Stay Lean and Maximise Recovery from an Injury
Nutrition Strategies To Stay LEAN And MAXIMISE Recovery From An Injury
Whether you’re an athlete or gym junkie, an injury will knock you back physiologically and psychologically. I’ve lost count of the number of times people fall into the ‘all or nothing approach’ and eat poorly when not able to train. However, proper nutrition is very important for healing and recovery so you can get back to what you love doing! Here are my top nutrition tips for recovering faster from an injury.
- Manage Energy Intake
The first nutritional priority when injured is to carefully consider energy balance. That is how much you’re consuming versus how much you’re burning through basic bodily functions and your daily activities. It makes sense that if you are moving less, you’ll need to need to eat slightly less to avoid unwanted weight gain, however, being too restrictive may accelerate muscle atrophy and impact the body’s ability to heal.
In addition to managing your energy intake, you also need to prioritise different macronutrients in order to preserve lean muscle mass. While some muscle breakdown is inevitable in cases of inactivity, focusing on consuming high quality protein at regular intervals throughout the day can reduce the loss of lean muscle mass, help to maintain strength and improve recovery outcomes.
Tips For Managing Energy Intake:
- Match carbohydrate intake to your activity level. If you are unsure how to do this, get in touch with your Dietitian! On low or non-training days reduce or replace carbohydrates (rice, pasta, potato) with vegetables or salad.
- Include at least 4 serves of high quality protein, such as meat, fish, eggs or dairy throughout the day.
- Micronutrients that Heal
Every high performing race car needs premium fuel to perform, but also a support crew to make sure everything stays in working order to win the race. Vitamins and minerals act as this support crew in the slow and steady race to injury recovery. These micronutrients help muscle, ligament and bone heal and repair, so it’s important to focus on consuming adequate amounts throughout the day. The best sources are colourful fruits and vegetables, so aim to have four cups of salad or vegetables, with at least three different colours, each day.
Specific Nutrients To Focus On Include:
- Vitamin C
Strawberries, tomatoes, kiwis, mangos, capsicum and oranges are all excellent sources of Vitamin C, which assist in collagen formation and tissue repair. Recent research suggests teaming Gelatin with Vitamin C prior to strength training may improve the recovery outcome of tendon or ligament injuries specifically by enhancing collagen production.
Zinc is needed for wound healing and tissue repair. Consuming foods rich in zinc such as meat, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrains may help in the recovery process.
- Vitamin D & Calcium
Vitamin D (aka the ‘sunshine vitamin’),helps the body absorb calcium found in foods including dairy products, leafy greens, sardines and fortified tofu and plant milks. These two vitamins work together to strengthen bones and assist in muscle contraction and nerve transmission. Dairy foods (milk, cheese, yogurt) are also an excellent source of protein making them the perfect snack whilst recovering from an injury.
- Choose Foods that Reduce Inflammation
Pain, heat, redness, and swelling are all signs of acute inflammation, which is an important stage of the recovery process that serves to protect and repair the body. During this time medications such as Nurofen or Voltaren, are prescribed to help with pain relief and reduce inflammation, but should only be used short term as long term use can lead to stomach ulcers or kidney problems. A better strategy is choosing anti-inflammatory foods which help speed up recovery time, but also fend off chronic inflammation, thus reducing your risk of tissue damage and chronic disease.
Tips For Reducing Inflammation:
- Include foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna or sardines. If you don’t like fish taking a fish oil supplement is a good idea.
- Add a tablespoon of avocado, a small handful of your favourite nuts or seeds or a small drizzle extra virgin olive oil on meals daily.
- Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. For best absorption be sure to pair curcumin with black pepper or a healthy fat source.
- Polyphenols, found in berries, cocoa, tea and many other plant food sources are strong antioxidants that are beneficial in reducing inflammation and accelerating the healing process.
- Limit Pro-Inflammatory Foods including alcohol, foods that are highly processed, high in saturated and/or trans fats and high in sugar.
If you are active, injuries are sometimes inevitable. However, proper nutrition including a wide variety of fruit and veg, quality carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats, fuel the body appropriately and support a training schedule. If you are susceptive to recurring injuries, it’s worth considering your day to day eating habits and assessing energy availability (are you eating enough?), diet quality and muscle recovery post sessions to reduce the risk of injury and get you back in the game.
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Melanie is one of Sydney’s top Sports Dietitian’s. Commencing her career in hospitals, before specialising in Sports Nutrition and Personal Training, gives Mel the unique combination to understand the nutritional demands of exercise. Her approach is simplistic, backed by science and results based. Check out befitdietitian.com for more information or to book a consult.