‘Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.’ – John Wooden.
If you are unfortunate enough to sustain an exercise-related injury and find yourself out of action, it can be a testing time. Hopefully, being the dedicated athlete that you are, you will pick yourself up and do whatever you can to ensure an optimal recovery. As well as attending physical therapy, you should be focusing on the fuel going into your body.
Injuries sustained from physical activity have two main phases: Immobilisation/ Atrophy and Hypertrophy. Depending on the nature of your injury each phase can last from a few days to months. Nutrition can aid your body’s recovery in both of these phases by efficiently speeding up the healing process. In order to implement this plan of action, you need to know which foods and supplements can benefit you. Combining aspects of a healthy diet and supplementation will create the ideal physiologic environment for your body to heal.
Inflammation is a self-protection immune response. While the swelling of an injured site does provide protection, excessive swelling can cause more problems and extend your recovery period. While it may seem obvious, water both in solid form (ice packs being applied following an injury to prevent inflammation) and when consumed in liquid form can hasten recovery. Ensuring you remain hydrated will improve your body’s ability to utilise the nutrients that will aid your recovery.
I don’t have to tell you that avoiding junk food is a must (read our previous article for more info). Focus on eating fruit, vegetables and whole grain foods. Ensure that you get an adequate amount of protein in your diet as this will aid muscle maintenance and recovery. Intake of approximately 1-1.5g per kg of body weight is ideal.
Keep an eye on your calorie intake. Now that you have been forced to reduce/ cease physical activity for a while, you will need to adjust your intake accordingly. Your body will require a lot of energy to heal itself so go into starvation mode because you are no longer exercising. Eating the right foods will help you to stay in shape during your recovery while speeding up the healing process.
Pineapple contains bromelain which is an enzyme with anti-inflammatory properties. This is an ideal snack if you have a sprained or strained muscle.
Carrots are another excellent choice to include in your diet. The carotenoids found in carrots protect cells from free radicals, boost immunity and regulate inflammation. If you are not a fan of carrots, there are other healthy sources of carotenoids for you to consider. Sweet potato, apricot and pumpkin are all great alternatives.
Ginger is an ideal ingredient to include in your meals if you have suffered a joint injury. It helps to boost immunity and relieve joint pain.
Walnuts are a great snack to include in your diet as they contain high levels of omega 3. Omega 3 is a fatty acid which the body cannot make itself but is necessary to the upkeep of your body. It plays a role in inflammation reduction, keeping the blood from clotting excessively and lowers cholesterol.
It can be difficult to obtain enough of certain nutrients in the diet. Supplementation can help you to get the additional levels you require in the most simple way.
As I have just mentioned, omega 3 is a powerful fatty acid which will be perfect to help you conquer the atrophy phase. If you don’t enjoy eating fish, then supplements like Optimum Health Omega 3 Fish Oil will be the best way to include the fatty acid in your diet.
Magnesium supplements, such as Optimum Health Magnesium are great for reducing swelling at the site of injury. This mineral is necessary for electrolyte balance, muscle function (including function of heart muscle) and a healthy nervous system.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin can speed up rate of healing by stimulating cartilage regeneration and slowing deterioration. If you have sustained a hard tissue injury, this is particularly useful to you. There is a combined supplement available which includes calcium (vital to prevent low bone density) called Optimum Health Glucosamine, Chondroitin, Ester C and Calcium.
Vitamin C is involved in the synthesis of collagen and other organic components of the intracellular matrix. It is also a powerful antioxidant and immune system booster. A deficiency in this vitamin can cause delays in the healing process so it is important to consume enough. By eating foods rich in Vitamin C like oranges, you should be able to maintain good levels, but you can supplement this vitamin using Power Health Vitamin C Powder.
Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant which combats muscle damage and decreases free radical levels in the blood. Optimum Health Vitamin E is one supplement option or you can use multi-vitamins if you prefer.
While your body is busy healing itself, it is paramount not to ignore your need for psychological well-being. Recovering from injury can be a lengthy and difficult period for any athlete. Staying in a positive mind set will help you push on with your rehabilitation and focus on getting back to your sport/training. If you are feeling stressed and anxious about your situation, try Patrick Holford Brain Food. This supplement is designed to help with periods of high stress, helping you to relax and most importantly, get the sleep that you need for healing.
‘The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back.’ – Vince Lombardi.
This is the more active phase of recovery where you begin to regain physical function through therapy. The first thing that your physical therapist will focus on is the range of movement at the site of injury. Once you make good progress with this (and why wouldn’t you, you have been eating like a champion) you will move onto increasing your strength and endurance.
Physical activity levels will be increasing, therefore you need to increase calorie intake to provide your body with the energy it needs. When we are injured, it places more mechanical stresses on other parts of our body and so we tend to use more energy than normal for movement. Make allowances for this and remember you are still healing. A high protein diet, abundant with complex carbohydrates and healthy fatty acids will be perfect for this phase.
Iron deficiency reduces the oxidative potential of muscle. This encourages anaerobic energy systems to dominate during physical activity and leads to high levels of lactate. This is not great if you are trying to recover from injury. Foods like red meat, spinach, lentils and raisins are high in iron and will benefit you during the hypertrophy phase.
It has been well documented that calcium and vitamin D in milk helps build strong bones. So it seems obvious that intake of both will help to heal your bones. It is important that you maintain healthy bone density even if your injury was muscular. That way when you begin physical therapy you will be in the best shape you can be to achieve speedy progress!
Protein supplements will help provide the nutrients your body needs now that you will be regaining muscle mass. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey has a great reputation for strength gains or you could try Dymatize Super Amino to provide your body with the amino acids required for protein synthesis.
Malinauskas BM, Overton RF, Carraway VG & Cash BC, Supplements of Interest for Sport-related Injury, Advances in Medical Sciences, 2007, 52.
MacKay D & Miller A, Nutritional Support for Healing, Alternative Medical Review, 2003, 8.