Following sports injuries, we know the basic healthcare regime: rest, ice, elevate. We know what to put on our bodies, but do we know what’s best to put in our bodies? Nutrition is a very important, yet often neglected, part of recovery from injury.
First let’s address what happens after an injury. Inflammation immediately occurs to stimulate the healing process. Your cells are producing chemicals to clean up the area and prevent further injury. Inflammation can last several days to weeks, however, excess or long-lasting inflammation is not a good thing. Small injuries can become chronic if we do not take care of our bodies. Unfortunately, many foods we eat cause inflammation within our bodies that slow the healing process.
While you are recovering from your injury, eat foods that are wholesome and natural. Find high-quality meats, fruits, and vegetables that will support your body while it repairs the injury. Avoid processed foods. Watch out for excess dairy, a food group known to cause inflammation. Limit alcohol consumption, as it has been shown to slow healing following muscle injury. Supplement your diet with lean protein to maintain muscle mass, especially when your injury requires surgery and/or immobilization.
So how do you know if you are eating the right foods? Consider keeping a food diary. Take notes of what foods make your feel better (or worse). Do you notice that a particular food increases the pain in your injury? If so, avoid it. Bring your food diary to your appointments to discuss your diet with a healthcare professional.
If your injury causes you to go from very active to less active, then you are going to be expending less energy each day. Thus, you may want to consider lowering your caloric intake to prevent weight gain. If possible, find another type of physical activity to maintain your cardiorespiratory fitness, even if it’s just walking. Lastly, ensure you are getting plenty sleep in order to give your body the energy it needs to recover.
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association follows a “food first” philosophy: look for ways to supplement your diet through wholesome foods, such as high-quality proteins and vegetables, rather than pills and ergogenic aids.
Always talk to your doctor before adding supplements to your diet. Be careful of products that promise faster healing. Just as there is no quick fix to enhance performance, there is no quick fix to recovery from injury. Recovery takes time, so let’s provide our bodies the best possible environment through a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle. MUSC’s comprehensive sports medicine team of doctors, athletic trainers, and physical therapists can provide the guidance you need following your injury. Ask how you can improve your diet and lifestyle to promote recovery following your sports injury.
Buell JL, Franks R, Ransone J, Powers ME, Laquale KM, Carlson-Phillips A. National Athletic Trainers’ Association position statement: Evaluation of dietary supplements for performance nutrition. Journal of Athletic Training. 2013;48(1):124–136.
Turocy PS, DePalma BF, Horswill CA, et al. National Athletic Trainers’ Association position statement: Safe weight loss and maintainance practices in sport and exercise. Journal of Athletic Training. 2011:46(3):322-336.