Injury is an unfortunate inevitability when it comes to performing physical activity, many sporting icons such as Andy Murray, Alistair Brownlee and bodybuilding superstar Jay Cutler are either recovering from, or have just recovered from some form of injury. It’s a very lucky few (if any) that manage to go the duration of a sporting career without getting some form of injury, be it acute or chronic (short or long term).
Alistair Brownlee’s recent ankle injury he suffered during the Triathlon World Championships is almost certainly the consequence of years of relentless pavement pounding, as well as recent changes to the Triathlon series whereby the athletes perform 5 events around the world. This recent ankle injury follows an achiles injury that almost saw him miss the Olympics in 2012! Andy Murray needed lower back surgery probably because of the repetitive lunging nature of tennis, despite him being in otherwise tip top condition. The thing is this, no matter how conditioned you are, injuries are (sadly) unavoidable meaning we as sport and fitness enthusiasts need to take appropriate steps to limit and hopefully prevent injury…but the more realistic answer is that we need to know HOW to recover if, or should I say WHEN, an injury occurs. And before you say anything, I’m a realist NOT a pessimist!
Nutrition & Recovery from injury
The first line of defence for an injury, particularly a muscle, tendon or ligament strain is Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, Ice, Compression, Elevation and Rest (N.I.C.E.R). There are a few supplement faux pas that you should try to avoid after an acute injury, for example a pre-workout such as those containing l-arginine (pre-cursor to nitric oxide) and beta-alanine which stimulate blood flow are not advisable in the early stages. The key is to limit bleeding within the muscle, tendons or ligaments etc, so supplement consumption in the early stages (first week) is a side point. However, after this time you may want to consider consuming the following:
Fatty acids can be either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory, this is desirable for maintaining general homeostasis (constant harmonious internal and external environment). However during injury, the daily inflammatory responses our bodies go through are not desirable, consequently you should increase your ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids to limit muscle and joint inflammation.
Of particular interest is Leucine, this invaluable BCAA is critical to staving off catabolism (muscle breakdown) when injured, as well as promoting muscle protein synthesis. It may be beneficial to consume a BCAA in order to get optimal amounts of Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine (Tipton and Luc van Loon, 2013).
This common dietary amino acid is conditionally essential, meaning our bodies are normally able to manufacture it itself, however there may be times e.g. during injury that our body may struggle to supply enough to meet demand. L-Arginine acts as a building block for muscle growth and recovery, but its main purpose for consuming this during an injury is its key role in producing nitric oxide! Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels allowing for vasodilation which increases the delivery of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the injured area promoting healing and recovery.
Protein is the building block of pretty much every tissue in your body. Look at protein as your bricks when building a house, in order for your injured body part to regenerate you need to give it the building blocks. Protein is composed of amino acids, therefore there is some overlap between protein and BCAA supplements. However, protein and BCAAs work via slightly different mechanisms in that protein is predominantly anabolic (growth inducing) whereas BCAAs are more anti-catabolic, there limiting muscle breakdown during times of lessened physical activity.
An interesting protein during this time is pea protein, ironic then that all we usually do with them is freeze them and put them on our injured area... because the thing is this, pea protein is naturally high in L-Arginine, which could be beneficial to your recovery from injury.
Llewellyn, W. (2009). Sport Supplement Reference Guide. Arginine. FL : Molecular Nutrition LLC.
Tipton, K, D & Luc, J, C, van Loon, (2013). Nutritional Coaching Strategy to Modulate Training Efficiency. Nestle Nutrition. Basel : Karger.