Most coaches, trainers and athletes recognize the importance of nutrition in sports performance. However, a key factor that is sometimes overlooked is the effect of nutrition on the eyes.
Ocular nutrition is crucial to maintain and enhance visual performance. The right nutrients can help improve contrast sensitivity and reaction time, and reduce glare and light sensitivity.
Carotenoids are of particular importance with respect to ocular nutrition. These natural pigments are powerful antioxidants found in plants, so can be easily introduced through an appropriate diet.
These natural pigments are what give leafy greens and colourful fruits and vegetables their green, yellow, orange and red colours. There are only three carotenoids present in the eye: lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin. These are concentrated in the macula, which is the most sensitive part in the back of the eye. It is responsible for visual acuity and colour vision. It is also essential for contrast sensitivity, glare reduction, reduced light sensitivity and visual reaction time (all of which are crucial to optimal sport performance).
Lutein, Zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin combine together to form a protective macular pigment. These antioxidants not only help protect the macula from UV and blue light damage, but also against harmful free radicals that are produced in the body during physical activity.
Lutein and zeaxanthin can be found in the following foods: dark leafy vegetables (like kale, spinach and broccoli), red bell/chili/orange peppers, goji berries, egg yolks, kiwi, grapes, orange juice, zucchini and squash.
Meso-zeaxanthin, on the other hand, is non-dietary and must be introduced with a daily nutritional supplement.
Other antioxidant substances that are important to sports nutrition include Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and bioflavonoids.
It was demonstrated that a daily nutritional supplement of carotenoids over a 12 month period significantly improved contrast sensitivity, as well as the levels of macular pigment.
This study found that young adults (ages 18-32), who took a daily nutritional supplement containing zeaxanthin alone, or a supplement with both lutein and zeaxanthin demonstrated improved visual processing speed over a four month period, compared with controls who took a placebo for the same period. These visual improvements correlated with higher levels of macular pigment.
It was found that adult subjects who took a daily supplement containing zeaxanthin, lutein, or a combination of the two, over a six month period demonstrated improved contrast sensitivity in low lighting conditions, compared with the visual performance of the age-matched controls who took a placebo. Again, this was correlated with higher levels of macular pigment.
While many supplements include lutein and zeaxanthin, there is only one on the market today that includes meso-zeaxanthin. Of the three carotenoids, meso-zeaxanthin has the greatest anti-oxidant power.
This supplement is available for purchase through Sports Vision Windsor. Call today to obtain your first bottle and begin your ocular nutrition journey.
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