How to Eat to Recover From Injury

By Mike Howard

diet-for-injuriesInjuries suck – plain and simple.

They are especially frustrating for those who are used to being active. The standard protocol for injuries is RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), therapeutic exercise and painkillers.

Here’s why diet should play a big part in this equation and how to optimize eating to help hasten recovery.Common Injuries

There are so many types of injuries and nutritional strategy will vary depending on the type and severity of the injury amongst other factors. Some of the more common injuries are;

  1. Sprains: Injury to ligament tissue
  2. Strains: Injury to muscle or tendon tissue
  3. Fractures: Injury to bone tissue

Nutritional Goals for Recovery

1. Balance inflammation:

  • Inflammation occurs at the onset of an injury. It is a protective and healing mechanism
  • It is crucial to the initial healing process but needs to be controlled.
  • Failure to control inflammation can cause scar tissue to form.

2. Facilitate optimal wound healing:

  • 5-7 days post injury/surgery brings about skeletal muscle breakdown, which triggers metabolic and hormonal reactions that suppress the immune system

3. Support tissue healing

  • Ligaments and tendons generally have poor blood supply, therefore incomplete healing is common after injury.
  • Incomplete healing can result in chronic pain and weakness – ultimately interfering with return to optimal health.

4. Correct calorie and protein imbalance

  • Following an injury/surgery, metabolic rate jumps by as much as 30%! This greatly influences the body’s need for extra calories and protein.

Nutritional Strategies for Injury Recovery

Protein

  • Increase protein intake to offset potential muscle breakdown that can occur post-injury
  • Aim for a range of 1.5-2.og/kg.
  • Protein meals should be divided among 4-6 smaller meals throughout the day and should ideally consist of lean, complete and bioavailable sources (poultry, fish, eggs, lean beef, cottage cheese, whey protein powder).

Carbs

  • Good sources are: veggies and fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, oats. Avoid sugars and refined carbs.
  • Include carbs in sufficient amounts in early stages to keep calories sufficient, but consider cutting back after a week or two post-injury/surgery – especially if weight control is a concern.

Fats

  • Fats are formidable allies in reducing inflammation. Omega-3’s are the hallmark fats for reducing inflammation. Monounsaturated fats are also helpful.
  • Good fat sources include: Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines), flaxseeds, nuts, olive oil, avocados, pumpkin/sunflower/sesame seeds.
  • Fats that can hinder healing by increasing inflammation: Trans fats, omega-6 fats and saturated fats.

Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements

Vitamin A:

Why it’s good: Promotes cell growth/repair, boosts immune function, and enhances bone development.
Food sources: Liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, mango, spinach, papaya, red peppers.
Amount: Up to 10,000 I.U.’s

Vitamin C:

Why it’s good: Collagen formation, replenishes blood levels of vitamin C brought on by injury, enzyme activity for metabolism, increased immune function
Food sources: Broccoli, red peppers, oranges, strawberries, cabbage, grapefruit, cantaloupe.
Amount: 1000-2000mg

Zinc:

Why it’s good: Wound healing, enzyme reactions
Food sources: Meat, seafood, sunflower seeds, almonds
Amount: 15-30 mg

Supplements that May be Helpful

  • Fish oil
  • Amino Acids (arginine, ornithine, glutamine)
  • HMB

Superfoods for Recovery

  • Salmon (omega-3’s)
  • Almonds (fat/protein, zinc)
  • Olive oil (Anti-inflammatory – works like ibuprofen)
  • Broccoli (vitamin C, fiber, antibacterial)
  • Apples (flavanoids – protect cells from oxygen damage, prevent inflammation
  • Curry (anti-inflammatory)
  • Pineapple (bromelain – analgesic)
  • Garlic (allicin – anti-inflammatory, improves macrophage function)
  • Grass fed beef (protein, vitamin, minerals)
  • Papaya (vitamins A, C and papain – enzyme that increases immune function)

Closing Thoughts

This diet can help you get on your feet again and help you find exclusive health insurance leads. Get your body back on track and save money on health insurance! Now that’s motivation. Injuries can be frustrating, no doubt about it. But if it does happen, you want to be able to use every tool at your disposal – including nutrition.

