Ocular Nutrition & Sports Performance

By Jeffrey Anshel, OD, FAAO

We are all aware that nutrition is the basis for our health and performance. What we may not be aware of is that the brain and visual system, while only comprising about 2 percent of your body weight, use up about 25 percent of your nutritional intake. This is why it is so important to pay attention to our nutrition in our daily activities as well as in our sports performance.

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Dietary intake modifications have seen recommendations vary widely over the years. Most of the focus has been on diets designed to enhance muscle performance, particularly strength, endurance, replacement and recovery. With consumers’ interest in health and wellness growing, it should come as no surprise that revenue from vitamin and nutritional supplement production has been on a steady growth track, having shown 6% sales growth in 2018—a marked improvement over the 5.4% growth reported in 2017. This is notable for an industry that has now reached $46 billion in annual sales and is poised to surpass $50 billion annually by 2020.1

Athletes at all skill levels are always looking for a way to take their game to the next level. It is difficult to make generalizations about the extent of dietary supplement use by athletes because the studies on this topic are heterogeneous. But the data suggest that:2

  • A larger proportion of athletes than the general U.S. population takes dietary supplements.

  • Elite athletes (e.g., professional athletes and those who compete on a national or international level) use dietary supplements more often than their non-elite counterparts.

Optimal sports performance coincides with optimal nutritional support for the visual system. And while most coaches, trainers and athletes recognize the importance of nutrition in sports performance, the effect of nutrition on the eyes—and on visual skills that are important for sports performance—are often overlooked. This need for education provides Sports Vision & Performance professionals with an opportunity to further help athletes improve visual function.

Recent research has demonstrated that certain nutrients can help improve visual performance factors. These recommendations suggest that the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin are beneficial nutritional supplements and can play a role maintaining or enhancing visual abilities that are important for sports performance, such as Dynamic Visual Acuity, Eye Tracking, Eye Focusing, Peripheral Awareness, Depth Perception, and Eye-Hand or Eye-Body Coordination.

There are several ways to incorporate ocular nutrition into your work with athletes. First and foremost is getting at least basic nutrition education. The Ocular and Wellness Nutrition Society (www.ocularnutritionsociety.org) is a good place to start. They offer several papers, webinars and live presentations centered around the role of nutrition in eye health. Another good resource is theDietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance Fact Sheet for Health Professionals from the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.

Additionally, DigiVision offers a free video preview of theOcular Nutrition to Increase Sports Performance presentation I recently gave at the International Sports Vision Association (ISVA) 2020 Conference. You can see a preview of that (and other conference presentations) on the ISVA website here. For more information on how to order the full presentations, click here.

Secondly, incorporate questions about nutrition into every eye exam (not only for athletes, but for all your patients) and use the opportunity to talk about the importance of good nutrition and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. There is a lot of confusing misinformation out there about proper nutrition and supplementing for optimal eye health and you can play an important role in educating your patients. Work with local PhD nutritionists who can counsel patients on proper dietary intake and make personal recommendations.

The U.S Food & Drug Administration regulates both finished dietary supplement products and dietary ingredients. Supplement manufacturers and distributors of these products are responsible for evaluating the safety and labeling of their products before marketing to ensure that they meet all the requirements of the dietary Supplement Health and Education Act and FDA regulations.3Before making any recommendations, do your research! Make sure you get to know the formulations of these products and look for third-party independent verification, which is standard practice for manufacturers of high-quality supplements. This shows that the company has voluntarily submitted to an independent review by an independent laboratory to analyze the content's amounts and purity of ingredients.

By incorporating ocular nutrition education into your primary care and sports vision practices you can further differentiate yourself in providing athletes with additional tools to help them improve performance, while also helping your patients prevent or slow the progression of ocular conditions such as cataracts, dry eyes, and macular degeneration.


1. Reynolds C, “The Analyst's Take: Dietary supplement sales growth rebounds to 6% in 2018,” Nutrition Business Journal, May 23, 2019https://www.newhope.com/market-data-and-analysis/analysts-take-dietary-supplement-sales-growth-rebounds-6-2018

2. Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance: fact Sheet for Health professionals, National Institutes of Health: office of Dietary Supplementshttps://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-HealthProfessional/

3. Dietary Supplements, US. Food & Drug Administrationhttps://www.fda.gov/food/dietary-supplements

Dr. Jeffrey Anshel has lectured internationally and written numerous articles and eight books regarding nutritional influences on vision and computer vision concerns. He is the principal of Corporate Vision Consulting and maintains a private practice in Encinitas, CA. Dr. Anshel is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry and Founder and Past President of the Ocular Nutrition Society.

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