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Nutrition to speed up injury recovery

Want to recover faster from an injury? Nutrition can play a pivotal role in speeding up the recovery process.

Injuries happen, the question is: after they happen, how can you help your body heal?

Below we will cover some best practices for using nutrition to dramatically speed up the injury recovery process.

Injury recovery process

Tissue damage, whether from surgery or injury, kicks off a 3-stage recovery process.

  • 1st Stage – Inflammation: Pain, swelling, redness, and heat
  • 2nd Stage – Proliferation: Damaged tissues are removed; new blood supply and temporary tissue is built
  • 3rd Stage – Remodeling: Stronger, more permanent tissue replaces temporary tissue

Nutrition is extremely powerful in all 3 stages of the recovery process.

Nutrition for inflammation stage

Although painful and irritating, we need the inflammatory process for repair. Without inflammation, injuries wouldn’t heal. The below strategies may help to support the natural inflammatory and healing process.

Eat more anti-inflammatory fats like:

  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines
  • Flax oil or ground flax

Eat fewer pro-inflammatory foods that can interfere with healing optimally like:

  • Processed foods
  • Vegetable oils like corn, sunflower, safflower
  • Foods with trans fats. Eg. biscuits, pies, cakes and fried foods

You should also focus on avoiding or limiting:

  • Added sugars and concentrated sweets (e.g. soft drinks, ice-cream, etc.)
  • Alcohol – it inhibits muscle protein growth/repair and it increases muscle loss
  • Less than optimal sleep (7-9 hours/day for most adults)

Include inflammation managing herbs and spices:

  • Curcumin from turmeric and ginger
  • Garlic: 2-4 cloves a day
  • Bromelain from pineapple: 2 cups of pineapple a day. The core is particular rich in bromelain.
  • Cocoa, tea and berries: Eat daily or supplement with blueberry or grape extracts, green tea extracts, citrus extracts

Supplements can also be used with the above, but best prescribed by a professional trained in nutrition for injury recovery.

Nutrition for proliferation and remodelling stages

Question your total calorie intake?

Acute injury including post-surgical procedures and inflammation will increase metabolic stress and so energy requirements are likely to be higher in the early phase of recovery. However, this increase will not be equivalent to the decrease in energy expenditure as a result of inactivity. Therefore, overall it will mean a decrease in usual energy intake in order to prevent excessive weight gain over the period of rehabilitation.

The amount of energy needed following injury depends on the extent of the injury and how much it affects normal activity levels. Protein needs also increase to support tissue recovery and repair, as well as muscle growth.

With each meal:

  1. Eat Adequate Protein. Non-processed meats, legumes, eggs, plant-based proteins, fish.
  2. Balance Dietary Fat. About ⅓ of fat intake from saturated, ⅓ from monounsaturated, and ⅓ from polyunsaturated.
  3. Eat the Rainbow. Include a diverse mix of colorful fruits and veggies.
  4. Eat adequate carbohydrates. You’ll need fewer carbs when not training but enough to support recovery; include minimally processed carbs like whole oats, whole grain rice, sprouted grain breads and quinoa.

Supplements to speed up recovery

Supplementing with the following post-injury may be helpful.

Vitamin A

Assists with cell growth and development, as well as immune function. Examples of foods rich in vitamin A include: sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, papaya (i.e., orange/red fruits and vegetables).

Omega 3’s, especially EPA

Fats are essential for healing, and the type of fat is critical. Omega 3’s (found mainly in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel or tuna) help to increase muscle protein synthesis (muscle building), as well as play a role with recovery and decreasing inflammation.

Vitamin C

Assists with wound healing, tissue repair and optimal immune function. Foods rich in vitamin C include: citrus fruit, strawberries, red bell peppers, watermelon.

Zinc

Assists with wound healing, muscle building and immune function. Good choices of foods for getting enough zinc include: beef, almonds, seeds (e.g., sunflower, flax, pumpkin, etc.) and seafood.

Vitamin D

Important for bone health and immune function. Vitamin D is the sun vitamin – can be found in small amounts in fish, eggs and dairy foods.

Thanks to Sergio for contributing this piece to Steve Grant Health.

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