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Researchers share insight on how to improve reaction time and processing speed.

shutterstock_145753355-150x150[1]Emerging research out of the University of Georgia reveals that nutrition plays a significant role in our ability to process information and react.  Medical professionals and sports dietitians see a broad range of implications.

2 separate studies out of the University of Georgia’s visual sciences laboratory have demonstrated that consuming 20 mg of dietary zeaxanthin, a nutrient commonly found in bright-colored fruits and vegetables, speeds up our ability to process information when taken daily over a 4 month period.  According to Dr. Billy Hammond, lead researcher at UGA vision sciences laboratory, the research is unique because it is the first time scientists have been able to speed up the interaction between our eyes and brain using zeaxanthin as a nutritional approach.  “Processing speed is central to many aspects of life – from reading to reaction time when driving to successful sports performance. The ability to actually change brain function in relatively young, healthy adults based on nutritional intake has wide implications for our ability to optimize human performance.”

The studies, which were published in PLOS ONE and the Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, also demonstrated a 10% improvement in reaction time and a 14% improvement in contrast sensitivity, or our eyes’ ability to discern fine detail.

One group to take notice of the research is the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA). CPSDA represents the vast majority of advanced practice registered dietitians in the United States who work full-time with athletes in colleges, professional sports, Olympic training centers, the U.S. Military, and in law enforcement. The group
views ocular nutrition as a key focal point going forward.  “The fact that we can now improve reaction time with a healthy alternative to something like stimulants is very exciting,” said Randy Bird, past president of CPSDA and Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Virginia.


Paprika contains high levels of zeaxanthin.
Read More: The University of Virginia’s Nutritional Approach to Championship Tennis

For an athlete, a 10 percent improvement in reaction time can mean the difference between an average performance and a great performance. According to Pacific University College of Optometry professor Dr. Graham Erickson, a batter has only a fraction of a second to see a pitch leave a pitcher’s hand, send that visual information from the eye to the brain, process the information, make the decision whether to swing or not, and then to physically start the swing. By increasing the speed at which the brain processes information, athletes are gaining critical extra milliseconds to make better decisions on the field.  In the sports industry, every millisecond counts, which is something Walt Horn knows firsthand. Horn is an athletic trainer for the Oakland Athletics, one of the first organizations to take advantage of the potential benefits of dietary zeaxanthin and make it available to its athletes. “As an athletic trainer, I am looking to give our players every edge possible,” said Horn. “If an athlete can see the rotation of the ball better, process what they see faster and improve reaction time as demonstrated in the UGA study, they have a better chance of improving their performance over time.”

Swing Info

Via Sports Illustrated: MLB players are using paprika-derived nutrient for performance benefits

Baseball is not the only sport to adopt zeaxanthin as a means of increasing visual processing speed.  A broad range of athletes, from Olympic shooters to professional golfers, have started leveraging the paprika-derived nutrient with favorable results.  “Since I started incorporating zeaxanthin into my daily routine, I have been able to see the targets much more clearly with a strong contrast between the edge of the target and the background. I also feel that I am able to locate them much sooner,” said AJ Dupre, one of America’s brightest trap shooting talents.