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Buff(ing) for BlizzCon: Raid preparation


Buff(ing) for BlizzCon is a bi-weekly fitness series written by ShrinkGeek authors Rafe Brox and Michael McGreevy. Join the team in getting in shape for the ultimate WoW geek event: BlizzCon.

Unless you're a super-casual player, there is a pretty good chance that you spend a lot of time both in and out of the game doing preparation work. From reading up on strategies, to farming materials for flasks and everything in between, there are countless ways that you can get yourself ready to take on the current shiny encounter in World of Warcraft.
Unfortunately for many people, what they don't spend time thinking about before raid night is what they are going to be snacking on. If you're trying to make better food choices, this can be a serious roadblock. There aren't many guilds that will allow you to take a long enough AFK to prepare a healthy meal in the middle of a raid, so many players end up opting for "easy" food choices to satisfy a sudden onslaught of the Hungry debuff. The problem with that is that most "easy" food choices aren't all that good for you. When this type of itch is scratched, it's usually through something like a bag of chips or some sort of chemically ambiguous frozen meal, neither of which are really good choices if you're trying to eat wisely.

Your likelihood of success in defeating a new boss fight is greatly increased if you prepare yourself for the encounter. Eating wisely is no different. I've got a few strategies that you can follow that just might keep you from seeing a diet Total Party Kill as a result of uncontrollable mid-raid snacking.

Pre-cook your meals

Leftovers are probably your best friend on raid nights, especially if you belong to a guild that likes to raid on weekdays. If you're the type who has to come home from work and make a mad dash to get online in time for the raid to start, chances are you don't have the time to cook a full, healthy meal before you get rolling. Some of you may be fortunate enough to have significant others or relatives who will make sure you eat properly before you plug in for the evening, but a whole lot of folks are soloing in that particular regard.
While they have quite the negative stigma associated with them, leftovers really can be a blessing if you want to have a nice, healthy meal before you start the raid. Simply double (triple ... quadruple ...) your portions so that you have a meal ready to go into the microwave as soon as you get home on raid nights. Sure, it can get repetitive eating the same thing multiple nights in a row, but it's better than sabotaging your healthy eating habits simply because you don't have time to cook.

Choose your snacks wisely

So maybe your problem isn't so much that you're struggling to get in a healthy meal, but that you like to snack while you're gaming. No worries! Snacking isn't a sin, but it can get out of hand if you do not pay attention to what you are munching on. How many of us have sat down for a night of gaming with a bag of chips in front of us, only to discover a few hours later that the entire thing has vanished before our eyes, leaving only crumbs and greasy fingers in its wake? Snacking is a nefarious activity, largely due to the fact that most people tend to snack when their mind is on something else.

The easiest way to avoid this is to portion control your snacks. Instead of purchasing big bags of chips, snag the multi-packs with smaller bags that they sell for putting into lunches. Not only are the portions easier to manage, but you'll get a better variety of flavors to boot! You can even take it a step further and make it habit of purchasing 100-calorie, pre-packaged portions. This marketing trend has really taken off in the last few years, and there are many different types of 100-calorie packs available.

The major disadvantage to buying these types of conveniently portioned snacks is that, ounce per ounce, they are significantly more expensive than buying the bigger bags. If you have the time, you can save a ton of money by making your own. I did the math in an article over at ShrinkGeek on how much money you can save by making your own 100-calorie packs of M&M's, and the number is pretty astounding. If you're going to do this, though, the best way is to buy snacks in bulk from your nearest membership warehouse and spend a few hours splitting them up. Yes, it's time-consuming ... but so is farming. If you want to manage your snack portions without breaking the bank, it really is the most efficient way to do so.

Another great way to improve your mid-raid snacking options is to add fruit into the mix. Grapes, for example, are an easy and delicious snack that can occupy that need to mindlessly munch while you play, without tacking on too many calories. Due to their high water content, they are also pretty filling as well. If you really want to spruce them up a bit, try freezing them first. Frozen grapes take longer to eat, take on an ice-cream-like consistency, and their natural sweetness is intensified.

