optimally again the next day. That cannot happen if you do not give yourself and your brain the necessary amount of sleep it needs to recover and recuperate.

The benefits of sleeping appropriately are well established and wide-ranging. It keeps your heart healthy, as the more you sleep, the less stress hormones you produce and the less your heart has to work. It keeps your immune system strong, as it keeps the immune cells and proteins of your immune system in fighting shape. It helps to prevent headaches and migraines. It helps to elevate your mood and stave off crankiness. It increases your ability to learn and to retain information. And most importantly, it keeps your brain from burning out, as improved concentration and higher cognitive functioning are linked to good sleep.

What is the appropriate amount of sleep that you need? That depends on your age. For teenagers between the ages of 14-17, the optimal amount of sleep is anywhere from 8-10 hours a night, with 7-11 hours of sleep being acceptable. For young adults between the ages of 18-25, the optimal amount of sleep is anywhere from 7-9 hours a night, with 6-10 hours of sleep being acceptable. For adults between the ages of 26-64, the optimal amount of sleep is anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep a night, with 6 ½ – 9 ½ hours of sleep being acceptable. So, the amount of sleep you need to optimally perform when playing Magic is dependent on your age. As often as you can, be sure to follow the best guidelines for your age and get the correct amount of sleep you need so that you can perform as well as you possibly can.

Eating and Hydrating Appropriately

As the competitive and professional game becomes more sophisticated and the standards players demand from themselves increase, players are slowly starting to understand the importance of eating the right foods and drinking the right liquids during tournament play. It’s something that many players still don’t do well enough. During tournaments, many players are eating sweets, snacks, or fast food. They’re drinking soda, sugary juices, or energy drinks. All of this is pure junk that isn’t conducive to maximum performance. With tournaments getting longer and more difficult, eating and hydrating appropriately becomes more essential to success.

Tournament venues are certainly never going to help with this. Local game stores often sell things like Cheetos, oatmeal cream pies, and peanut butter cookies. Many local game stores even carry food menus of nearby restaurants or take-out places. They sell drinks like Diet Coke, chocolate milk, and Red Bull. When playing at Grand Prix or Pro Tours, the convention centers and tournament sites will have food vendors setup on location, but again, almost every single one of them is selling junk food such as pizza, hot dogs, tacos, and hot pretzels. They’re also selling junk drinks such as Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Diet Coke, and Monster energy drinks.

99% of the food available on-location at tournaments is either filled with empty calories or is hot, heavy food that sits in the stomach and takes extra energy for your body to break down and digest. Energy that you could be using towards your actual performance is instead having to be used to break down empty, unhealthy food. 99% of the drinks available on-location at tournaments are essentially either pure sugar or pure caffeine, both of which are good for a short term boost in energy levels but that come with the inevitable sugar or caffeine crash later in the day.

When competing in tournaments, you want to always bring your own foods and your own liquids. You want to bring foods that are energizing, light, and filled with healthy calories. Foods such as peanuts, trail mix, and bananas are great because not only are they energizing, light, and healthy, but they also have a high satiation index, meaning that they’ll make you feel more full for longer and prevent unhealthy food cravings. Carbohydrates are an essential form of energy, so eating anything with unrefined carbs is also a great plus. Whenever I play in a tournament, I personally like to bring a jar of chunky peanut butter, as peanut butter is a good source of healthy carbs and has a very high satiation index, which keeps me feeling full. Two tablespoons of chunky peanut butter provides the same feeling of fullness as eating a small meal. But it can be anything you want, so long as it’s healthy, contains unrefined carbs, and isn’t loaded up with other poor ingredients such as refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, etc.

In terms of liquids, things like soda, milk, and energy drinks are absolutely horrendous to consume, and you shouldn’t be drinking them if you can avoid it. Nothing beats plain, ordinary water. Our bodies are made up of 60% water on average, so drinking water is an essential. Also, things like unsweetened tea and other drinks that provide more natural, unrefined forms of energy are great too. When I got to play in tournaments, I always bring with me a homemade fruit and vegetable smoothie in a large mason jar. It’s just fruits, vegetables, water, and ice blended together—no sweeteners. Not only does it quench thirst, it can also act like a meal, helping to keep me full and avoid unhealthy cravings.

If you fail to prepare adequately enough and have no choice but to purchase food and drinks on location, then make sure to stay away from any food that is hot and heavy, and stay away from any drinks that are loaded with sugar or caffeine. In the end, a good rule of thumb is if it’s available at the tournament, don’t buy it and don’t consume it. Now, can you still perform in games of Magic and win games of Magic eating a Big Mac and drinking a Red Bull? Absolutely. But that’s not the important question. The important question is this: Can you perform optimally consuming those things? The answer is a definite no. And, you should always be looking to utilize things that allow you to perform to optimally, not sub-optimally.

In bringing this article to close, I wanted to elaborate further on the project that I was working on over the holiday period that I mentioned earlier. Whether you’re a follower of my work, someone reading my stuff for the first time, or just someone who has an interest in the mental side of the game as a whole, I just published a book that would be right up your alley. It’s the first book in the history of Magic to focus on discussing exclusively the mental side of the game of Magic to help players like you improve and develop the mental side of their game. It’s called Mental Mana – Mastering The Mental Game Of Magic: The Gathering, and it’s available right now over on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions. If you’re interested in this subject matter and working on your mental game, check it out! I think you’d really enjoy it and get a lot of benefit from it.

Thanks for reading, and all the best!