What if I told you that you could reach great health without sacrificing productivity? Cheap, fast and healthy game dev diet advice inside.
Length: 2461 words, 13-15 minute read
Subject: I cover the basics of diet that mainstream advice consistently gets wrong. I explain why meat is important, the fastest way to prepare a healthy meal and everything you need to prevent sickness. All advice is aimed at maximizing the time and energy you have available for more important things.
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How can we reach maximal work efficiency and maximal health without sacrificing too much of one or the other?
Many game devs are willing to make huge sacrifices to their personal health in order to increase productivity, but are they really getting a good trade? Is it worth making your dream game if by the end of it you’re riddled with illness and unable to enjoy the fruits of your labor?
What if I told you that you could reach great health without sacrificing productivity?
Health is a multifaceted concept of course, but in this article I’m going to focus on diet. And yes, it is possible to eat healthily without incurring huge costs to either time or money.
Producing work comes down primarily to 2 things. Energy and time. The more of each of these you have, the more productive you can be. Let’s represent that with a simple formula:
Productivity = Energy x Time
Now a game dev wanting to maximize their productivity would consider this formula and see that the optimal foods are those that give a lot of energy with the least prep time. This is why the standard game dev diet consists of energy drinks and instant noodles.
But energy isn’t free. You can’t cheat your body with energy drinks. The chemicals might give you a short boost, but you’re essentially taking on an energy debt. If you continue down this path without repaying that debt with good quality food, you’re going to pretty quickly break down with adrenal fatigue, sickness, or even malnutrition.
Fortunately there are a lot of easy ways to provide your body with everything it needs to work effectively. In this article, I’ll set out some diet principles, keeping in mind optimization for the formula – low prep time, high energy with long term health taken into account. I’ll also be considering cost, since all the game devs I know are poor as hell.
Follow my instruction and I’ll rebuild your health, increase your productivity and perhaps even save you some money.
Meat – is it evil?
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, the truth is you’re going to have a much harder time keeping a healthy diet. You’re going to be missing some essential nutrients that you’ll have to go out of your way to supplement – things like protein, choline, iron and omega 3 fatty acids. You’re also going to be hungrier and drawn to unhealthy yet vegan foods like sweets, sugary cereal and pastries. I’m not a vegetarian or vegan myself so I can’t offer much dietary advise other than to stop being vegetarian. If you still won’t eat meat (or can’t), feel free to skip this section.
Meat is very important for good health at low time cost. Us meat eaters don’t need to be so proactive in supplementing missing nutrients. But meat has gotten a bad rap as being unhealthy and often people switching to vegetarianism cite health benefits as a primary reason.
The truth is that there are healthy meats and unhealthy meats. But the distinction doesn’t come down to white or red meat. Raised and prepared properly, red meat can be very nutritious, healthy and of course tasty. And taste is an important factor when it comes to diet. No one can keep up a diet that requires them to eat foods they don’t enjoy.
Avoid processed meats
Processed meats are any meat that has been altered to increase shelf life or improve taste. So things like sausages, cured sandwich meats, bacon, burgers. You want meat that has taken the fewest amount of steps from animal to your plate.
This will be a common pattern in this article. I advocate ‘thinking like a caveman’ when it comes to diet. Our bodies have evolved over millions of years, but food processing techniques were only developed in the last century. Our bodies haven’t evolved to adapt well to the kinds of chemicals that are used in food production and preservation. Processed foods are the leading cause of obesity. When you’re considering whether a food is healthy, consider how likely it is a caveman would be eating the same food.
Cook lightly with grass fed butter or olive oil
Butter gets a bad rap too, but butter that comes from cows reared on grass is an incredibly healthy fat. Grass fed butter contains more vitamin K2, an important nutrient that is tough to get enough of. K2 is needed by the body to process vitamin D3 (the one that you get from sunlight). This is particularly important for game devs that typically don’t get a lot of sunlight. It also helps prevent heart disease and cancer, which is important for everyone. In the UK we have a brand of grass fed butter called Kerrygold.
Olive oil is better for cooking than industrial seed oils like sunflower oil, which contain linoleic acid, something cancers use to feed growth. Similarly, light cooking is advised because burnt food is carcinogenic, which can also cause cancer.
Cost is a fairly significant factor when it comes to meat, but there’s much you can do to mitigate this. Avoid preprepared and precooked meats and instead cook everything yourself. Buying an entire raw chicken and using it for many meals is much cheaper than buying prepared meat to put into sandwiches. Later in this article I’ll tell you how I use every part of the chicken to make enough meals to last an entire week.
In the UK there’s a great website for buying meat called MuscleFood. The meat is very healthy and lean as it is designed for body builders but still manages to be much cheaper than any supermarket. Here’s a referral link, which will give you 4 free chicken breasts if you use it.
Fruits and vegetables – how much is enough?
You probably don’t need much convincing that fruits and vegetables are good for you. They’re also very filling and pretty cheap, even in supermarkets. A good rule of thumb for picking out fruits and vegetables is to get a wide range of colours. The colouring of a vegetable is caused by the nutrients within it, so choosing a wide variety of colours gives you a good chance of getting the whole range of nutrients you need.
You probably also need much more than you are currently eating. Vegetables and to a lesser extent fruits should be a big proportion of every meal. The rule of thumb of ‘5 a day’ is for once decent advice. But if you struggle to get that much, there is an easy way to load up on nutrients quickly – juicing.
Juice to prevent common illnesses entirely
I’ve seen many people dismiss juicing as a fad, but go out and watch Fat, Sick and Nearly Dying if you need convincing of the benefits.
The truth is that juicing has huge benefits, especially to busy people like game devs, because of how effective it is at preventing common sicknesses like stomach bugs, the flu or the common cold.
