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Health & Poker; Lifestyle Choices

by Roy Winston |  Published: Apr 22, '10


It seems like the focus of the last couple of decades has been on “wealth management” and perhaps we should adjust our focus to “health management.” What I mean by this is optimizing our individual health at any age. Much of our western medicine looks to treat problems after they occur, but the ability to not only prevent problems going forward but to optimize our current state. When you buy a car, boat, or airplane it comes with a maintenance schedule that you follow or it voids the warranty.

The genetics you are born with along with environmental influences determine your health destiny. For the moment it is not really possible to alter your genetics, however to control the environmental influences to the best of your ability is certainly able to exert a huge influence on your quality and even quantity of life. Your nutrition, the foods you eat and drink are extremely important, along with control of certain vices like smoking and drinking.

Most readers know that I practiced medicine full time when I started out playing poker. I was in the desert of California near Palm Springs in Rancho Mirage. I was a partner in a surgery center that specialized in plastic surgery and orthopedics. My partner was Andrew Ordon, M.D. who is now one of the four physicians on the daytime TV show “The Doctors.” I have worked with many plastic surgeons over the years and I never operated with a better one than Dr. Drew as he likes to be called. We used to spend a fair amount of recreational time together playing golf and the like and have kind of lost touch over the past couple of years. He texted me while I was playing in San Remo and we will try and get together next time we are in the same town. I am also looking to expand my Southern California based laser centers, , to include the latest in anti-aging medicine.

I am fortunate to have over the years formed a great friendship with one of the best nutritionist’s, JJ Virgin, what a great name too, you can check out her online site: . Although we occasionally butt heads on some topics we agree on the major issues. It is surprising how bad nutrition has deteriorated in this country. Teenagers have a high incidence of obesity and there are now even medical courses for physicians on dealing with the medical consequences of the morbidly obese pregnant woman, a condition that is so rare elsewhere in the world, it is almost unheard of.

The point I’m trying to make is that nutrition is the single largest variable within our control, and it is the major failing point for most of us. How does this relate to poker? The poker lifestyle can be particularly unfriendly to good health. For me, prior to playing on a regular basis, I would hike in the mornings before work almost daily. I was fortunate to have a trail within walking distance of my front door and it was a great start to the day. I made it to the gym once or twice a week and maintained a decent level of health. Nutrition has always been the hard part for me, I love to eat, although I was able to maintain a decent weight and my labs with regard to lipids and cholesterol were good- weighing about 170 lbs with 15% body fat and at 5’ 11” I was doing pretty well.

Then in 2007 when I began playing more poker, especially late into the night and would hike less often, eat more pizza and junk food, my clothes gradually got tighter. There comes a point when enough is enough. Mine came about a year ago when Will “The Thrill” came up to me and told me about a weight loss bet he and a few friends were doing, and asked me if I would like to participate. I declined the bet, but it was a call to action for me. So I did talk with one of my close friends, Dr. Jay Berger, who is a leading anti-aging and medical nutrition specialist, who happens to love poker as well. He has been in the business long before it became popular and at about 50 years old, he is very fit and trim, so at least he practiced what he preached. He is a big proponent of not only nutrition, but also lifestyle modification and laboratory guided medication and hormone replacement.

First off he sent me to get a full set of blood tests, which I hadn’t had in 3 years. I was shocked to see that my cholesterol had close to doubled in the past three years and my triglycerides and other lipoproteins were alarmingly high as well. Another test homocysteine, which can be a marker of coronary artery inflammation was markedly elevated. At this point my weight had ballooned to 195 lbs and my % body fat shot up to a whopping 26%. My family history is significant for all of my grandparents dying from heart disease and my dad having had open-heart surgery for coronary artery disease. All of my relatives were thin and active, non-smokers so the news wasn’t terrific, but I wasn’t drawing dead yet.

I immediately started to increase my level of exercise, which was easy because I wasn’t doing any, and changed my eating habits. Dr. Berger also started me on a statin, Crestor, which is a drug that lowers cholesterol and other lipid levels. He also started me on some supplements designed to help burn fat and increase lean body mass. After 6 months on the regimen my weight came down to 185 lbs and more importantly my lab values were now better than they had ever been. It was the combination of the statin along with the diet and exercise. The last six months I have really stepped up my diet and exercise which has had a huge effect not only on the numbers, but how I feel. When I say diet, I’m not talking about starving myself; I’m really talking about making better choices. I used to not eat breakfast, and then have a big lunch and dinner. Now I always have something for breakfast, either some egg whites or a protein shake or bar, then for lunch try eating a moderate calorie protein and vegetable type meal like grilled chicken and salad with a low carb/low fat dressing.

Now it’s no secret that decreasing carbohydrates, especially the empty ones, is a fundamental part of sensible eating. First off, eliminating the sugar drinks like sodas and things like candy and white bread goes without saying, although here I am saying it anyway. I’m not advocating a strict low or no carb diet, but more of a balanced intelligent approach, with more protein and less carbs, which in general, is good as long as you don’t have any conditions that require protein restriction. Also I need to put the usual disclaimer in here that before starting any diet or exercise program, check with your doctor. The other key is portion control. Like I said I love to eat, but limiting the super size portions we have grown accustomed to is just good common sense. One product I have found to be helpful, and I am not in any way connected to, is Muscle Milk Light. It comes in several flavors and is a filling protein shake, make sure to get the light formulation, less calories and more volume.

As I write this I feel like I am about 2 months away from reaching my goal. Setting goals along the way for weight and workouts is a good thing. Even if you fall short, and have to revise along the way, having something to reach for is a good motivator. Currently I am at 175 pounds with 15% body fat and would like to get down to 10-12% with my weight in the 170-175 lbs range. I am not overly concerned with the weight number, more so the lean body mass and corresponding % of body fat. The deal I made myself is no WSOP events until I reach my goal. The other goal I set is to run the Marine Core marathon in Washington DC on October 31st. I have done a couple of marathons in the past but that was 15 years ago, and my running training still has a way to go, but I have 6 months so I think I can get it done. I have a few friends that are going to run it and my wife, who is a great runner, is onboard. Having a workout partner really helps me because it encourages me to get up and get going.

Roy Winston finished 16th in 2007 Card Player, Player of the Year race. He won the WPT Borgata Poker Open and finished the year with well over $2 million in tournament poker winnings. Roy plays online exclusively at Full Tilt. For more information on Roy Winston, you can visit his website: or send an email to: with your questions or comments. The contents presented herein on this blog are purely the opinions of Roy Winston, and are not intended to reflect or promote the opinions of any other person, group, or entity. If you like what I write than thanks for reading, and if not well, thanks anyway.

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of
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