Sports Nutrition: Carotenoids And Visual Performance

Athletes are always looking for a way to take their game to the next level.  Many seek a sports performance edge through innovative strength and agility training. Others invest in sports camps or the latest athletic gear or clothing.

But while most coaches, trainers and athletes recognise the importance of nutrition in sports performance, a key factor that sometimes is overlooked is the effect of nutrition on the eyes and on visual skills that are important for sports performance. Given that our vision drives nearly all physical activity in most sports, excellent visual acuity and dynamic vision skills can be huge advantages for otherwise equally matched athletes of all ages and skill levels.

And recent research suggests the most beneficial nutritional supplements for sports performance should include something many people aren’t familiar with: carotenoids.

What Are Carotenoids?

Here are some key facts about carotenoids: Carotenoids are natural pigments that give leafy greens and colorful fruits and veggies their green, yellow, orange and red colors. About 600 carotenoids have been identified in nature; but only about 50 are found in foods, and only three carotenoids are present in the eye.

Carotenoids act as antioxidants and protect cells from the danger of free radicals that are produced in the body during physical activity. (Free radicals also are produced by stress, inflammation, UV rays from sunlight, pollution, cigarette smoke and just our normal body metabolism.)

In addition to affecting sports performance, the buildup of free radicals in the body can damage DNA, fats and proteins. And it can affect recovery from the wear and tear on the body from sports activity and sports-related injuries.

Besides carotenoids, other antioxidant substances that are important for sports nutrition include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and bioflavonoids.

As mentioned above, despite the high number and wide variety of carotenoids found in nature, only three are found in the eye.

These eye carotenoids are:

  • Lutein
  • Zeaxanthin
  • Meso-zeaxanthin

These three carotenoids are concentrated in the macula, which is the most sensitive part of the retina in the back of the eye. The macula is responsible for visual acuity and color vision. It also is essential for contrast sensitivity, glare reduction, photostress recovery (reduced light sensitivity) and visual reaction time — tasks that are essential for optimum sports performance.

Together, lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin comprise the protective “macular pigment” of the eye.

In addition to its importance in sports performance, the macular pigment also plays a role in reducing the risk of macular degeneration later in life.

(More in our next article next Monday)

Very important: Always make sure you discuss and make decisions about your eye care based upon a formal appointment with your optician.

For more information and to book and eye examination please contact us:

McKenna & Scott Pinelands

Tel: 021 531 1953