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Better GMing With Better Snacks

Being the GM is an intense mental exercise. You are dealing with both external stimulation (observing your players, rolling dice, listening, and so on) as well as internal stimulation (your emotional state, keeping track of the game’s activities, adjusting tactics and strategies as needed, and so on). This requires a lot of energy for your brain to operate at peak performance.

This is why experts in neuroscience would recommend that you make sure to eat complex carbohydrates so that they will be broken down into glucose that will enter into your bloodstream as needed in order to feed the neurons of your brain. Therefore you can continue operating at peak mental performance while engaging in the multitude of complex mental activities that running a game requires.

Translation: Eat a healthy snack while you are GMing so that your brain keeps working.

The Science

Your brain is composed of cells called neurons. Neurons unlike other cells do not store glucose within them, which is the food that these cells require for energy. Not only do neurons not store glucose, but they consume glucose at a very high rate. According to this site [1] your neurons need twice as much energy as other cells in your body do. So if you have ever wondered why periods of intense mental activity felt exhausting to you, that is because periods of intense mental activity are indeed exhausting! Your brain uses a lot of energy even though your body is sitting in a chair (or if you GM like I do your body is all over the place acting out the scenes, but that is another article).

Your brain gets glucose through your bloodstream, and the glucose gets into your bloodstream because your metabolism breaks down the nutrients that you digested into sugars (which is what glucose is). If you eat foods that contain complex carbohydrates you will provide your body with the raw material it needs to make glucose with, and that means your most important GMing tool in the form of your brain will be ready for action.

All I need is sugar, right? Hand me a soda!

Unfortunately the benefits that you get from complex carbohydrates are not going to come from simple carbohydrates like those found in soda. That Mountain Dew or energy drink will give you a momentary boost, but then it actually starts to work against you after a short period of time. Complex carbohydrates are like capsules of energy that your body can refine as needed, while simple carbohydrates are like a nitrous oxide injection [2] for an automobile. You get a quick burst of energy for a short period of time and then you are back to your previous energy levels.

Ingesting more simple carbohydrates does not negate the problem. You will get a short boost of energy each time, but referring to this site again [3], you will actually trigger your body’s functions to start removing glucose from your bloodstream. Just as abusing a nitrous oxide injector will wreck your car’s engine you will wreck your health by consuming too many simple carbohydrates.

Of course, there is nothing shocking about this information. You probably already know about the benefits of a healthy diet versus a poor one, but I want to emphasize that if a healthy snack is better for your brain than it is also better for your game!

So what should I eat while GMing?

The same stuff that any good doctor wants you to eat everyday of your life:

Of course you can always have the occasional treat, but when you are GMing try snacking on things like grapes, apple slices, and oranges. Carrots, celery, and other vegetables are great snacks as well. A personal favorite of mine is baked kale made by following this recipe [4] from Food Network star Lisa Lillien (a.k.a – Hungry Girl). It is a healthy substitute for chips, and it is perfect with another healthy snack – fresh salsa!

Great GMing Starts With Your Health

Remember that good health benefits you in all aspects of your life, and that includes your GMing. A healthy diet and regular exercise will make you feel better and that alone will make you a better GM. Find a snack that you enjoy that contains complex carbohydrates and you will have one more advantage at the gaming table.

And if you are interested in learning how the brain functions in more detail I recommend David Rock’s Your Brain at Work [5]. It is an excellent book that uses a simple story of two married professionals to explain how understanding the functions of the brain helps each of them to deal with their day-to-day routines so that they can be more effective and happier.

Do you have a healthy snack that you enjoy while GMing? Have you noticed a difference with your GMing between when you eat junk food versus healthier food at the gaming table? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with the rest of us!

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "Better GMing With Better Snacks"

#1 Comment By Roxysteve On October 14, 2011 @ 8:27 am

Steve’s D&D Bringalong Snack

Foil baking pan about 1 foot by 8 inches or so, 2 inches deep or more.
Aluminum foil for lid for above.
Ice enough to cover pan bottom twice over.
1 Bag or Small Crate of Clementines.

Wash pan.
Pour in ice.
Rinse clementines.
Quarter clementines with sharp knife.
Put quartered clementines in pan.
Make lid for pan from foil and scrunch it down over lip to seal all the orangey goodness.

Serving suggestion:
Remove cover.

#2 Comment By iserith On October 14, 2011 @ 8:47 am

You can’t go wrong with guacamole. I make a big batch at gaming and it’s destroyed within minutes. Avocados are great for your health and quite filling because they contain a lot of good fat:

3 Haas avocados, halved, seeded and peeled
1 lime, juiced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 clove garlic, minced

In a large bowl place the scooped avocado pulp and lime juice, toss to coat. Drain, and reserve the lime juice, after all of the avocados have been coated. Using a potato masher add the salt, cumin, and cayenne and mash. Then, fold in the onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and garlic. Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved lime juice. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour and then serve.

#3 Comment By Razjah On October 14, 2011 @ 8:51 am

While I agree with this advice, I use gaming as a way to relax. I am a vegetarian so having a plate of veggies and fruit will not make my gaming day. I like “gamer foods” like pizza. Or a burrito from the local burrito place.

However, I agree completely that eating better is helpful to being a better GM. Ever notice your friends who eat a ton of junk food have more “off days”? Or they get sick more often? Could these things be related?

I try to eat a real meal before the game because as a GM I am constantly needing to talk and fill in information, act as NPCs, write notes to players, take notes on the session, plan what will happen next because the party decided to use C4 to blast open a passage to go left instead of picking straight or right at a fork in the road. Doing this and eating makes things more difficult.

