When you watch legendary card sharps like Daniel Negreanu dominating the World Series of Poker (WSOP) or World Poker Tour (WPT), it’s easy to focus on the glory and glamour. After all, poker pros like Negreanu travel the world playing a game, earning lavish sums along the way. Gold bracelets, the Champion’s Cup, and a long lineup of similar honors await the game’s top pros.

And when they’re in their element – at the table staring down an opponent with millions on the line – the best pros make it all seem so easy. But while most poker enthusiasts envy the pro lifestyle, envisioning a life of luxury and convenience, the reality is most pros are really out there grinding through the logistics. Getting from one casino to the next, juggling buy-ins, stakes, and swaps, and even finding a decent meal can all be quite difficult while traveling the national and global tournament circuits.

Speaking of meals, consider the options available to your average poker pro. Between the food court fare or a trip through the buffet, these folks aren’t exactly getting three square meals a day. The situation gets worse when you consider how the typical tournament pro’s day really goes down. These guys and gals roll out of bed at 10 a.m., hit the gym or a Starbucks to shrug off the slumber, and wander into the poker room to find their seat. From there, most multi-day tournaments like the ones you see televised via WSOP or WPT coverage take 12 to 14 hours per day, over the course of three to five days, to wrap up.

During the course of a grueling 14-hour session on the felt, tournament pros will get a handful of 15-minute breaks sprinkled in, but these aren’t long enough to leave the table and grab a bite. They do get a dinner break during the latter stages of the day, but at 60 minutes, the standard dinner break still isn’t long enough to find a nice restaurant.

Remember, everybody in the tournament takes their dinner break at the same time, so most onsite restaurants will be jam-packed within minutes. Accordingly, many pros spend their dinner breaks in a futile search for a spot with open seating and a quick cook. All of these factors combine to create a simple truth for the majority of poker pros – eating right is harder than ever. In multi-day tournaments especially, many players subsist on a basic diet of “room service” grub delivered straight to the table. I’m talking about chicken fingers, burgers, chicken fried rice, and other card room staples.

At one point in poker history, this poor tableside cuisine led most pros to lapse into overweightness or obesity. Seriously, pull up a photo of Doyle Brunson at the WSOP circa the 1970s and you’ll see what I mean. Things are changing in 2018 and beyond though, as a new generation of poker pros has sought to gain a strategic edge via an improved diet. The young guns these days realize that proper nutrition is essential for anyone hoping to endure the grind of a 14-hour day spent playing high-level poker. While their less informed opponents find themselves dozing off in the latter levels, or losing focus in key situations, pros who eat right remain razor sharp until the last deal of the day.

Negreanu – a proud vegan who turned his back on greasy card room grub two decades back – summed up the situation nicely during a 2015 interview with Vice Munchies:

“Poker has changed, in the past, high profile players were obese, now they’re fit.

They’ve swapped their moobs for pecs. Players now are educated people, they’re smart, they do the research, they care about their health.

It’s not like the old days.”(Quote)

Negreanu’s position as the game’s leading ambassador – and top tournament money winner with nearly $40 million in live earnings – affords him a unique position within the poker economy. He’s sponsored by PokerStars, he has not one but two personal assistants who prepare his daily meals, and money is literally no object when it comes to sourcing high-quality food.

For those reasons, Negreanu has parlayed his power in poker to help guide fellow players onto a healthier path. In interviews like the one cited above, and several others conducted by nutrition-centric news outlets, Negreanu has sung the praises of a well-planned diet.

In his case, that means strict veganism, but Negreanu isn’t as picky when it comes to motivating others. He simply wants to see the poker world evolve past finger foods that don’t provide the body with the fuel it needs. With that in mind, take a look below to find out how poker players manage to eat right during multi-day tournaments, complete with guidance from “Kid Poker” himself.

They Stick to Health-Conscious Casinos

Right off the bat, the best way to ensure access to nutritional meals is to choose casinos and card rooms that cater to the health-conscious crowd.

In Negreanu’s case, that means hitting The Wynn in Las Vegas whenever he gets the chance, where the venue takes pride in offering a full slate of vegan fare:

“Every single restaurant in The Wynn has a vegan menu.

It’s really great, you can go with people who aren’t vegan and they don’t feel weirded out.

In terms of purely vegan, there’s a place called VegeNation in downtown Vegas which is really good.”(Quote)

Of course, Negreanu can’t add to his count of six WSOP gold bracelets grinding at The Wynn, so he’s forced to head out into the wild when circumstances warrant. We’ll touch on how the legend deals with less vegan-friendly casinos later on, but for now, let’s focus on cultivating your own selection of casinos where healthy food is a priority.

