Nutrition for the Injured Athlete

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Injuries are debilitating, the goal is to heal as effectively and efficiently as possible, so you can get back to training in a healthy condition.  When your body is injured, regardless if it is a soft tissue injury (muscle, tendon, ligament) or a bone injury (fracture, dislocation, cartilage tear or stress fracture) you need to fuel your injury to heal properly, and taking specific measures to do this will help the process go quicker.

Key things to consider when healing an injury:

  • Hydrate:  this helps bring nutrient and oxygen to the injured areas.
  • Calories:  you will need to adjust your calories post-injury to accommodate reduced training, and mobility and at the same time  provide adequate amounts to help with healing injured tissue.
  • Protein: necessary to repair the muscle tissue if that is your injury, and/or and to help attenuate catabolism of the skeletal muscle that occurs in traumatic injuries/surgeries.
  • Limit: high sugar and/or high fat foods to help balance calories.  Reduce portion sizes to help decrease calories
  • Fiber:  foods high in fiber help with are helpful for a sense of fullness, and they help supports your immune system (the micro biome in your colon which is 75% of your immune system feeds off of fiber).
    • Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
  • Promote healing:  increase consumption of non-starchy vegetables that are high in anti-oxidants and vitamins to aid in wound healing
  • Nutrients that heal:
    • Omega-3s- reduce inflammation and help increase recovery. 
      • Walnuts, salmon, sardines, mackerel, ground flax seeds, hemp hearts, chia seeds, soy foods
    • Vitamin C foods help with tissue repair, wound healing and promotes positive immune function
      • Citrus, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, kiwis, and melons
    • Vitamin A helps incrase cell growth and development
      • Sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots (orange vegetables), papaya, bell peppers, apricots, cantaloupe
    • Zinc helps with wound healing and immune function
      • Almonds, seeds, seafood, shell fish
    • Calcium and vitamin D important for bone development and repair.
      • Dairy products and fortified foods like: cereal, tofu, leafy greens, fish, eggs. Moderate skin exposure for vitamin D
    • Leucine is an amino acid that is prime amino acid in synthesizing muscle tissue.  Consuming sources high in this at most meals will help build back up the muscle.
      • Cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, milk, eggs, lean proteins, and pumpkin seeds.
    • Nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and gets nutrients to the tissue quicker.  Ideal to have in your diet often when you have tendon or ligament injuries since they have very little vascularization.
      • Beets, spinach, arugula, celery and radishes.

Examples of Meals and Snacks to Promote Healing

  • Greek yogurt with mango, granola, walnuts
  • Cottage cheese with cantaloupe and toast
  • Smoothie: frozen berries, yogurt, and milk
  • Fortified breakfast cereal with milk and eggs
  • Grilled salmon with beets and sweet potato
  • Tofu, bell pepper, celery stir-fry with brown rice
  • Arugula and radish salad with steak and quinoa
  • Pork chops with spinach and faro salad
  • Orange slices and string cheese
  • Celery with peanut butter and raisins

There are more nutrients needed for healing, this is dependent on your injury (soft tissue or bone) you will need to focus on particular nutrients to help speed healing for that tissue.  Consult a sport dietitian to help you choose the right nutrients for you injury.  The sports dietitian will also help you address potential side effects of the medications you may be on for pain.

Heal healthy and you will heal quickly!

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