#4 Comment By Razjah On October 14, 2011 @ 8:58 am

I have made pasta for past gaming groups or a fun salad for a few players who I was better friends with.

Add Lettuce of Choice
Add 2 Shredded Carrots
Add 2-3 Diced Green Apples
Add 2-3 Sliced Banannas
Add a handful of Chopped Mushrooms
Add Italian Dressing to taste
Toss Salad


#5 Comment By black campbell On October 14, 2011 @ 9:07 am

Help! Someone got health nuts in my GM advice!

#6 Comment By evil On October 14, 2011 @ 9:24 am

I would especially suggest fruits high in potassium when GMing. This will help keep your mouth from getting dry, too. Bananas are great for this, but a little unruly at the table. Dehydration is a great way to make fruit snacks that are easier on the gaming area.

Also, I applaud the suggestion to get just a little healthier; so many of my gaming friends are in terrible shape, and it’s a sad trend in our hobby.

#7 Comment By BryanB On October 14, 2011 @ 9:36 am

What???! Eating healthy on game day? This is madness! Madness I say! Unsportsmanlike Conduct on Patrick Benson, fifteen yard penalty! 😀

#8 Comment By BryanB On October 14, 2011 @ 9:40 am

All kidding aside, one of the best food dishes we’ve had at our games is a giant fruit salad with berries & fresh pineapple. Soooooo good.

Potlucks are great for the gaming table now and then. You can bring real food dishes (some healthier)instead of pizza galore and then someone can bring the dessert, which is sure better than everyone just munching on desserts all session long. 🙂

#9 Comment By BryanB On October 14, 2011 @ 9:43 am

[6] – It is tough to eat as the GM. No question about it. I have to drink lots of water and/or make sure that I get a ten minute munch break somewhere along the way or it won’t happen.

#10 Comment By Eric Wilde On October 14, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

There are other approaches to good diets and I would recommend a slightly different set of food groups (fats, protein, no sugars or carbohydrates) to maximize mental acuity; but, I agree with the basic tenet to keep up your caloric intake while GMing.

#11 Comment By Roxysteve On October 14, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

[7]I can go wrong with Guacamole, because I have a genetic predisposition to high triglyceride count in my blood, which in turn can trigger Pancreatitis. Think being stabbed in the stomach by a sadistic anatomy expert for days on end.

In July 1994 I was rushed to hospital with the aforementioned and as-then undiagnosed condition. After an “interesting” ten-day stay I was handed three lists of foods. One was labeled “Can always eat”. One was labeled “Should only eat sometimes”. One was labeled “High fat – never eat”.

I was pretty surprised to see Avocado right at the top of that list with an impressive fat content per unit weight stat.

It had never occurred to me before that day that a fruit could have fat in it (olives, duh!). Avocados are the Big Mac of the fruit world apparently.

I’m afraid that guacamole, while delicious (and yours sounds especially so), is not a “healthy snack”. For me it is about as healthy as an Igor Bar.

#12 Comment By Roxysteve On October 14, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

This is an interesting article in many ways. I recently worked a convention at which I ran four games over two days, starting at two pm and winding up around 11 pm with a one hour break between afternoon and evening sessions.

I haven’t felt so drained as I did coming out of the first session, and it was because I skipped lunch I now see. I revived once I had eaten dinner, but I was surprised at how hard the sessions hit me, especially as I have been running games on a Sunday afternoon for years without particular burn-out symptoms.

Not only that, I had picked games that all used the same “engine” to make life simple, yet I felt like I’d pulled an all-nighter after each one. Who knew answering questions for four-to-five hours could be so wearying?

I’ll be making sure I have some electrolyte-heavy snacks for my next convention, that’s for sure.

#13 Comment By iserith On October 14, 2011 @ 2:07 pm

@Roxysteve – Sorry to hear about your condition. If I couldn’t have avocados, I’d be pretty upset. They are fatty, but it’s good fat. I know in America (presuming that’s where you are) they like to say all fat is bad, but it’s not. I was well overweight when I lived in the States. Since moving down to South America in January, I’ve lost 50 pounds. I eat one whole avocado a day, fried pork fat three times a week, eat late, plenty of rice, real sugar in my coffee, egg yolks, drink like a fish, and do all the things you’re not supposed to do. I still lose weight week by week.

What’s missing? Processed foods. Fast foods. Soda. You know, the best kind of gaming foods…

#14 Comment By Patrick Benson On October 17, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

Sorry that I didn’t respond to any comments until now, but I was at a gaming convention as both a GM and as a player. If you ever have the chance to attend Con on the Cob (held in Hudson, Ohio every October) take it! It is small convention, but it is great fun.

I do understand that for some people game day is a day to cut back and to focus on the fun, and not a diet. There is nothing wrong with that. I just feel that this is some practical advice to improve your mental performance.

When it comes to eating food at the table while GMing I have found that fruit salad is a great snack because you can easily sneak small bites while a player describes something. Also that kale “chips” and salsa combo is good for quick bites.

In regards to fats and proteins versus carbohydrates, well the science is definitive: complex carbohydrates are the best food for maintaining proper glucose levels and glucose is what your brain needs the most. Proteins are needed for repairing tissues, and fat is needed to insulate and protect organs (although it can be a backup energy source when the body enter starvation mode). You need all three, but complex carbohydrates are essential to a healthy diet and thus brain health.

Thanks to all of you who shared recipes! I’ll be sure to try them out.