What to drink during a chess game?

By | 5 octobre 2017

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wondered if Nakamura’s Red Bull or Carlsen’s orange juice were deliberate choices for heightened performance or just a question of taste preference.

While it is clear that water should be your main drink while playing, a little bit of caffeine or a healthy sugar boost can actually also be used as a strategic weapon.

Let’s dive into the drinking universe by analyzing what coffee, tea, sport drinks or other sugar cocktails can offer over the board.

Coffee versus tea, drink them strategically

In Belgium, coffee is king while in the UK, tea leads the race with more than 900 cups a year per person. As I drink neither of these beverages, I’m always amazed at how people can drink so many cups throughout the day, especially in the business world.

But what makes coffee and tea so popular apart from their taste ?

Impact of caffeine on your ability to concentrate

The answer is : energy boost !

Both tea and coffee contain a certain amount of caffeine which has been proven over time to stimulate your central nervous system, restore your alertness and thus enable you to work quickly.

On average, coffee has the most noticeable effects as its caffeine dose can be more than the double of that found in tea.

Energy crash, drugging effect and sleep disturbance : 3 downsides

Sounds good right? Yes partially. That extra spike has a cost: when caffeine clears its way out of your organism, it will produce an energy crash. And you probably guessed it, the stronger the dose, the harder the crash. Depending on people, it will arise 4 to 6 hours after consumption.

But as I imagine many of you thinking: I’ve been drinking coffee or tea for so long that it doesn’t impact me so much anymore. Well, I can’t contradict you on this because it is an other major problem of caffeine. When you consume it regularly, your body gets accustomed and will therefore claim an increasing amount to eventually experience the same energy sensation.

In other words, if you drink one cup every morning, your body gets used to that amount and it becomes your new “normal”. To reach a comparable upshot, you will have to consume two cups.

Last but not least, studies demonstrated regular caffeine consumption affects your sleep. And you know better than me that a good night’s sleep is the best way to prepare a chess game.

Maximise tea and cofee power

While playing your chess game, chances are a good cup of coffee or tea could actually help you find back your vigor. The only condition to get the most benefits out of it is to drink strategically so here is how to proceed:

First, for some of you who drink on a regular basis, you have to reset your caffeine tolerance. Let’s be honest, it could be a struggle as you could experience symptoms going from simple mood swings to big headaches. But once you get over them, you’ll be able to consume your favorite drink a lot more deliberately and productively. Ideally wait for the holidays to slowly reduce how much you consume every day and aim to get back to zero dependence. Maybe decaf can be your friend throughout the adventure.

Second, don’t consume any beverage with caffeine 6 hours prior to bedtime, especially in tournament situations to prevent you from having trouble sleeping. You should also avoid drinking caffeine before getting out of your opening preparation, as caffeine tends to reduce the capacity of our short-term memory.

Third, prefer tea over coffee, except for the final stretch. Make sure you respect the second step and opt preferably for a cup of tea. It has less caffeine but will do the job while making you suffer less from the crash afterwards. However, after hours of playing and when the game reaches its end, a coffee with its enlarged shot of caffeine will certainly serve your needs the best.

Lastly, this research suggests you can maximize alertness and minimize jitters by drinking small frequent doses. Do it alongside water to ensure you stay sufficiently hydrated. No need to say, you should stick to one or maximum two cups a game.

Red Bull gives you wings, really Naka?

Now that we’ve discovered the secrets of caffeine, why not enjoy it in a more energetic way?

When we talk about the bull brand, we are obviously talking about Hikaru Nakamura. Fans have probably noticed that a Red Bull can accompanies quite regularly the player during his games. Intrigued, I wanted to know if the American champion really relies on this drink to perform.

So the question is: if Red Bull gives you wings, does it also correctly stimulate your brain?

Let’s have a look at what sciences says…

This specific research on Red Bull consumption highlights the drink is associated with enhanced performance on choice reaction time concentration and memory tasks. If these type of advancements have been confirmed by caffeine presence in other drink studies, the researchers emphasize that the energy drink tested contained several biologically active ingredients which may contribute to the improvements.

But like any other caffeinated beverages, what comes up must come down. And the crash of Red Bull reveals to be dreadful for your body because it combines the caffeine downturn with the sugar crash. Images are worth a thousand word so you will find here a picture which summarizes quite well what happens when you drink a can. Quickly said, Yes you will feel energized but not more than one hour, and with a sugar crash bonus and most probably groggyness to finish your game. (this time I can actually confirm!)

I didn’t manage to find videos with long games of Nakamura and despite some quick research there is no obvious trace he drinks Red Bull while playing.  However, based on its rapid and hard crashing effect, I personally doubt he really uses the sports drink while playing long games. He probably sips from time to time during rapid or blitz. But as the sponsoring world requires, he is seen with a can at most occasions.

Let’s conclude and answer our initial interrogation. Yes, energy drinks certainly give you wings but only short-term and with a terrible aftermath for your body, so they shouldn’t be seriously considered for long chess games. By taking the risk of consuming them, you would probably regret it later on if the game lasts more than expected. And if you really need to end the game with a boost, coffee seems to be the best option.

And what about orange juice Magnus? Why not soda?

In the chess world, Magnus Carlsen is famously known not only for his game, but also for his orange juice. He rarely lets go of his bottle and even convinced Anand, during their world championship confrontation in 2014, to opt as well for the same beverage. For a tea addict like the Indian player, it’s a huge change so it’s worth mentioning.

So must we conclude there are real mental benefits behind orange juice consumption? Again, research is our friend. And again it confirms, it is not just a question of taste.

Consumption of an orange juice containing 272 mg flavonoids was associated with acute improvements in cognitive function and subjective alertness up to 6 h post-intake.

I must warn you, however, that commercial juice will leave you hungry and fatigued like soda or any other similar drink, because of the presence of unhealthy sugars. Only fresh orange juice will get you all the benefits and despite the fructose, it turns out that fiber company combined with a slow consumption reduces any crashing effect.

So what do I drink during my chess game?

Sorry but no alcohol. Except maybe if you only play for fun, but with moderation of course.

And sorry again because I repeat myself and I know it is not sexy, but from all the things you can drink during your chess game, water should be your number one choice. However, as demonstrated above, you can certainly strategically combine water with other drinks to support at best your energy levels throughout the game.

So let’s recap the recommendations quickly:

  • Ideally ignore sugary drinks (colas, commercial juices,…) as well as sports drinks, which tend to lead rapidly to fatigue after a short period of focus improvement. You can eventually use them for one or two rapids or a short series of blitz or bullet.
  • Fresh orange juice combined with water consumption seems to be an ideal combo to fuel progressively your body without further crash. (I will obviously test it myself during my next games and share my feedback)
  • Tea can be considered as a substitute solution but only if you have managed to reset your caffeine tolerance. It should also not be consumed too early in the game.
  • The same reset method goes for coffee that should be used as a weapon later in the game. It is probably the strongest mental booster but never forget that in return, you will definitely pay the highest price due to the caffeine spike.

All that being said, the best way to find what works best for you is to test the suggestions.

As a final word, whatever you decide to drink, don’t forget to do it in small doses as well as regularly in order to maximize all the benefits.