Nutrition for Injury Recovery
Nutrition and Injury
When patients come to us for physical therapy, they often want to know how they can speed up recovery and how they can prevent their injuries from coming back in the future. The majority of what we do as physical therapists is precisely dosing exercises and monitoring training volume. However, that doesn’t cover the whole picture when it comes to injury recovery and prevention.
The main injury prevention strategy when it comes to nutrition, is actually just consuming enough food. There is some evidence that adequate protein intake is important for muscle recovery—making it a necessary macronutrient in your diet as both a preventative measure and as a means to heal from an injury. While it can be tempting for some to decrease caloric intake—including protein intake—when they are less active due to an injury, protein helps to prevent muscle loss and assists with its repair. There is even evidence that increasing protein intake when injured has further benefits.
Generally speaking adults require 0.8-1.4g of protein per kg of body weight, while athletes tend to require a little more. It’s also worth noting that as we age, our bodies become less sensitive to protein, so therefore need MORE protein to maintain muscle mass and strength. Protein intake should be spread evenly throughout the day, in 3-5 meals.
The same goes for carbohydrates during injury. Decreasing carbohydrate intake slightly could be appropriate, depending on just how much your activity level has changed. This change is often very small because the healing process itself requires an increase in energy expenditure and most athletes continue to be active in some capacity.
The majority of your carb sources should be whole, unprocessed, and fibrous. There is a time and place for processed, simple carbs (e.g. long distance runs, multi event CrossFit competitiosn), but for the average adult, avoiding the repeated spikes in insulin that come from consumption of simple sugars and refined grains is going to ensure that your body continues to be able to clear sugar from your bloodstream and use it for energy appropriately. You also want your carb sources to be fibrous. Fiber aids in digestion, slows the rate that carbs are absorbed, slows the release of insulin, and provides a longer feeling of fullness.
At this time, there is not a lot of evidence in the use of fats for preventing injuries. What we do know is that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties. The majority of your fat sources should be unsaturated fats. Saturated fats (found in animal products like dairy and red meat) should only make up about 5-6% of your daily caloric intake. That means the other portion of your fat consumption should come from unsaturated fats. These foods include olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, and fish.
What About Supplements?
While there is some evidence for supplementation, such as vitamin C, D, copper, fish oil, and calcium, all nutrition should be tackled through food first. Your initial goal should be adequate intake of protein, unsaturated fats, and a variety of fibrous, non-processed carbs. If you don’t notice a difference in your injury recovery, reach out to a professional. We recommend the Registered Dietitians at Meteor Nutrition who will be able to assess your daily intake more closely and look for deficiencies based on your type and level of activity.
Oh, and don’t forget to keep doing your physical therapy exercises.