Nutrition Tips to Recover From Injury

Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD

With hard competition unfortunately comes tired muscles, strains and injuries. If you train hard, whether you are an athlete or just exercise a lot, you understand that from time to time you will be slowed down by small, nagging pains and sometimes larger injuries that require a longer time for healing. It’s not fair, but it is reality.

Though not all injuries require surgery, they do all require rest and proper nutrition to rebuild, repair and get you back to your best. Eating nutrient-rich foods is essential to get the healing “ingredients” your body needs to come back stronger. Here are five things to consume when you or your child is out of play suffering from an injury:

1. Power up with protein: Protein is essential for rebuilding muscle and other tissues. For many athltes, protein needs double after a major sports injury or surgery for two reasons. First, protein is needed in the diet to help spare lean muscle mass and ideally limit the amount burned as energy after an injury. Second, protein is needed to help rebuild and repair. Focus on lean proteins like baked and grilled meats, poultry and fish, eggs and low-fat dairy. Animal proteins contain all of the essential amino acids required to build muscle and tissue.

2. Fill up on fruits and veggies: Fruits and vegetables provide the “ingredients,” or vitamins and minerals, necessary to help the body heal. To name a few, vitamin C helps repair cartilage, while copper assists in the formation of red blood cells and helps vitamin C build connective tissue. Zinc plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions and is required for DNA synthesis and cell division. Vitamin A helps strengthen the immune system after injury. All of these nutrients, plus tons more, exist in abundance in colorful fruits and veggies. Increasing your intake to 10 servings a day can help your body recover faster!

3. Get your fill of healthy fat: Omega-3 fatty acids found in nuts, seeds, healthy oils (Canola, olive, grapeseed and flax) and fatty fish (salmon, trout, tuna and mackerel) have anti-inflammatory properties that can help your body heal after injury or surgery. Including these in the diet is key to decreasing inflammation at the cellular level. Fat yields more calories per gram, so sprinkle it in meals and snacks throughout the day and consider taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Note: Do not take omega-3s before a surgery; after surgery is the appropriate time.

4. Build with calcium: Bone fractures and breaks need calcium and vitamin D to help rebuild them and make them strong. Consuming three to four servings of low-fat dairy foods will help meet your calcium needs to build strong bones. In addition, dairy foods are a rich source of high-quality protein, with milk providing one gram of protein an ounce, making it a powerhouse of nutrients!

5. Skip the drive-through: When your body is recovering from an injury, do your best to skip fried foods, processed snacks and foods with lots of added sugars. These foods contribute to inflammation in the body, which is the opposite of what you want for healing. Though you might crave comfort foods, try to discipline yourself to consume the nutrition needed to help your body recover faster and stronger!