An injury can be devastating not only for an athlete but for an entire team. One injury can shake a team’s entire season. That is why every effort should be made for a fast and effective recovery.
When an injury occurs, a recovery plan often includes surgery, physical therapy, rehab, ice, and rest. Why is it that nutrition is so quickly overlooked when it is one of the most crucial components to recovery? I have had 5 knee surgeries and after everyone I was told that the surgery will be useless unless I do the rehab afterwards (true, and also a wonderful scare tactic to get the rehab done). No one ever told me that without the proper nutrition I will not capitalize on recovery and that it will take longer to get back to normal.
Most people know the basic components of nutrition: calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber. Let’s break this down fast and simple and look how these affect injury, recovery from injury, and what should be consumed during the crucial recovery window.
CALORIES – After my first ACL I was worried about gaining weight since I was no longer training (I was a senior in high school and had an ever important prom dress to wear in a couple months) so I cut my calories way back. Little did I know that major surgeries can increase metabolic rate up to 50% because your body is getting ready to repair injured tissue. A rough target for recovering athletes to shoot for as far as caloric consumption goes is less than when they are training, but more than if they were sedentary.
PROTEIN – This is an area athletes typically don’t have a problem with. My first year of college I was so hooked on protein shakes that I would do extra workouts just so that I could have extra protein shakes; I was literally like a puppy doing tricks to get rewarded! But it is more than just getting protein. The amount, type and timing is crucial. Following the correct formula can decrease the loss of muscle mass and strength caused by an injury. Injured athletes should shoot for 1.5-2.0 g/kg body weight. To promote healing, protein should be consumed consistently and distributed evenly throughout the day instead of getting all your protein at dinner, which is the typical format for most people.
Look to get 20-30 grams per snack and meal, some ideas: 20-30 grams of protein=3 eggs, 1 cup cottage cheese, 1 cup greek yogurt, 3-4 oz meat, poultry, fish.
CARBOHYDRATES – Short and simple. Eating carbs before and during exercise helps maintain blood glucose, reduce stress hormone and reduces the risk of injury. Consume 5-12 g/kg body weight.
Think: Fruits, starchy veggies, whole grains
FAT – Low intake of dietary fat has been linked to an increase injury risk in females. Low intake in omega-3 fatty acids contributes to a stronger inflammatory response and may increase the severity of injury. Not all fats are created equal! Regulate intake of saturated fat. Avoid or limit trans fat.
Good fats: avocados, nuts, olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil
FIBER – Pain meds=constipation. Eat fiber, end of story!
-prunes, bran cereal, oatmeal, whole-grain bread, legumes
A few other key points:
A key part in recovery from an injury, whether it’s a rolled ankle or full blown knee blow out is to reduce inflammation.
Antioxidants neutralize damaging effects, the body produces some antioxidants on its own, but some must come from diet. Berries, dark chocolate, artichokes, kale, pecans, and salmon are good sources for antioxidants.
Vitamins. Vitamins C and E can help as connective tissue beings to regenerate (oranges, grapefruit, bell-peppers, and berries). Vitamin C is also needed to make collagen and repair tendons.
When injured, every little thing helps to get back out on the court faster. Nutrition is crucial, don’t underestimate its importance and effectiveness!