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The University of Virginia’s Nutritional Approach to Championship Tennis Performance

Photo of Randy Bird
The University of Virginia men’s tennis program has seen an unprecedented level of success over the last several years.  Having claimed two of the past three NCAA men’s tennis titles, the University goes above and beyond to ensure that each tennis player is in position to succeed.  And while a lot of their success can be attributed to the hard work put in on the courts, a big part of their success should be credited to what they are doing off the courts to improve tennis performance.

“The University of Virginia is committed to sports nutrition,” said Randy Bird, the University of Virginia’s Director of Sports Nutrition.  “Each athlete’s nutritional requirements differ.  For tennis players, we look beyond the standard hydration and recovery protocol.  We incorporate nutritional practices to boost specific areas of tennis performance that relate to the sports unique demands,” said Bird.

“When you look at the skillset of a tennis player, vision and reaction time are critical,” added Bird.  “Our eyes are no different than any other organ in our body in the sense that they need specific nutrients to function optimally.  We began incorporating zeaxanthin with our tennis program to give our athletes an edge on the court.”

Zeaxanthin, classified as a caretonoid, is a plant-based nutrient commonly found in bright colored fruits and vegetables.  Once processed, zeaxanthin accumulates in the back of the eye, directly impacting our ability to see and process visual information.  While common among eye care professionals for its protection benefits, emerging research surrounding the nutrient’s performance benefits has resulted in a growth in popularity among professional and college sports.

[Editor’s note: Sports Illustrated on zeaxanthin’s growing popularity among MLB teams]

While most sports dietitians like Bird advocate for getting nutrients through food, the scarcity of zeaxanthin makes it a challenge.

[Editor’s note: You would need to consume over 50 ears of corn per day to get the 20 mg of zeaxanthin needed by athletes]

“In a case where we can’t get enough of a specific nutrient through the diet alone, such as the case with zeaxanthin, we consider research-validated supplements that are NSF certified for Sport,” said Bird.  “NSF Certification ensures that the supplement is free of banned substances and safe for athletes at all levels.”

Bird, who started using EyePromise’s NSF Certified zeaxanthin-based product line with the tennis team prior to the 2013 season, is happy with the results.  “By incorporating EyePromise in their training regimens, our athletes are doing one more thing to maximize their full athletic potential, and ultimately, one more thing that competition may not be doing,” said Bird.