Alongside physical rehabilitation, research demonstrates that good nutrition can significantly help to speed up recovery after exercise-induced injuries (1-3)
Typically, during the recovery process, we will all experience some loss of lean muscle mass and functional strength, largely due to prolonged immobilisation with no significant stimulus of the muscle (4). This is generally accompanied by a reduction in our metabolic rate, plus a potential increase in body fat if our energy intake is not appropriately managed (5).
For athletes, these factors can have serious implications for their athletic performance, so it is important that they are minimised as much as possible.
So how can dietary manipulation help athletes prevent these negative outcomes?
My clinical approach to the nutritional management of injury is determined on a case by case basis for each athlete.
My nutritional strategy depends on a variety of factors including: the age, current fitness level and health status (i.e. current body composition, weight, metabolic health, any underlying health conditions etc) of the individual.
The type and severity of the injury and the length the recovery time are also important considerations.
Key priorities to consider include:
1) Managing Energy Needs
Research suggests that both a consistent surplus of energy as well as a constant calorie deficit during the recovery period can accelerate muscle loss (5). However, it is important that energy requirements are managed on a case by case basis. For example, there can be a significant reduction in exercise activity for some athletes and not for others and this will affect their energy requirement. If surgery is required, this will also increase resting energy expenditure immediately after the surgery (3).
2) Ensuring adequate protein intake
As adequate protein is essential for muscle growth and repair, research suggests that we have an increased protein requirement (up to as high as 2-2.5g/kg of body weight) to preserve muscle mass during the recovery period, depending on the injury severity(1).
3) Nutrient Adequacy
Care must be taken to ensure that an athlete has a balanced and varied diet to make sure they get all the vitamins and minerals they need to support the healing process. Research suggests that specific nutrients can also help to speed up the recovery process, so it is important to ensure adequate amounts of foods rich in these nutrients in the diet. For example, adequate vitamin C (found in berries, bell peppers, kiwi fruit and citrus fruits etc.) can help to promote collagen and muscle growth for connective tissue injuries. Likewise, omega 3 fats (oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts), ginger, turmeric, extra virgin olive oil etc are great anti-inflammatory foods which can naturally help to reduce inflammation levels and promote recovery in the rehabilitation phase of recovery.
4) Targeted Nutritional Supplementation*
Research demonstrates that certain supplements can also be effective at improving recovery outcomes (6). These include collagen, vitamin C, vitamin D, gelatine, HMB-CA, leucine, creatine, omega-3, probiotics etc. Supplements should be carefully chosen according to the desired application and the individual requirements of the athlete.
If you are recovering from an injury or have a planned surgery that requires a period of immobilization or rehabilitation and would like some nutritional support, get in touch.
* Always consult a qualified health practitioner before taking any nutritional supplements.
(1) Tipton KD. Nutrition for acute exercise-induced injuries. Ann Nutr Metab. 2010;57 Suppl 2:43‐53. doi:10.1159/000322703
(2) Tipton K. D. (2015). Nutritional Support for Exercise-Induced Injuries. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 45 Suppl 1, S93–S104. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0398-4
(3) Tipton, K.D., Nutritional Support for Injuries Requiring Reduced Activity. Sports Science Exchange (2017) Vol. 28, No. 169, 1-6
(4) Wall et al (2013). Skeletal muscle atrophy during short-term disuse: implications for age-related sarcopenia. Ageing research reviews, 12(4), pp.898-906.
(5) Biolo et al (2008), Positive energy balance is associated with accelerated muscle atrophy and increased erythrocyte glutathione turnover during 5 wk of bed rest. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 88(4), pp.950-958.
(6) Bloomer, R.J., 2007. The role of nutritional supplements in the prevention and treatment of resistance exercise-induced skeletal muscle injury. Sports Medicine, 37(6), pp.519-532.