References:

  • American Dietetic Association: Nutrition in Rehabilitation and Recovery from Injury
  • Dieticians Canada
  • Injuries: Nutrition and Recovery. John M. Berardi and Ryan Andrews
  • Nutrition sports injury therapies: What you eat can play a significant part in preventing or healing a sports injury. Jim Bledsoe
  • Recovery Nutrition for the Injured athlete. Kim Mueller, M.S., R.D.
  • World’s Healthiest Foods Website: www.whfoods.org
  • The PowerfoodNutrition Plan: Susan M. Kleiner, PhD

16 Comments

  1. Nancy Gibson

    I have been on a very strict diet, doctor overseen. I recently injured my leg, a large open wound. All a sudden I am hungry all the time, and exhausted. I am being treated by a wound specialist.

    Reply
  2. HoneyBee

    Just had surgery to repair my Achilles tendon and shave a bone spur. This was a great help. Thanks

    Reply
  3. Charlotte

    Thank you! Very informative. I recently fell (I am a figure skater) and might have possibly torn my MCL in my knee…hoping for good news when I return next week…but I am looking for everything that will speed up the recovery time in the process. I am sure this will be beneficial! Thanks again! Keep posting!

    Reply
  4. Charles

    Eating is important, but you should always see a physician or licensed health care professional, like a physical therapist.

    Repetitive injuries like tendonitis, could arise from muscle imbalances, poor form, or structural problems. These are issues that a physical therapist should address.

    Reply
  5. Gabrielle

    A very informative post, probebly will be a big help to some of the readers of this blog

    Reply
  6. Spectra

    I’ve been relatively lucky as far as injuries go, but this is a good list of foods to include in a post-injury diet. One of my past co-workers was a dietician and she said that increasing protein was a big key to faster wound healing. I’ve also heard that garlic is a great food to include in your diet after any trauma because it has natural antibiotic properties. Not sure how accurate that is, but hey, I LOVE garlic and I pretty much eat it all the time anyway.

    Reply
  7. Dr. J

    I’m either injured, or ready for further punishment 🙂

    Reply
  8. NeoVitin

    Good post. Some time or another we all will face an injury, and it is good to take every healthy advantage possible when it comes to recovery.

    Reply
  9. Susanna

    Typo in comment above. Meant to say “without” causing any harm to my injured leg.

    Reply
  10. Susanna

    I wish I had this nutrition information when I broke my leg and had surgery to repair it. I definitely increased my calorie intake, just was not careful where I got the calories from. Thankfully, many of the foods on the list above are staples of my diet.

    One thing I would add to the mix, particularly if you are working through a severe injury is don’t forget about the rest of your body. Many people focus their physical therapy on their injured area they don’t give much attention to the rest. Thankfully, I had a good trainer who worked with me to do strength training exercises whith causing any harm to my injured leg.

    My healing was fast! The doctor was amazed. His comment, “You have one body, everything is connected. It makes sense that taking care of the rest of your body will only help your [injured] leg as well.”

    Reply
  11. Fat Loss Guru

    This is my first time to this blog and I can relate to what you’ve said here about healing injuries. I just sprained my ankle about two weeks ago and it sure has set me back from my daily routine of exercise/running etc.

    I’m beyond the ice/elevation stage, as most of the swelling has gone away. Now I’m just working to get the ankle back in its regular motion to be able to walk normally.

    Cheers!

    Reply
  12. DR

    Great advice.

    I know that fish oils certainly helped with my chronically sore shoulders.

    DR
    http://healthhabits.wordpress.com

    Reply
  13. musajen

    I second that! Really valuable information. Thanks!

    Reply
  14. Dawn

    Thanks for such a great post. Lot’s of information I never thought about and wish I had known before I sprained my ankle 1 1/2 years ago.

    Reply
  15. FitFiend

    I would say that these are very good guidelines for a proper diet, in general. I try to stick to much of this even when I am not injured.

    Reply
  16. Lauren

    Great post. Very informative. There are some foods I knew were healthy, but I didn’t realize they helped us recover from injuries faster.

    Reply