Coffee or tea versus soda

Sometimes it takes a little something extra to stay awake on raid nights, especially if you've had a long day of work or classes before you started up. We as gamers have a reputation of loving products like Mountain Dew -- so much so that Blizzard teamed up with PepsiCo to sell limited edition World of Warcraft-branded bottles of the caffeinated sugar bombs. The problem with products like Mountain Dew, though, is that they tend to be loaded down with an excessive amount of processed sugar and "empty" calories. One 20-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew, for example, contains 275 calories and 77 grams of carbohydrates! You can opt for the diet variety, of course, but in that case, you are substituting chemicals and compounds of a somewhat dubious nature to replace those unwanted calories.

The better choice is a good old-fashioned cup of tea or coffee. Even if you use sugar and cream to sweeten up your coffee, you'd be hard pressed to put enough into a single cup to match the equivalent of that bottle of Dew, and you have the added bonus of not ingesting any chemicals along with your precious caffeine. If you're going to your local corporate coffee chain to get your java jolt, though, steer clear of the lattes and blended coffee beverages and stick with a good old-fashioned coffee or tea. The amount of extra "stuff" they put into those other drinks can really tack on the unnecessary calories.
Frozen dinners can be your friend

If you didn't take the time to cook in advance, you can still get a relatively healthy meal out of your freezer. There are many different brands of low-calorie frozen meals on the market, such as Weight Watchers Smart Ones, Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice. If you're looking for a lower-cost alternative, try Michelina's Lean Gourmet (my local Super Wal-Mart sells them for $1 each). If you really want to be "That Guy" and go the Hot Pockets route, opt for the Lean Pockets instead (and always remember that a serving is one Lean Pocket, not two).

If you're in the mood for a frozen pizza, almost all of the companies above have single-serving, calorie-conscious pizza choices. If none of those appeal to you, check to see if your favorite brand of frozen pizza offers a "personal" version. I've seen them from the likes of California Pizza Kitchen, Freschetta and Red Baron. As with the 100-calorie packs above, these individual pizzas tend to be a bit more expensive when you get right down to it, but not having the extra temptation to eat the whole thing is worth it, if you ask me.

Whatever you do, try to avoid the standard "cheap" frozen foods that many of us go to on game night. You're getting a lot of fat, calories and decidedly non-food-like substances in those pizza rolls, and most of the time you're hungry again shortly after eating them. Frozen doesn't have to mean bad for you.

Healthier delivery choices

If you haven't had time too cook in advance, your freezer is empty and there just isn't anything satisfying to snack on, you just may have to break down and get food delivered. Again, though, this doesn't necessarily have to mean you completely break the healthy eating bank.

If you're ordering a pizza, opt for a thin crust, get veggies instead of meat and skip off on the sauce. Yes, you read that correctly. Skip the sauce. Most commercial pizza delivery services have red sauce that is loaded down with sugar (in many local pizzerias this won't be the case, but you can usually tell as soon as you taste it whether or not they do). Yeah, you may only be trimming a few extra calories out of your pie, but I actually prefer my pizza not to have any red sauce on it. Just gets in the way of the yummy cheese and toppings, in my opinion.

If Chinese food is your delivery meal of choice, look for items on the menu that are steamed and go for those instead. Many Chinese restaurants have a diet section that is specifically filled with these kind of foods. Pick white rice instead of fried (or skip the rice altogether), and add a bit of extra filler by adding in some soup.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to have even healthier foods delivered to your home (things like sushi or grilled chicken), but for many of us, the options are limited to the two types listed above. In either case, try and become familiar with the menu well before the time you're going to call, and have your healthy choices in mind before you start dialing. If you're hungry when you look at the menu, you're going to give into the temptation to pick those deep-fried or deep-dish options instead of the "less appealing," lower-calorie options.

It's all about commitment

If you want to be the "best of the best" in World of Warcraft, you have to work on it. Success won't just fall into your lap because you want it to, online or in real life. If you've got the time to devote hours every week in preparation for raid nights, you owe it to yourself to find a little time to prepare your food in advance as well. Your health is just as important as those shiny epics, and by investing a little bit of effort every week, you can ensure that you don't have to sacrifice one to get the other.

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