There is nothing normal in the world of 16-time World Series of Poker winner Phil Hellmuth, and he wouldn't want it any other way. Imagine former President Barack Obama checking on you at a poker tournament, or hosting an event for Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan tracking you down to ask how the World Series is going, or Elon Musk performing at your book launch party.
Phil Hellmuth is very careful not to sound pretentious or selfish, but when the surreal happens regularly, what's the fun in keeping those moments to yourself?
A sense of normalcy that poker's great players can relate to is making sure his health is a priority. A few years ago he realized that he had exceeded his comfort zone in the waistband and decided to act. With a packed schedule and several high-stakes tournaments each year, he continues to fine-tune his habits to maintain a weight that he's comfortable with. Phil Hellmuth chronicled his recent journey with Muscle and Fitness. The poker legend also spoke about why he's found keto works best for him, why a good workout helps him have his best chance of winning, and why trying to maintain normalcy in a life that's anything but normal, there is always work in progress.
Courtesy of Phil Hellmuth
Phil Hellmuth ups the ante
I hit an all-time high of 256 about three years ago. I was very stable between 238 and 244 forever. My friend Bill Gurley called me and told me he was on keto and how well it was working. He sent me a book and I said I'd try it. For the first three days of keto I was shaky from just craving sugar and getting cold on it. When that was over, I felt like I didn't need any more sugar. I went down from 256 to 227. That was during the World Series of Poker, which lasts two months for the big players. It's seven weeks and you're playing every day to win world championships.
I was playing pretty well and figured I could get off keto. I got off it and four days later I won a bracelet and it was like, what the? I thought I was playing better on keto, but I won a bracelet while off. Of course it was probably just coincidence and then I lost my motivation for keto because you think 45 days playing poker and no bracelets. I quit keto and win a bracelet. What they don't tell you about the other side of keto is that you'll gain weight quickly on the way back. I got to 265 and then I had to make a decision.
In my last keto iteration, I hit 270 pounds, and that was in February. I didn't know if I was going to win more bracelets, but I knew that staying at 270 could affect how long I could live. I'm 6ft 5in so 270 looks OK on me but I don't know if it feels good for everyone. I went back on keto and came back down to 245. I also understand that there is a methodology there and when I got there I wanted to stay there. I didn't want to go to 227 again and 244 was the ultimate goal. It's interesting from that point because you have to figure out how to mix carbs back in and how much carbs there are. I went off keto during the World Series, which was June through July. I weighed myself recently and I was 251 so I'm going to stay on keto for a while and do my best.
Waiting for the doctor's draw
I've tried other methods - I've tried eating less and none of the other things have worked. People kept telling me that what matters is not whether you exercise or not but what you eat, and I didn't really believe that. Well, I'm pretty sure that's probably a reality for most of us. When I wake up, I hit the door dash button and order a sugar-free vanilla latte. I've also bought every type of sugar free candy you can think of and they come from Amazon. Eating the sugar free sweets to eliminate all my cravings. The trick is not to eat too much of it. If you eat too much fiber, you probably won't smell as good later on. w I know what I can and can't eat. I now order pizzas that are keto. I just scrape off the topping and that's all good stuff. There are ways to make it easy. I still eat a lot of meat and fish. For a man who still eats a lot of fat when my dr. Draws my blood at the controls, looks real good.
Courtesy of Phil Hellmuth
Phil Hellmuth is on the keto diet
My wife does this and she talks about fasting. I think it should be an eight hour window. I did of course, but on keto I ate one meal a day because I was never hungry. w I make three small meals a day and I eat when I'm hungry. I say no to stuff with sugar in it. When I'm on a plane, I eat a cheeseburger with everything but no bread. Another thing I found is that the training has changed my life a lot. I sleep better and try to exercise every other day.
Meanwhile [year’s] Series - which I finished second - I trained every morning. My body was really sore because I'm 58. Workouts clear my mind and there's this tremendous benefit of working out. You sleep and play better. I recently attended my niece's wedding and on the wedding day I was exhausted from the series. I exercised before the ceremony and it gave me energy for the day. I find that workouts are very beneficial to me, and on the rare occasions that I get two to three hours of sleep - which happens a few times a year - I will get up and exercise because it gets me through the day. They are extremely important to give me the best odds at poker, my clearest mind and a good nights sleep. Sometimes I went back and forth more than 25 years. I've been a professional since I was 20, but I'm convinced that sport always helps me and never hurts me.
Busy like Phil Hellmuth
Aside from the World Series, which lasts two months, I'm on the road about 50 percent of the time. I have been happily married for 32 years. Me and my wife are very independent and I am incredibly loyal to my wife and famous for never cheating on her. It's something I talk about far too often and I'm proud of it. When you get rich and famous and you're on TV all the time, the temptation increases.
Back to travelling, I'm also very busy. I am an advisor to 14 different companies. I host TV shows. Golf Digest flies in and we're going to Shadow Creek, and that's Michael Jordan's favorite spot. I'm lucky enough to have a locker there and it's a world class golf course. I write scripts for the World Poker Tour and then perform them. Then it's Live at the Bike and then I play a World Poker Tour tournament with a $5,000 buy-in. You travel a lot, but you get used to it.
Dealing with the new normal
It's a little overwhelming and when it first happens you're just flattered. It just keeps increasing over the years and I didn't expect it to keep increasing. The normal way is for people to get famous and then disappear from the map, but I've been at the top of poker for a while now. Other people's answers may vary, but I think I've earned the right to call myself the greatest poker player of all time, which has been my goal since I was 19 years old. My goal is to become the greatest poker player of all time. I've got 16 World Series wins and three guys have 10, so I'm way ahead there. I had a super hot year too. I've done 14 top nines in the biggest major tournaments and no one else has. It's one thing to be the greatest of all time or to be a legend. It's another thing when you're still the greatest today.
I'm not saying I'm the greatest today, but I certainly have the best record of the last year. You can lose sight of normalcy. I went to my 30th class reunion and after a few moments I left. I was determined to hit my 40th and my sister tells me, 'You're just not normal. Just make sure you don't talk about yourself too much.” I've had that observation before, and that's what you struggle with when you keep doing great things. We're not made for flattery and people coming up to you every day and telling you how awesome you are. It took me a long time to get the hang of it.
w when something overwhelming happens, the ego cycle decreases. Each moment diminishes and you realize the concept of keeping your head down instead of concentrating on all the praises. With your head down, focus on doing your best. The real reason you have the fame and people want to be around you is because of the great results you are getting in your industry. I don't think I can ever be normal and I don't want to be normal, but I also don't want to be perceived as an egomaniac. Once people see through the talk about myself, they see that I'm a good guy and have made some really good friends. I still occasionally lose something with ego, but we're all in the works.
Follow Phil Hellmuth on Instagram @philhellmuthpositivity.