Below you’ll find the Top-10 healthiest casinos in Las Vegas, as listed by Foursquare.com:

  • The Cosmopolitan
  • Encore
  • Bellagio
  • Venetian
  • Caesars Palace
  • Wynn
  • The Palms
  • Rio
  • MGM Grand
  • Aria

Between the WSOP at the Rio, the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic at Bellagio, and a whole host of tournament series hosted year-round at the Aria, poker pros looking to eat right are in luck – when they’re in Las Vegas at least.

The quest for high-quality food gets a little harder when you branch out to regional tournament stops on smaller tours like the WSOP-Circuit or WPT DeepStacks. These “minor league” tournament series tend to play out in places like Biloxi, Mississippi or Atlantic City, New Jersey – not exactly capitals of the culinary world. Whether you find yourself grinding the mid-major circuits, or playing in your local casino or card room, dealing with substandard menus becomes an entirely different dilemma.

They Crowdsource Convenient Options

Speaking of Atlantic City – home to the Borgata WPT Main Event and a slew of local series running all year – Negreanu had quite the time trying to find a vegan meal while playing the recent WPT Championship.

Here’s how he summed up the situation in a blog post published on his personal website:

“When I go on road trips I like to plan ahead and make sure I do everything I can possibly do to ensure that I will find the kind of foods I’m looking for. I typically do some research online and find suitable options almost anywhere.

Well, I’m planning on playing the WPT Championship in Atlantic City in a few weeks and it has been quite a while since my last trip to A.C. I was a little surprised how difficult it was to find the kind of healthy food options I am looking for.

I went to twitter for help, asking people if they could direct me towards a Whole Foods Market type store, and I want to thank all of you who helped me. I really appreciate it, truly.”(Quote)

The beauty of social media platforms like Twitter is how the serve to level the playing field. Negreanu maybe poker’s megastar celebrity, but unlike personal chefs and other perks of the trade, anybody can use their social media account to crowdsource healthy meals.

The poker “Twitterverse” is a lively place, one where elite pros like Negreanu mingle with up and coming grinders and pure poker fans alike. All it takes is the right hashtag for the tournament stop – plus a few helpful followers to point you in the right direction – and you’ll be dining at a delicious healthy restaurant no matter where in the world the circuit takes you next.

You don’t even need social media either if you’re willing to crowdsource the old-fashioned way. Before your next multi-day tournament begins, try asking a few dealers – preferably fit individuals who seem to care about their health and physique – where they like to get a good meal after work. On a good day, you might even get a date out of the deal, but in any event these local casino employees will surely know the lay of the land.

All it takes is one informed dealer to steer you in the right direction, and from there your healthy meals will be covered through the duration of the trips.Between social media and shaking a few hands, you should always be able to locate at least one decent dining option to tide you over during a tournament.

They Bring Along Personal Care Packages

Finding a new restaurant that fits your nutritional bill is always a treat, but as I mentioned in the introduction, tournament players seldom have time on their hands. Between the grind of competing on the felt, blowing off steam at the bar after bagging and tagging, and getting a good eight hours in the sack – there’s just not enough hours in the day to run out and have a sit down meal.

That’s why pros like Negreanu always make sure to pack a backup reserve of nutritious snacks:

“Travelling to tournaments, it’s a little trickier. I have to be prepared because certain places in Europe aren’t vegan friendly and if I don’t eat, I get hangry!

So, I pack protein bars and snacks from Go Raw like chocolate cookies made of coconut, dates, sesame seeds, and cocoa – everything’s organic. I take things like coconut water, almond milk, chia seeds, which are high in omega, and pink Himalayan salt, which is high in minerals and lower in sodium than regular salt.

I also pack my blender and my first stop in a new city is the grocery store, where I buy fresh greens and fruit. I prepare food in my hotel room and pack it in my cool bag to take to tournaments with me.”

All you need is a sturdy backpack and some proper planning to ensure easy access to healthy food. Apples, bananas, and other fruit can be brought along for the ride and eaten right there at the table in between hands. When the dinner break arrives, you can take Negreanu’s lead and skip the long lines, heading upstairs for a quick smoothie, salad, or sandwich.

I recommend scoring a small cooler too, which will help keep your leafy greens, skim milk, and other perishables intact over the course of several days on the road.With a well-stocked backpack for playing periods, and a mini-fridge filled with the right stuff back in the room, a prepared poker pro always has a healthy snack handy.

They Order In Using Delivery Services

If you’ve ever been to the WSOP at the Rio in Las Vegas, you’ve probably noticed a curious process playing out on the floor of poker’s premier tournament series. Every few minutes or so, scantily clad young ladies hustle through the room carrying white paper bags. A closer look reveals a red and white logo reading “All-American Dave’s,” and soon enough the bag is dropped off to a thankful player.

