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3 Functional Ingredients That Can Help Spring Sport Athletes Keep Their “Quicks”

By: Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS

Dave Ellis RD, CSCSSpring sports are a diverse group in the world of NCAA Sports.  From the long, methodical day of a golf, baseball or softball athlete, to the explosive nature of a track sprinter, to the metabolic burn of a crew athlete to the exhaustive nature of a water polo athlete.  The diversity of fueling tactics is significant but all share a few things in common.

All of them need to process information quickly like a tennis player or lacrosse athlete so vision and neurological processing is a must.  Few think of vision as something that can be enhanced by the quality of their nutrient intake and even fewer are aware of the potential to impact neural efficiency that can impact reaction time!  That is just what nutrients like zeaxanthin are proven to enhance with some great research out of the University of Georgia (1, 2).  The challenge we have as dietitians is getting enough of the highly pigmented foods in athletes that can move the needle on accumulation of the zeaxanthin in the eye and nervous system to improve visual performance, so we often look to NSF Certified sources of zeaxanthin like the EyePromise Vizual Edge Chewable.

Even though spring sports might find themselves practicing and competing in some cold conditions initially, they are still sweating and eventually temperatures trend up making hydration a significant factor.  It won’t do much good to improve reaction time with visual targeted functional ingredients like zeaxanthin if you don’t stay hydrated!  Small decrements in body weight due to dehydration can impact performance and once athletes start to compete, they often forget to drink!  So simple strategies like building up your hydration status before you train or compete can help give athletes a margin for error they need.  One approach has been to use a plasma-building blend of simple electrolytes originally designed to prevent dehydration in our astronauts called “The Right Stuff” (3).  Many athletes will start to use that before they train and transition into water or their favorite sports drink during to try and minimize net weight loss that is indicative of dehydration.

Reaction time also goes to hell in a hand basket when muscles and joints are sore to the point where athletes lose the bounce in their step that we depend on for a functional amount of elastic energy and stiffness we need along tendons and muscle.  Now that is a long story to tell on all that is at play with muscle and connective tissue that is property trained and fueled to deliver a powerful performance over and over, every day that athletes train or compete. The most important functional ingredient here is a high-quality protein source with naturally high leucine levels that can help damaged muscle fibers repair themselves daily (4, 5).  The high-end of protein requirements for power athletes is about 1 gram of protein per pound of LEAN MASS (not total body weight).  Beyond that is probably excess unless an athlete is in a deep calorie restrictive phase which we would not attempt in season.  So hopefully all athletes are capable of getting an accurate body composition assessment and knowing where they stand on realistic goals for their lean body mass maintenance in season so protein can be dialed in.

The good news for NCAA athletes is that the NCAA Competitive Safeguards Committee has resolved to make it permissible in 2016 – 2017 for athletic departments to bring in high-quality protein sources for athletes to incorporate into post workout recovery shakes under the guidance of Sports RDs (Registered Dietitians) and preferably sources that are NSF Certified for Sports (6)!

That goes for any dietary supplement that is delivering a targeted, functional ingredient; they should all come from NSF Certified for Sports sources in the opinion of Sports RDs, to ensure quality and safety, and to avoid adulteration issues that could compromise health or eligibility!  Athletes can categorically look for NSF Certified Solutions for each of the above recommendations by visiting the NSF Certified for Sport product listing page.

Sports RD, trainer, or strength coach?  Learn how zeaxanthin can benefit your athletes by downloading a free E-Book: EyePromise for Athletes: Applying Nutrition for Eye Health to Your Athletes Training Regimen

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  1. Bovier ER, Renzi LM, Hammond BR. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study on the effects of lutein and zeaxanthin on neural processing speed and efficiency. PLoS ONE. 2014
  2. Bovier ER, Hammond BR. A randomized placebo-controlled study on the effects of lutein and zeaxanthin on visual processing speed in young healthy subjects. Arch Biochem Biophys. 2015
  3. NASA References:
  4. Daniel R Moore, Meghann J Robinson, Jessica L Fry, Jason E Tang, Elisa I Glover, Sarah B Wilkinson, Todd Prior, Mark A Tarnopolsky, and Stuart M Phillips (2009) Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men1–3 Am J Clin Nutr 89:161–8.
  5. Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Ross, M. L., Camera, D. M., West, D. W. D., Broad, E. M., Jeacocke, N. A., Moore, D. R., Stellingwerff, T., Phillips, S. M., Hawley, J. A. and Coffey, V. G. (2013), Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. The Journal of Physiology, 591: 2319–2331. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.2012.244897
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