Nutrition for Injury Recovery

I work with a lot of injured athletes. I see athletes with torn ACL’s, achilles tendon injuries, broken bones, overused joints and tendons, history of concussion and a handful of other issues.

While rest and physical therapy are essential to optimal recovery, so is the athlete’s nutrition. Unfortunately, nutrition can sometimes get forgotten during the recovery stage. What you eat during this period can really speed up your recovery or it can hold you back. The correct foods can decrease inflammation, help rebuild the tissue you have injured, prevent loss of lean muscle and help maintain your strength. These all seem like good reasons to focus on nutrition. And, like I say with most of my other tips and ideas, you don’t have to make your nutrition recovery complicated.

If you are an injured athlete or the parent, coach or caregiver of an injured athlete, I hope you can take some of these ideas below and put them to use for the best recovery possible.

Happy Fueling!

Christine

WHY SHOULD NUTRITION BE PART OF YOUR RECOVERY PLAN?

  1. Support the continued creation of muscle proteins.
    • Muscle protein synthesis (creation of muscle protein in the body) decreases after injury when activity declines and especially when a limb has to be immobilized (like getting a cast on a leg, arm, etc.)
  2. Preserve the lean muscle mass you already have.
    • Nutrition becomes even more important to maintain your muscle mass since you cannot use exercise & your typical workouts to help.
  3. Maintain appropriate energy balance.
    • While, yes, your energy needs may decrease some during your recovery phase, it’s important to realize that they may not decrease THAT much. This is especially true if you are on crutches, which require 2 to 3 times more energy than walking! If you decrease calories too much, you can slow down recovery due to the decrease muscle protein synthesis, increased muscle loss and impaired wound healing that this will cause.
  4. Decrease Inflammation (not necessarily right after injury and surgery but starting a few days after, as inflammation right after an injury is important to the healing process)
    • Just as anti-inflammatory foods and antioxidants were important for recovery after games and practices, they are also important now as the body is working even harder to heal. Continue to include those foods high in antioxidants and those anti-inflammatory foods.

TEN NUTRIENTS TO INCLUDE IN YOUR RECOVERY PLAN

  1. PROTEIN
    • Focus on foods high in the amino acid leucine, which stimulates the creation of protein.
      • Sources: lean chicken, beef and pork, fish, nuts & seeds, cheese, tempeh, milk, yogurt
    • Include a quality source of protein (ideally with leucine) about every 3 hours, after therapy sessions and before bed.
    • Include a quality source of whey protein before bed. Whey protein is released and digested more slowly so your body can work on maintaining and rebuilding muscle during the fasting state of sleep.
      • Sources: yogurt, milk, and cottage cheese
  2. CARBOHYDRATE
    • Your body still needs carbohydrates for energy so it can use the protein you give it for muscle repair and building. You may need less carbohydrate than when you were training and competing but don’t cut them way back or out completely!
    • Focus on complex carbohydrates that take longer to digest. This will keep you fuller longer and prevent spikes and dips in your blood sugar.
      • Sources: whole grain bread, pasta, cereal, & crackers, fruit, yogurt, starchy veggies
  3. HEALTHY FAT
    • Make sure to include sources of omega-3’s and some monounsaturated fats to help fight the inflammation and support your immune system.
      • Sources: nuts, seeds, avocado, oily fish (salmon & tuna), flax oil, extra virgin olive oil, nut and seed butter.
  4. VITAMIN C
    • An important antioxidant that aids in wound healing , tissue repair, and a healthy immune system.
      • Sources: citrus fruits, capsicum, tomatoes, rockmelon, potatoes
  5. VITAMIN A
    • An important antioxidant that aids in cell growth and development and immune function.
      • Sources: sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, rockmelon
  6. VITAMIN D
    • Aids in calcium absorption and supports bone health.
    • Sources: sunlight, fatty fish, many dairy products (check the label), fortified foods, egg yolks
  7. CALCIUM
    • Important for strong bones.
      • Sources: dairy products, broccoli, kale, chia seeds, almonds, fortified orange juice
  8. MAGNESIUM
    • Important for making proteins in the body and aids in the absorption & metabolism of calcium and vitamin D.
      • Sources: almonds, sesame and sunflower seeds, cashews, peanuts, bananas, beans
  9. ZINC
    • Aids in wound healing, creation of protein and immune function.
      • Sources: lean beef, chicken, cashews, fortified cereals, beans
  10. COPPER
    • Helps form red blood cells, helps build a strong immune system and strong bones.
      • Sources: sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, cashews and shiitake mushrooms

PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE:

SAMPLE INJURY RECOVERY MEALS

  • Grilled salmon with brown rice, roasted broccoli, a baked potato
  • Peanut butter & banana sandwich on wholegrain bread + 1 cup diced rockmelon
  • Homemade lean beef burger + whole wheat bun + lettuce, tomato, mustard + homemade oven baked potatoes + kale salad
  • Baked chicken + baked sweet potato + oven roasted broccoli

PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE:

SAMPLE INJURY RECOVERY SNACKS

  • Greek yogurt + fresh or frozen mixed berries
  • Slice of whole grain toast spread with almond butter and sliced bananas
  • Cottage cheese + diced rockmelon
  • Hardboiled egg + whole grain toast

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