Gamer nutrition: Meeting the dietary demands of esports athletes

Gamer nutrition: Meeting the dietary demands of esports athletes

By Sheril Alex

From the earlier perception as a mode for relaxation and fun, online gaming and electronic sports, or esports, have evolved into a major industry. With the post-pandemic lifestyle changes, along with the advent of OTT platforms like Twitch, YouTube Gaming, Stadia, and so on, there is a global rise in the popularity of the gaming sector. The global esports audience size is predicted to reach 287.7 million by 2024, presenting an attractive market opportunity for major technological companies including Amazon and Google. Recently, Meta (formerly Facebook) has joined the fold with its dream project, Metaverse, promising a whole new spatial experience for online gamers.

With gaming companies and esports teams joining hands with the technological giants, this young and booming industry is bountiful in investment opportunities. The global esports market is expected to reach US$398,950 million in revenue by 2026 and is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 11% during 2021-26. With all of these advancements, the gaming/esports sector is growing as a lucrative industry with plenty of business scope for F&B and CPG companies to join in the gamer nutrition game.

Gamer nutrition and health:

Like with any other professional sport, esports athletes will undergo several hours of practice and rigorous training sessions in front of their digital screens. This makes them prone to an array of health issues

Added to this is the indication of unhealthy eating habits among many online game players. With a high percentage of the esports audience being under 35, more of our young population will soon join this industry in pursuit of their fame and fortune. Therefore, it is important that gamers be aware of certain nutritional concepts and strategies that can aid in their pursuit of success.

Nutritional and health recommendations at two levels — physical fitness and cognitive performance — are warranted for the gaming population. 

Fitness mantra for esports athletes:

Taking into account their lifestyle, the general nutritional guideline of “routine exercise coupled with a healthy diet” should be the standard norm for a player. Moderate intensity aerobic exercise along with muscle strengthening activities is highly recommended for them. Further, to keep muscle ailments at bay, they should practice flexibility exercises in between the gaming sessions.

By bringing physical activity to the sedentary space of esports, exergames are another workout option for the players. Many of the traditional sports like cycling and running can now be done through platforms like ZWIFT, thanks to VR, MR, and AR technologies. Yoga is an upcoming trend in the esports space, as it ensures fitness of both mind and body.

In terms of energy expenditure, online gaming is equated to any sedentary activity (egaming = 61.8 cal/hr, sedentary action = 40-80 cal/hr). Players therefore should keep an eye on their calorie intake. To this end, many esports brands have come up with meal replacements, a complete balanced meal. EXCEL ESPORTS, a leading esports brand, however, advocates a diet based on natural ingredients and functional foods in combination with supplements for their players. 

Hydration is another important health aspect, and players are advised to take at least 2-3 liters of water or electrolyte-balanced sugar-free fluids over a day.

Gaming supplements to boost the brain:

Esports players are referred to as “cognitive athletes,” highlighting the decisive role of cognitive performance in their success. Players are therefore willing to experiment with all possible options in order to enhance their performance. This is seen as an opportunity by the gaming supplement market, which has already carved out its own niche in the esports industry.

Caffeine has a ubiquitous presence in most pre-workout supplements and is leveraged in the gaming sector. However, the boosting effect of caffeine is short lived and is often paired with creatine or L-theanine (Reload), or with ingredients that aim to boost nitric oxide production, to achieve synergistic performance-enhancing effects. Vitamins and minerals like magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, and selenium also are featured in many supplements. 

Nootropics are another class of molecules that esports players have recently been experimenting with. Two popular actives in this category are alpha- glycerylphosphorylcholine (aGPC) and nooLVL (a formulation of inositol with bonded arginine silicate). Backed by clinical study results, aGPC and nooLVL are claimed to enhance gaming performance and other brain-related functions

In light of a recent case study indicating mental stress responses among esports players, natural ingredients that alleviate side effects associated with stress are gaining support. Biomolecules like S-adenosylmethionine (Adonat), palmitoylethanolamide (Levagen+), or extracts of Bacopa monnieri (Bacognize), Curcuma longa (HydroCure), Caralluma fimbriata (Calmaluma), and the microalga Haematococcus pluvialis (Astaxanthin) are currently marketed as stress busters and mood enhancers for the gaming population.

With the concept of the gut-brain axis, probiotic strains that influence cognitive health will have future applications in diverse sectors including the esports industry. Similar is the case with prebiotics. For example, the Dutch dairy firm FrieslandCampina recently introduced galactooligosaccharides (GOS) in its product line aimed at enhancing brain health. 

Nutritional assistance for endurance and repair:

Chronic overuse injuries like musculoskeletal pain and eye fatigue are reported among online gamers. This can negatively impact their performance, leading to dropouts. Nutritional support that aids endurance, long-lasting performance, and better regeneration are therefore inevitable. Many mainstream sports nutrition manufacturers are opportunistic about employing their products for esports athletes. For example, Bioactive Collagen Peptides (BCP), popular in the sports arena for joint health, find their application in the gamer nutrition sector, as well.

Another line of nutraceutical brands employs the goodness of carotenoid molecules to address the eye health concerns of game players. This includes crocins from saffron extract (AffronEye), astaxanthin from microalgae (AstaReal), and lutein from marigold extract.

Future focus for the esports nutrition industry:

In the coming years, the gamer nutrition industry will play around functional foods, nutraceuticals, and sport supplements. Nutritional concepts addressing the health aspects discussed here will gain acceptance into the gaming supplement market. 

A key challenge for sport brands will be to improve the delivery formats of their nutritional supplements. To be appealing, they should suit the lifestyle and need for convenience of esports players. Ranging from capsules, shakes, and premix powders to beverages, tea dips, and gummies, diverse formats are currently being experimented upon. 

Other areas of opportunity for the gamer nutrition industry include alternative sources for proteins like Lentein and carbohydrates such as isomaltulose (Palatinose) in meal replacements.  

Companies like IGF are taking that extra step by delivering vegan-friendly meal replacements for esports players, which are plant based and diverse in flavor formulations.

Currently, there is a growing need for nutrition-based scientific studies particularly aimed at the gaming population. Expert inputs from diverse sectors should be consolidated to provide standard nutritional guidelines for esports athletes. Nutritional supplements and foods tailored to the needs of gamers that are based on formulations containing synergistically acting bioactive ingredients, backed by scientifically proven health benefits and delivered in a format convenient for esports players, will reign in the future. 

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