While the debate over whether or not esports players are athletes in their own right rages, one of the caveats in that debate is the difference in the physicality on display between traditional sports and esports. Couple the sedentary aspect of esports with a lack of funding and the expectation of eating or drinking products supplied by sponsors, and you’ll see that a lot of players struggle with eating a healthy diet. And while some esports organizations are hiring nutritionists and even chefs for their players, that is the exception, not the rule. And that means there are hundreds if not thousands of players who are facing health risks because of poor diets.
Dr. Lindsey Migliore, an esports medicine physician known as “GamerDoc,” has consulted and worked with some of the top teams in the world, and believes there is a large gap between health and wellness and how a lot of esports organizations are addressing the subject.
“I think that esports definitely has a nutrition problem,” Migliore said. “It’s part of a larger lack of health and wellness that can be partially attributed to how new esports is.”
The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health posted a peer-reviewed study on the health behavior of video game and esports players in Germany noting the following: “Prolonged screen time, accompanied by long periods of sedentary behavior are recognized as risk factors for numerous chronic diseases and all-cause mortality. Since gaming and esports, by their very nature, require long periods of sedentary screen time, it stands to reason that such players pose a high-risk group in exceptional need of health promotion.”
Taylor Johnson, chief performance engineer at Statespace, who has a Masters of Science degree in Exercise Science, Rehabilitation Science from California University of Pennsylvania, sees esports at a tipping point with regards to how serious organizations are about talking to players about health and nutrition while helping them live a healthy lifestyle.
“We’re kind of coming up on this tipping point where the conversations are being had more frequently around health and wellness,” Johnson said. “In terms of esports, the overall health and wellness of players, those conversations are starting to happen more frequently. A lot of the professional teams are doing a better job of thinking about holistic models for their players and offering resources and education.”
As conversations start to take place between organizations and players around health and nutrition , some see hurdles to overcome to create and maintain best practices. While some larger organizations can flex the power of their large budget and hire chefs and nutritionists, there are a lot of successful mid-tier organizations that simply don’t have the money for that level of attention. Migliore believes that there are available options for every esports organization that wants more information. And if organizations do not have a staff member to consult with players on good health practices there is one person who should wear that hat–the coach.
“In traditional sports, you have the athletic trainer who is really the quarterback for a player’s care,” Migliore said. “For esports, it’s the coach. But in esports, coaches are usually just players who have aged out at the age of 23, so they don’t have any background in this or a lot of things. So just giving coaches a basic understanding of here’s a simple carb, here’s a complex carb. Here’s what your players should be eating the day of competition. Here’s what your players should be eating on a training day. You don’t need to necessarily hire a nutritionist to evaluate each individual player’s diet. All you need to do is have one talk to your coach for a couple of hours.”
Understanding the reality that for most organizations the coach is the person who is closest to players personally and is able to constantly observe player habits, Johnson would also like to see more time being spent teaching coaches how to help players develop a healthier lifestyle when it comes to what they put in their bodies.
“We need a better educational framework for coaches,” Johnson said. “We need to help the career and coaching development track and really build out a more methodical and comprehensive approach to build out a well-rounded coach. I speak with a lot of coaches from time to time and they’ll call me and say, ‘Hey, like I’m having this issue with the player.‘ I’d like to see more of that when it comes to player lifestyle, eating, and nutritional habits.”
The next area of concern that both Migliore and Johnson point out that isn’t immediately apparent is the fact that many players who are sponsored by companies that supply “performance” drinks and other types of energy or focus related products are probably not drinking enough water. And while they do admit they aren’t inside every player’s practice facility or stream, they have come across players that have come very close to replacing water with energy drinks, something that could lead to long-term health problems if not taken in moderation.
“Yeah, it’s, it’s not sustainable to be honest [replacing water with energy drinks]. It’s no wonder considering the habits we are seeing in regards to how long people can play,” said Dr. Migliore. “Energy drinks are full of sugar and caffeine and additives. You don’t need more caffeine that is in a cup of coffee. If you want a caffeine boost have some coffee and cut out all that other junk.”
Migliore went on to say that drinking too many energy drinks will actually dehydrate instead of hydrate and that it can be very stressful on the kidneys. In fact, she likens some esports players to those medical interns who work upwards of 80 hours a week while constantly drinking energy drinks.
“A study on medical interns who were working 80, 90, a 100 hours a week found that a significant portion of them qualified as being in renal failure because they weren’t drinking water,” Migliore said. “They were drinking coffee and energy drinks all day. Unfortunately, we don’t have the data behind the long-term effects of that on esports athletes. But, I can only imagine that it’s not going to be good for your kidneys.”
Johnson has seen this type of habit up close as he was one the VPs of performance for Infinite Esports and Entertainment working with numerous teams. He has seen what happens when players continue to consume a large number of energy drinks while maintaining a poor diet.
“Players will have an energy drink and then they’ll have like a hot pocket or they’ll have like a bowl of cereal, which depending on the level of training may not be bad, but let’s be honest. Chances are they’re not going to get [nutritional balance]. They’re the core nutrient needs and nutrient-dense food.”
What both Migliore and Johnson can agree on is that while having a good understanding of nutritional science in regards to players can be time-consuming and difficult at times, there is one thing everyone can do in order to start living a healthier lifestyle. Stop the bad habits first and make sure you are adding an exercise program to your life. Then you can start to implement a more complex regiment.
“Anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight or maintain a healthy lifestyle knows that diet is a huge component,” Migliore said. “And I would argue more than exercise is needed in being healthy. Because of that sedentary lifestyle, gamers have less lean body mass and they have more body fat content, which sets you up for aging out of esports. There is now published data that the lifestyles … and the diet come with supreme health risks for gamers. So yeah, I think diet and nutrition can be supremely beneficial to counteracting that lifestyle.”