Poker star Dan Cates takes a peek inside his completely macho gymnasium bag

In the high-stakes world of poker, fitness often comes last when it comes to six-figure buy-ins and the emotional toll of having million-dollar pots at stake. Dan Cates hopes to help change that through what appeals to everyone involved in the poker world: competition.

Dan Cates recently won the Poker Players Championship title in July, becoming the first player in history to win it in consecutive years. A Maryland native and fellow poker player, Bertrand Grospellier has engaged in a number of fitness bets over the years with the sole focus on finishing the competitions better than when they started. The winnings from these bets are just icing on the cake for Cates as he wants to start involving more of his fellow poker players to take part in these high stakes bets to keep everyone looking and feeling good. Cates and Grospellier's current bet goes back to 12 percent body fat in six months, with stakes at 8 bitcoin, which is currently nearly $190,000.

Dan Cates shared the story behind his current gym staples with Muscle and Fitness. We also spoke to him about how he hopes he can use the competition to inspire other players to get in better shape and why the returns from those bets mean less than the results from them.

Dan Cates

How did the idea behind this fitness bet come about?

Neither me nor ElkY [Grospellier] is very athletic and we wanted to place bets to motivate ourselves to be in better shape. Some of our past bets have included who can do the most pushups. longest boards and who runs the fastest mile uphill? Both me and ElkY have very complicated lives. I'm on the road all the time and I do a lot of things. We try to use competition to push ourselves to work towards a greater good - to get in better shape. We want to use it to inspire the poker world to get in better shape. The poker world isn't exactly known for being in top form. Almost nobody in the poker world is on top form and when you see a table of poker players it's not a picturesque site unless you have a specific taste (laughs).

The previous competition wasn't geared towards getting into the shape we wanted. We're thinking of adding other goals in addition to 12 percent body fat. I think that's about where I would look best and it's serviceable. ne of us are in it for the money and we're just trying to make a bet that will result in us becoming better versions of ourselves. Me and ElkY found we really pushed each other on race day. When it comes to advocating for health, it's not nearly as effective as using competition as an incentive. We use competition to focus on the common good.

What things have you had to change from a nutritional standpoint given the travel that's built into your schedule?

As far as diet changes go, I've found I really struggled a lot to change them and I've made all sorts of mistakes. I think there's kind of a barrier for people to change their diet at a certain rate. In general, if you are used to eating junk food all the time, it will be difficult to transition from it to a truly healthy diet. I've played with my diet changes in all sorts of ways and made mistakes like eating way too much hummus. I love hummus and unfortunately I have to do without it. I thought I was ok and I didn't really lose weight during the last challenge and now I know I shouldn't.

Intermittent fasting has worked really well and is sustainable. It's really important to find something that's sustainable and not too lousy. There is a physiological term for creating an environment that will set you in the right direction for success. When you're at home, you don't want to surround yourself with a ton of junk food. I got those [meal kits] sent to my house. One of my mistakes in the past was over-complicating things. I'm going to eat some sushi, but I let people run things to make sure I'm on the right track. I'm gonna have little candies, a protein bar and you really need to let all the bullshit out and keep things boring. Ideally, your best bet is to stick to the prepared food and make sure you eat in a specific window.

Why was bitcoin used as the currency for the bet?

We wanted to add an extra element of gambling to the image. The last time we bet was when Bitcoin was around $6,000 and ended up at $40,000 and that makes things a lot more interesting. We hope bitcoin rises and adds some more sweat.

I know this applies to other sports as well, but can what you eat the night before affect your poker performance?

There is some data to suggest that this is the case. It's really hard to say because compared to being tired it's hard to be aware of your mental state and the quality of your decisions. I can tell you firsthand that lack of sleep definitely hurts my game. The percentage wouldn't be super high, but it's an advantage. I'd say there's an advantage of about 10-20 percent I'd guess. I think the diet helps people who tend to be less brainy than we are. The less someone is on his mind, the more it will help him. I'm in my head a lot and that helps me focus no matter what my body might be feeling.

With high-stakes games like this, is there a way to split the stress and anxiety that comes with every move?

It is possible to reach a state of mind where this level of stress is painless or no longer bothers you. It can be likened to how you keep progressing in weightlifting. It doesn't really become a big deal after a while. The crazy extreme of this is known as Nirvana or Moksha in the Hindu religion. You're going to read about some of these guys and someone gets their arm cut off and they don't respond, period. In a way, losing a large amount of money at poker is a bit of an illusion. I'm pretty good at it, but I'm not perfect. If there was any probability that you're going to lose 300,000 one day, well, that was just part of the big picture at first. A really great place to go in life is Nirvana, where no matter what happens, you see it as part of the bigger picture.

Pleasure and pain are interrelated, and one cannot exist without the other. I wouldn't say I see it fully emotionally, but that's essentially the big goal of yoga and this type of practice. Surprisingly, yoga and meditation have been the most effective things for me to deal with in such a short amount of time. In the longer term, it's a bit related to what impact it has. For example, if all of my emotional currency is invested in how well I'm doing at poker, if I'm doing really badly, my emotional stock will go down. The longer-term solution that makes things easier along with meditation is to invest more in the moment. Poker is a very toxic relationship for you if you're interested in how well it will do someday because it doesn't always do.

Do you see these bets leading to a lasting change in your lifestyle?

I want to make this an adaptation for life. I want to build more muscle so I can eat generously. I really don't want to give up snacks entirely. I always want to look good. One thing I've learned is that looking great isn't easy - at least that's been my experience. I had to work my ass off and made mistakes in the process. It really takes a lot of discipline and I'm getting better and better at this part.

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