As an athlete, injury is unfortunately part of sports. Athletics have varying degrees of both assumed and inherent structural risk to the human body, arguably making many sports we love to compete in “dangerous”. However, injury is not simply unique to sport. Frankly, injury seems to be part of life. Sure, there are preventative measures one can take to minimize or reduce the risk of injury. The reality is, there is no such thing as complete injury prevention. Similar to the weather, an honest professional will tell you we cannot forecast injury with absolute certainty. Yes, there are athletes who carry higher or lower “chances” of injury based on their movement quality and must be managed accordingly to minimize exercise-related or non-contact injuries. In some circumstances, such as collision/contact related injuries, injury is something we have little control over. Despite the lack of control we may have when it comes to injury, we do have the potential to influence the recovery and healing process for the better. This is good news since getting back to sport or living a "normal" life as quickly as possible is something most people would sign-up for in a heart beat.
Understanding the Healing Process
When you suffer any form of injury, the site of injury enters a traumatic state and inflammation occurs. For most people, inflammation brings negative thoughts to mind and their initial reaction is to stop it in its tracks. I mean, isn’t that what we’ve been told for years? But, is inflammation really unwanted or should we consider that it is part of our body’s process responsible for healing? The truth is, the right amount of inflammation is a good thing and necessary to initiate the healing process from injury. Inflammation provides signals to the body that something is wrong with certain structures or tissues. The body responds by kicking your immune system into high gear to start repairing damaged tissue.
When injured, the body needs to recover and you must supply it with the raw materials needed to promote optimal recovery. These raw materials come in the form of calories, protein, dietary fats, vitamins, and minerals from whole food or supplement sources. Ideally, nutritional strategies for injury recovery must be customized to the individual for optimal response. However, applying some general considerations can be beneficial in speeding up your return to play.
Nutritional Strategies for Injury Recovery
When injured, there is an increase in what is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). BMR is essentially the energy (or calorie) expenditure while your body is at rest. When recovering from injury, BMR has been demonstrated to increase by 15-50% since your body is using more energy to repair and regenerate damaged tissues. The rise in BMR means you must increase your caloric intake accordingly to ensure optimal recovery.
For example, if your caloric intake is 3,500 kcal/day, your new caloric requirements could range from 4,025-5,250 kcal/day (15%-50%) during the recovery process.
Protein is an essential component of our cells, bones, muscles, organs, connective tissues, and skin. Protein is made up of individual amino acids. Amino acids are important for the repair and remodeling process that injured bone, muscle, or connective tissue undergoes during the healing process. The amount of protein the body utilizes for injury repair is significant and your daily protein intake will need to increase accordingly. To gain an understanding of how your protein intake should be adjusted during the healing process, let’s consider the following:
The average, sedentary individual may require an intake of 0.8g/kg of protein per day. Athletes and highly active individuals can often require 1.0-1.5g/kg of protein per day.
Example: 200 lb athlete = 91-136g of protein per day
That same athlete, when injured, may need 1.2-2.0 g/kg of protein per day.
Example: 200 lb athlete = 110-182g of protein per day.
3) Dietary Fat
Dietary fat consumption should be devised to promote tissue healing and minimize unwanted inflammatory responses. It is well known that trans-fats and omega 6 fatty acids promote inflammation in the body. During the initial stages of healing, it is important to consume an appropriately balance of omega 6:omega 3 fatty acids. Consuming more omega 3 fatty acids helps to keep inflammation at adequate levels.
Rather than putting on number on dietary fat consumption during the recovery process, focus on making better food choices. This means increasing the consumption of quality, healthy fats such as coconut oil, butter, fish oil, avocados, and olive oil while doing your best to minimize or avoid eating foods high in omega 6 fatty acids such as fried foods or food sources that contain safflower oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, and soybean oil.
4) Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals are nutrients required by the body in relatively small amounts, but are critically important for a number of metabolic reactions essential in allowing the body not only to survive, but also to thrive. The process of recovering from injury only places a greater importance on key vitamins and minerals to ensure that metabolic processes involved in cell proliferation and tissue remodeling occurs appropriately.
Micronutrients such as Vitamins A, C, D, K and the B vitamins along with
minerals such as magnesium, copper, and zinc can enhance the function of the immune system, assist in inflammation control and collagen synthesis, improve the production of red blood cells, and improve healing rate. Supplementation recommendations will depend upon appropriate therapeutic doses, as well as the individual and the extent of injury.
5) Herbs, Spices, and Tea
Certain herbs and spices have demonstrated impression abilities to manage inflammation during the acute phases of recovery. Some of the herbs and spices can even help reduce dependency of anti-inflammatory drugs.
Some examples of herbs, spices, or teas that can assist in inflammation/pain control as well as tissue regeneration are turmeric, ginger, garlic, bromelain, and green tea.
It’s important to help your patient, clients, or athletes understand sound nutritional habits and patterns during the injury recovery process since it brings special considerations to the forefront. Consuming adequate calories to provide enough energy and sufficient amounts of building blocks (both macro and micronutrients) for tissue repair and regeneration is critical to appropriate healing. When it comes to inflammation, remember the name of the game is inflammation control not inflammation suppression. Inflammation is needed for healing, but must be kept to sufficient levels. Both too little and too much inflammation can interfere with and delay the healing process.
Allow these nutritional strategies to work for you. Not only will they promote a faster return to sport and competition, but also ensure more comprehensive healing while reducing associated risks of re-injury.
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