The chess diet

Robert Sapolsky, who studies stress in primates at Stanford University, says a chess player can burn up to 6,000 calories a day while playing in a tournament, three times what an average person consumes in a day. Based on breathing rates (which triple during competition), blood pressure (which elevates) and muscle contractions before, during and after major tournaments, Sapolsky suggests that grandmasters’ stress responses to chess are on par with what elite athletes experience.

“Grandmasters sustain elevated blood pressure for hours in the range found in competitive marathon runners,” Sapolsky says.

It all combines to produce an average weight loss of 2 pounds a day, or about 10-12 pounds over the course of a 10-day tournament in which each grandmaster might play five or six times. The effect can be off-putting to the players themselves, even if it’s expected. Caruana, whose base weight is 135 pounds, drops to 120 to 125 pounds. “Sometimes I’ve weighed myself after tournaments and I’ve seen the scale drop below 120,” he says, “and that’s when I get mildly scared.”

And this:

He has even managed to optimize … sitting. That’s right. Carlsen claims that many chess players crane their necks too far forward, which can lead to a 30 percent loss of lung capacity, according to studies in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. And, according to Keith Overland, former president of the American Chiropractic Association, leaning 30 degrees forward increases stress on the neck by nearly 60 pounds, which in turn requires the back and neck muscles to work harder, ultimately resulting in headaches, irregular breathing and reduced oxygen to the brain.

Here is the full ESPN article, via multiple MR readers.


Sigh. Looks like the chess-is-too-a-sport nerds will never go away.

Chess is not a sport. It's a cucksport.

Grow up

Chess isn't a sport. It take too much intelligence

Chess doesn't require intelligence. In fact, the skills don't even transfer to other domains. In fact, football players have more intelligence considering all the decisions they have to make in a split second in the face of physical harm. Body intelligence and social intelligence is something chess addicts never understand.

actually I was joking but, since you brought up football, they are the dumbest (in book learning) of the major sports players that I have met. Exceeded only by the coaches. In all of the verbiage about education, no one mentions how some of the most important subjects in high school are taught by coaches. They know very little about the subject and are there primarily to coach. They are given the teaching job so they can be hired as a faculty member and appear as though they are educated. Their primary function, in fact, is being an overbearing ass, a person who sees the world in black and white and is more impressed by and involved in overt power projection than they are in teaching any subtleties of the liberal arts.

So when Australia's chess master was on steroids for his asthma he really was taking a performance enhancing drug?

yeah it seems weird but playing competitive chess even at club level is the most exhilarating thing ever - imagine having sex for four hours, or a making a bungee jump that never ends. and the fact that you're constantly flipping from agony to ecstasy while sitting on an uncomfortable chair in a stale airless silent room, trying to maintain a perfect poker face, makes it all so much worse. and all that's before you start getting into time trouble (dear god no, not the time trouble)

>playing competitive chess is the most exhilirating thing ever.... imagine having sex for four hours...

I can tell that you have never had sex.

Would you like to know how I can tell that you have never had sex?

'know how I can tell'

Because even four minutes spent having sex seems like an unimaginably long time to you?

There's a 'your mom' joke here somewhere.

That's the sickest burn on MR ever. From CP of all people. TPM how does it feel to be bukkake'd in the comments in the most humiliating way possible? How do you top that?

Always suspected this. First time I played in a tournament, in high school, I remember coming home, showing my parents the trophy, then sleeping for something like 12 hrs straight.

'It all combines to produce an average weight loss of 2 pounds a day'

Not possible, unless you count water as weight.

Or to put it differently, chess masters and elite athletes are both able to gain several pounds in a couple of days too.

A cold adapted large male with adequate fat reserves and high muscle mass could potentially burn 25,000 kilojoules playing chess for 24 hours in sub zero temperatures.

But a cold adapted large female with adequate fat reserves and high muscle mass wouldn't be stupid enough to try.

The link appears to be missing. Easy enough to google, though!

"Robert Sapolsky, who studies stress in primates at Stanford University, says a chess player can burn up to 6,000 calories a day while playing in a tournament, three times what an average person consumes in a day."

6K calories? I call BS on this. Social media will take Sapolsky to task.

It is at least conceivable - the brain requires a lot of sugar.

'The mammalian brain depends on glucose as its main source of energy. In the adult brain, neurons have the highest energy demand, requiring continuous delivery of glucose from blood. In humans, the brain accounts for ~2% of the body weight, but it consumes ~20% of glucose-derived energy making it the main consumer of glucose (~5.6 mg glucose per 100 g human brain tissue per minute). Glucose metabolism provides the fuel for physiological brain function through the generation of ATP, the foundation for neuronal and non-neuronal cellular maintenance, as well as the generation of neurotransmitters.'

No, its not conceivable. The 'S' in ESPN doesn't stand for science. You are being sold a story with the ultimate goal of showing you ads. Here's the line that tells you this is fake:

"Sapolsky suggests that grandmasters’ stress responses to chess are on par with what elite athletes experience."

I'm sure the stress response that a running back feels after getting blasted in the stomach by a Samoan linebacker is what Carlsen feels moving little wooden pieces weighted by the gram a few inches. Story time over.