Sickness is a huge time sink, totally throwing off our equation from the start. You can’t work if you’re sick. It pays to do something to prevent sickness. And I haven’t been sick since I started juicing.
It’s true. If I feel the tingle of a cold or a hint of any kind of symptoms, I stock up on carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, beetroot, kale, tomatoes and juice them together with anything else I have laying around. And by the next day I’m feeling fine.
There are a few caveats though – juicing should be done primarily with vegetables, since fruits have natural sugars that can cause an insulin spike. Just add enough fruit to give the juice a pleasant taste. And also juice shouldn’t be a replacement for fruits and vegetables in your diet, since juice provides no fiber and roughage. A good way to balance this is to juice your vegetables and eat your fruits.
If you’re interested in juicing, this is the juicer I personally use. It hasn’t let me down in the 2 years I’ve had it and I juice a lot. Avoid cheap juicers, those usually give a low yield (not much juice) which means you’re just wasting money on fruits and vegetables. A good quality juicer pays for itself.
You can also check out Fit-Juice, a great website with lots of free recipes and advise.
Bread, pasta, rice – a necessary part of every meal?
These kinds of carbohydrates are typically staples of a western diet. It’s hard to imagine a meal without a base of one of these 3 foods. But frequent eating of these foods can cause energy issues.
I’m not going to wade into the debate about whether these foods are necessarily healthy. From our caveman perspective, it seems unlikely that they would be, but plenty of people base their diets around bread, pasta and rice and live perfectly healthy lives.
It is however worth trying to cut these things out – just to see what effect it has on your energy. These kinds of foods take awhile to digest, which can make you tired. Often people will have particular trouble with just 1 of these types of food and cutting it out entirely can pay huge dividends to your energy.
At the very least it’s worth considering the swap to wholewheat bread, brown rice and brown pasta, which are less processed and easier to digest.
Eggs and nuts – speed up learning?!
Eggs and nuts are great for snacking or bulking out meals. They’re both very nutritious, with lots of useful vitamins and – my favourite – they help myelin production. Myelin is the substance that insulates nerves and it is required to form strong connections between neurons – otherwise known as learning. As the brain learns, connections are formed between neurons which are strengthened each time the connection is used – as they say, neurons that fire together, wire together. So if you learn a new programming trick for example, your ability to recall that information depends on the quality of this neuronal connection. With more myelin, we can make better connections faster. So eating eggs and nuts will actually speed up your ability to learn.
Ignore the crap about eggs increasing cholesterol. Eggs are incredibly healthy, just ask this 88 year old man who eats 25 eggs a day.
Time saving preparation techniques
Cooking time is the number one thing that puts people off healthy eating. Looking back at our formula, you can see why. If the time cost to produce healthy food is too high, it doesn’t matter how much extra energy we get, we’re still getting less work as an end result.
But it’s actually possible to cook very healthy and very tasty meals with almost 0 preparation time. No, I’m not talking about eating food raw. I’m talking about using a slow cooker.
A slow cooker is a great little device that you can plug into a wall and use to cook tons of great tasting meals without supervision. No more watching a pot to make sure it doesn’t boil over, or stick to the bottom. With a slow cooker you just cut up the ingredients and throw them in, then leave the slow cooker to do its thing. You can throw some ingredients into a slow cooker in the morning and come home to delicious stews, soups and curries all cooked and ready to eat.
And the best part is they taste so much better, because they’ve been gently cooked in a closed container, locking in nutrients and flavours. Slow cooked bone broth soup is almost as effective as juicing for preventing illness and it can help repair stomach lining that has been damaged by excess sugars.
Slow cookers are not just good time savers, they’re good money savers. As promised, here’s how I use 1 whole chicken to create meals for the whole week.
On Sunday roast the chicken and serve cuts of meat with vegetables. Store the leftovers in the fridge. The next day, cut up leftover meat and set aside for salads, sandwiches, or other meals. Dump the chicken carcass into the slow cooker with some water and cook on low for 18-24 hours to create chicken stock.
Remove the bones from the stock but keep leftover meat. You can use the stock to slow cook other dishes or create a very healthy bone broth soup with just a few extra ingredients. With just a bag of carrots, a can of butter beans, a bag of onions and some other leftovers, this week I made chicken miso soup and a pulled pork cider stew. I got 5 extra meals just by adding a few inexpensive vegetables to water and a chicken carcass!
If you’re interested, this is the slow cooker I use.
Additionally, you can use a rice cooker to have rice cook unattended at the same time. Using a combination of a rice cooker and a slow cooker means you can have rice and curry ready to eat the moment you step into the door. Here’s the rice cooker I use at home.
Good diet means a lifestyle change
The most important thing to understand about diet changes is that they should be permanent. The reason so many people struggle to keep weight off and stay healthy is because they believe changes need only be made in the short term, with a fad diet or meal replacement shakes. Rather than try to upset your lifestyle with a massive diet overhaul, instead make small changes that you build up to gradually replace your bad diet with a better one. And remember – hunger always wins. You should not be eating a diet that leaves you feeling unfulfilled – you cannot keep that up long term and you’ll eventually just revert back to your old diet. You can feel perfectly satiated and comfortable and still have a healthy diet.
That’s the extent of my advise, but if you’re interested in learning more, there are 2 sites I heartily recommend for further instruction:
Rogue Health and Fitness – My personal favourite health advice site. The proprietor, P.D. Mangan, diligently breaks down all of the latest health breakthroughs from scientific papers that are inaccessible for most people. Much of the information in this article is inspired by his guidance.
Fit-Juice – Mentioned above but worth mentioning again – a great resource for juicing advice and recipes