Minutes later, that same player whips out a perfectly prepared plate of freshly cooked organic food. Some prefer the fish, others the steak, while Negreanu and his fellow vegans opt for steamed veggies – but in any event, these paper bag lunches are a far cry from what your mother packed for school. All-American Dave is the alter ego of Dave Swanson, a nutritionist turned restaurateur who runs an eponymous food truck out behind the Rio during WSOP season. Swanson found his way into poker after befriending legendary pro Antonio Esfandiari, a man who once won $18 million in a single tournament.

Early in their friendship, Esfandiari mentioned how hard it could be to eat right during a long tournament day, so Swanson began packing his pal a daily Tupperware package filled with expertly prepared healthy options. I’m talking egg white omelets, almond Dijon chicken with, ginger scallion salmon, chilled seafood salad, all served with a heaping helping of wild brown rice and veggies.

Before long, Esfandiari’s fellow pros began hassling him for their own healthy meals, prompting Swanson to launch his All-American Dave concept. Before long, his white paper bags became a staple at the WSOP, with hundreds of players per day ponying up $25 for one of the best meals a poker player can buy.

Here’s how Swanson described his WSOP menu during an interview with Food and Wine magazine:

“It’s got the perfect balance of carbs, protein and fat – 30 grams of carbs, 35 grams of protein and 7- to 14-grams of fat – and is almost all organically sourced and perfect for eating at the table.

For example, we chop the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces before saucing it. Most meals have six ounces of lean beef, salmon or chicken. Dinner is a vegan Caesar salad with cashew dressing and a protein on top.

I’m aiming for higher fat content and lower carbs. There’s no bread, no gluten, nothing processed.”(Quote)

Jeff Gross – a successful poker pro with over $3 million in tournament earnings to his credit – is an All-American Dave’s devotee. In the same interview, Gross explained why poker pros crave the creative combinations Swanson manages to curate each summer:

“Except for a couple of dinners, I’ve eaten All American Dave’s food for every tournament

Dave has runners bringing meals to the tables, which means you can eat right there and not have to worry about what you’ll be having.

You’re not going to end up bloated or tired because of a poor diet.”

Gross makes a great point about how a poor diet can lead to fatigue and lack of focus. Remember, multi-day tournaments reserve the top payouts for players who make it to the endgame. And you’d be surprised at just how many pros find themselves drifting off when the final table approaches, costing themselves precious equity in the process.

All-American Dave’s has the WSOP covered, but you can find a whole host of health food delivery services throughout Las Vegas.

Check out the list below, courtesy of Eat 24, to find the Top-10 healthy delivery restaurants in Sin City:

Top-10 Health Food Delivery Services in Las Vegas

RestaurantAddressPhone
Vitality Bowls7170 N Durango Dr Ste 130(702) 786-6802
Greens and Proteins6180 N Decatur Blvd(702) 853-0650
VegeNation618 E Carson Ave Ste 120(702) 366-8515
Sammy’s Restaurant & Bar1501 N Green Valley Pkwy(702) 567-4000
Teriyaki Boy Healthy Grill2315 E Cheyenne Ave 120(702) 405-7776
Leticia’s Mexican Cocina7585 Norman Rockwell Ln(702) 779-0873
India Palace505 E Twain Ave(702) 796-4177
China A Gogo5960 N Losee Rd Ste 128(702) 583-3742
Fix8 Protein Grill90 S Stephanie St Ste 140(702) 629-3773
Capriotti’s7540 Oso Blanca Rd(702) 645-5558

By planning ahead and placing your order before starting up the tournament, and timing delivery to your breaks, you can easily enjoy a chicken salad wrap or quinoa bowl while playing for big bucks. A word of warning, however, as some restaurants won’t deliver within casino property. But when you can find a delivery service that can accommodate casino diners, the experience is a game-changer to say the least. While your opponents are scrambling to get a seat at the buffet, or scarfing down a quick hot dog and soda, you’ll be relaxing with a well-rounded meal delivered straight to your seat.

Conclusion
Playing tournament poker for prize money that can literally change your life is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you’re living the dream shared by millions of recreational poker enthusiasts everywhere. But on the other, this is serious work, intense competition in which the strong devour the weak.

The line separating the most successful pros like Negreanu from legions of others who barely break even is razor thin. By this point, they all have the ins and outs of game theory optimal (GTO) strategy, pot odds, and hand ranges down pat. What divides the best from the rest is dedication to improving oneself away from the tables.

Until you’re able to avoid the temptation offered by nutritionally deficient table food, you’ll always face an uphill climb against a properly fueled opponent. Poker players who take the time to eat right, using any or all of the tips provided on this page, are capable of playing longer hours, retaining more information, and maintaining focus through to the final table. It takes the perfect combination of luck and skill to win a multi-day poker tournament, but the best pros have long since realized how to make their own luck by eating right every day.

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