Eating Your Vegetables Can Help You Hit a Fastball
By Dan Peterson, TeamSnap's Sports Science Expert
Despite all of the time spent on building a young athlete’s muscles, endurance and skills, one critical attribute that crosses all sports is often overlooked––vision. To see a fastball or the goal or a pass from a teammate requires top visual attention, reaction and perception. There are obvious interventions like having eyesight tested and corrected to 20/20 with glasses or contacts. Plenty of repetitive, relevant practice will also help the eyes and brain react faster. However, an often overlooked contributor to improved vision is an athlete’s diet, specifically the nutrients that are known to protect and improve the eyes. Researchers at the University of Georgia have found that two nutrients, lutein and zeaxanthin, can boost visual processing speed, offering athletes with a healthy and legal way to get an edge.
Both lutein and zeaxanthin are considered carotenoids, yellow to red pigments that are found in many green, leafy vegetables. They are also found in the macula, a small, yellow oval-shaped spot at the center of the retina of the eye. Other research has shown that these nutrients block blue light from getting to the rest of the retina which helps reduce the risk of oxidative damage that could lead to macular degeneration.
But beyond good eye health, can lutein and zeaxanthin actually make an athlete’s eyes react faster? Could consuming additional levels of the two nutrients, either by eating more vegetables or taking some of the available natural supplements help a batter see a fastball or a goalie see a puck? Researchers at the Vision Sciences and Human Biofactors Laboratories at the University of Georgia designed an experiment to measure the possible improvement.
They recruited 92 young adults, ages 18-32, and tested their visual acuity and reaction time as a baseline for their vision performance. Next, the volunteers were divided into three groups. The first group received four months of zeaxanthin supplements that they took daily. The second group took a combination of lutein and zeaxanthin supplements, while the third group took no supplements, acting as a control.
One of the reaction time tests included following a flash of light across a computer screen, then timing its arrival at a target with a keyboard click. Sound familiar? Following a moving object through space so that you can perfectly time its arrival is a key skill in many sports, including baseball, tennis, hockey, volleyball, etc.
After four months, all three groups had their vision tested again. The two groups that received either the zeaxanthin or the combo pack were able to improve their reaction time by 10% over their baseline. The control group’s vision skill stayed the same.
Now, young athletes don’t have to go out and buy supplements to get these vision improvements. Just eating more green and yellow vegetables, as well as egg yolks, will give them the lutein and zeaxanthin their eyes need.
“The brain is, of course, composed of elements of the diet, and it is therefore reasonable to expect that the precise makeup of the diet and uptake of dietary components across the blood-brain barrier and into neural tissue could influence brain function,” wrote the researchers, Emily Bovier, Lisa Renzi, and Billy Hammond.
Just more ammunition for parents to convince their kids to eat healthy.
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