'The 'S' in ESPN doesn't stand for science.'

Well, you might have a point. The above link to the National Institutes of Health also lacks 'science' in its name.

'You are being sold a story with the ultimate goal of showing you ads.'

Well, I did not read the story, because I don't care about it in the least, and have already treated the claim of losing 2 lbs a day as laughable. And since I basically never use the web without having turned off javascript, images, and flash, I see very few ads in the first place.

Nonetheless, though science is not part of the name, maybe you could actually read the link. The brain requires a lot of energy to function, and it is hard to argue that chess does not involve using the brain.

I’m having a hard time accepting this as well. More importantly, this logic should also extend to other highly stressful professions - air traffic controllers (large airports), ER doctors and nurses, etc... To me, the effect (loss of weight) has multiple factors that have to be accounted for before you can argue X are calories burnt by stress. If you can’t show that other stressful professions burn this level of calories (After factoring in physical output in the job - eg: ER teams) then the logic doesn’t hold. Instead, human factors are more likely to explain weight loss - reduced eating, more exercise, increased NEAT due to changes in behaviour. Very hard to study given inherent variability in people and impossibility of accurate data gathering without 24/7 surveillance.

It occurs to me that just as they measure athletes' VO2 and metabolic activities by putting an air mask on them and putting them on a treadmill, they could put the same monitoring devices on chess players. No treadmill required, just have 'em sit and play chess. And measure how much energy they burn up.

I'm a fan of Sapolsky, but this is total BS. There is *no way* you burn anywhere close to 6,000 calories in a chess match. Do you realize how hot your body would need to become in order to do that? How much sweat would be produced? It's plausible that there would be some extra caloric expenditure due to increased breathing/heart rate, but 6,000 calories? Come on.

Caruana's weight loss proves nothing and could just as easily be attributed to a stress-induced lack of food consumption.

See above concerning the brain, And the 6,000 comes from the entire day, not just a single chess match.

Still could be inaccurate, of course, but not total BS.

A typical brain uses less than 2,000 kilojoules per day. Cognitively demanding tasks increase this, but not by a lot. One reason why is because often only a small part of the brain is highly active during what we think of as difficult intellectual tasks. So I'd be surprised if an average sized brain burns more than 2,500 kilojoules a day no matter what it's doing. But if your brain is above average size it will use more energy.

Well, this is where the discussion goes beyond my interest to explore much further, but this seems at least relevant - 'If challenging cognitive tasks consume only a little more fuel than usual, what explains the feeling of mental exhaustion following the SAT or a similarly grueling mental marathon? One answer is that maintaining unbroken focus or navigating demanding intellectual territory for several hours really does burn enough energy to leave one feeling drained, but that researchers have not confirmed this because they have simply not been tough enough on their volunteers. In most experiments, participants perform a single task of moderate difficulty, rarely for more than an hour or two.'

I don't want to go too far out on a limb, but top level chess is probably more than a single task of moderate difficulty, rarely for more than an hour or two.

it's not so much the mental exertion although yeah that will burn some, it's the fact that your heart rate goes sky high straight out of the opening and never drops, and your adrenaline levels are off the charts. think of it more like burning energy by shivering continuously, like a small bird trying to survive a cold winter night - thats something like how it feels

Sapolsky is a great teacher and thinker, but goes off the rails when. Thing become too quantitative. His attempt to explain chaos theory is painful to watch.

Skinny little nerd incels need to hit a weight room.

I remember reading an interview with Bobby Fischer where the reporter spent most of the day with him ... and Fischer spent much of the time exercising, saying that physical fitness was very important to have stamina for a tournament. He at a lot too, devouring steaks (IIRC he was in Argentina for some reason) and orange juice.

But yes, as some commenters have said 6,000 calories a day is hard to believe.

Hard to believe? Sure. Total BS? Unlikely, if one is willing to grant a certain margin of error - after all, 10% would still lead to something around 5500 calories, which is still a major amount.

>a chess player can burn up to 6,000 calories a day

What I like about Tyler is that he will repeat absolutely anything he comes across, no matter how obviously false it is, based solely on the fact that it sounds interesting.

an argument from personal incredulity is not an argument

Reminds me of the RH post you just linked to:

I remember a similar claim about race car drivers, that even racers on an oval track had to be athletes. I repeated this to my friends who told me I was an idiot.

So same story same response decades later I guess.

If we dismissed everything that struck us as wrong without further scrutiny of our priors, boy would the world look a lot different today. Great discussion everyone

Next up: The new weight loss fad sweeping the nation - chess-ercise.

I lose weight by having lots of sex. More fun than chess. Less smelly too.

On a Peloton!

Chessboxing is already a thing.

If Tyler posts something it can only be because he believes it. There is no other possible reason. (At risk of violating Poe's Law).
I must say some of Dr. Sapolsky's opinions are just opinions, or are mere preferences, what he would like to happen or to be true, not supported by facts, or rational inferences from reasonable presuppositions. His ideas about language extinction for example.

Useful information!

thanks for the information

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