MLB betting fans know that if you can’t see, you can’t pick up ground balls or fly balls right away. You can’t pick up that nasty slider your pitcher expects you to catch – and you certainly can’t hit it. Major League Baseball has long put ocular workouts and computer-based vision drills to work for their players, but now players are using food to get better sight as well. A 2014 study by researchers at the University of Georgia connected improvements in visual processing speed and reaction time with daily intake of zeaxanthin, a nutrient that appears in paprika and many vegetables with heavy pigment. As of now, all 30 of the teams in the league have started working with the nutrient, including such players as Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker, who started using it after having dry eyes and needing to squint during games. His supplement made him feel like his vision was better, and he didn’t need to squint as much during day games.
A Look at How Players Improve their Vision for an Edge in MLB Odds
So how does it work? The connection begins in the macula, which is the small part of the retina that is sensitive to light and filled with cones. It gives us our sharpest vision. While most phytonutrients (the pigments that color food) go throughout the body when you digest them, zeaxanthin concentrates about 1,000 times more in the macula than elsewhere in the body. This can impact visual performance and neural responses. Specifically, researchers have found that it helps people improve their threshold for withstanding glare and recover more quickly from exposure to intense bright light and photo stress. Since the eye can now process light more quickly, reaction time can improve as well, making it easier to do such baseball-related things as timing a ball’s arrival on a pitch.
Being able to track a fly ball against a bright sky or the glow of stadium lights is just one skill that deals with contrast effect, as is picking up the red seams of a white baseball that is spinning and moving. Being able to see the ball sooner after the pitcher releases it tells the batter a lot more about the trajectory the pitch is likely to take.
Most players use zeaxanthin in supplement form, and it is available for sale in nutrition and health stores. It also shows up in such dark leafy greens as dandelion greens and kale, as well as goji berries, egg yolks, chili peppers and red bell peppers. People report a decreased sensitivity to light (meaning they don’t need sunglasses as often as well).
Teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays do not require players to take it but make it available, and many players are using it. The time is still too early to tell about optimizing timing and dosages, but the results seem to be positive, at least so far. For people whose livelihood depends on the ability to pick up a ball moving faster than most cars and either hit or catch it, any extra supplement is welcome. The fact that zeaxanthin is a natural substance means that the unhealthy side effects that accompany steroid use for so many players is not a risk factor. Neither are a series of Congressional hearings in the future in which players are brought and grilled for their use of concentrated paprika in a supplement form.
Is the effect psychosomatic? While the University of Georgia research project seemed to indicate otherwise, we are still at the beginning of the research cycle with this supplement. Results over the next months and years will yield more information. For now, players are using it and enjoying the results – and the side effects appear minimal.