Everything You Need to Fuel for Better Recovery After Injury

For a better recovery after injury it is important to fuel your body properly. There are many ways to prep the body for healing and food is vital for proper recovery.

Better recovery after injury

The Role of Nutrition in Performance Injury Recovery

No one goes into workouts or performances hoping to get injured, but it happens. There are special nutritional considerations for an injured athlete. When an athlete gets injured our two biggest nutritional considerations are: 

  • Determine the altered energy and protein needs of the athlete
  • Aim to limit the loss of muscle mass and strength following surgery or decreased use of an area. 

After an athlete gets injured their first question is “How long will this take to heal?” Many are already wondering if they can start doing some type of training before their “all clear” date. We all know that rest is important to healing but being injured brings on anxiety and fears about the difficulty in returning to training. 

Maintaining a nutritious diet on a daily basis can help prevent injury

Why Nutrition is an Important Focus After Injury

Nutrition is important all the time, but even the athletes with the most dialed in nutrition plan can still get injured. Does that mean when an injury occurs, they have failed and should give up? Of course not. Now is just a time to switch your thinking for how your nutrient needs may change during this period or consult a professional to help you. 

When you are injured the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat), you normally consume may look a little different. We are going to discuss how different nutrients can be important for healing and how it may be beneficial to change the way you eat slightly. 

Goals for Performance Nutrition During Times of Injury

  • Preserve muscle mass
  • Maintain energy balance 
  • Support muscle protein synthesis 
  • Prevent body fat accumulation

Preserve Muscle Mass

When an injury occurs, you are unable to use the injured body part at its full capacity. In many instances you may not be able to use it at all. The less you can do during recovery, based on the designated healing process, the harder it is to preserve your muscle mass. We use nutrition tactics such as an increase in protein intake to help with the preservation of muscle mass. Proper protein intake can help with repair and regeneration of skeletal muscle.  

Maintain Energy Balance

If you are told not to train or are drastically limited many people think that means cutting back the amount of food, they are eating in the day. Unfortunately, that is not always the best option. In cases of surgery your energy needs can be the same or even more then some may have had while training. It is important to fuel your body to the fullest for the fastest and safest recovery. For many, gaining some weight during an injury is more beneficial to the healing process but as we like to say, that is individualized.

Support Muscle Protein Synthesis

Muscle protein synthesis is your bodies use of the protein foods you ingest in combination with resistance training to deliver protein to the muscle for muscle development. Normally our goal for training is to have greater muscle protein synthesis compared to muscle breakdown creating a balance. Keeping balance is hard during injury because you are often not training enough to create the balance but with changes in nutrition and proper rehab, we can do our best. 

Prevent Body Fat Accumulation

This would probably be the least important out of the four goals. Some athletes benefit from acquiring a bit of body fat during recovery. Of course, this is not a necessary part of recovery for all and is why every injury is assessed differently. 

It is important to maintain a healthy weight to prevent malnutrition and injury to start but a healthy weight is different for each athlete.

Nutrients to Help with Healing

  • Vitamin A 
    • Good for wound healing and tendon/ligament health
    • Sources: red peppers, mango, sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, egg
  • Vitamin C
    • Good for wound healing and tendon/ligament health
    • Sources: bell peppers, broccoli, tomato, citrus fruit
  • Omega 3
    • Help decrease inflammation, promote wound healing, and muscle health
    • Sources: walnuts, canola oil, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, trout)
  • Zinc 
    • Important for muscle health and wound healing
    • Sources: yogurt, beef, pork, beans, dark meat chicken, oysters, fortified cereals
  • Arginine 
    • Good for wound healing
    • Sources: white meat turkey, shrimp
  • Glutamine 
    • Good for wound healing and tendon/ligament health
    • Sources: cabbage, beets, chicken, beef, legumes, fish, dairy
  • Protein
    • Include high quality protein sources in each meal and snack.
    • Sources: fish, beef, chicken, beans, nuts, tofu, dairy
  • Hydration
    • Help deliver nutrients to injured areas

These nutrients are most important for the healing of wounds, muscle, and soft tissue injuries.

There are additional nutrients that are more of a focus for bones and joint injuries.


Meals and Snacks That Can Help With Healing

*These meals contain many of the key nutrients from above*

  1. Toast with cottage cheese spread on it and topped with cantaloupe
  2. Yogurt with mixed berries and a glass of milk
  3. Breakfast cereal and milk with a side of cooked whole eggs
  4. Grilled salmon with a side of sliced beets and a baked sweet potato
  5. A tofu stir fry with bell peppers and celery served with brown rice
When you have a decrease in your appetite drinking higher calorie-containing drinks can help maintain energy needs for recovery. 

There are some benefits for certain supplements when it comes to injury. Check out the post on creatine. It may be an option for you to aid in healing.

As activity increases and you return to your normal way of eating, focus on fueling your body before and after training session for optimal recovery. Look at my other blog post on ways to properly recover after training. (Blog post on tips for post training recovery)

Reminder

These tips can be beneficial to most athletes for recovery, but you must tailor these recommendations to your training. How severe are your injuries, how much are you allowed to train and to what capacity. Also, what was your pre injury nutrition like?

If you have been stuck with nagging injuries and need more guidance Contact me. There is no reason to suffer alone. It is not up to you to know all the answers. Lets work together and get you to your bodies most healed self. 


This post is for educational purposes only. Always consult with a health professional for your specific health needs before making any dietary changes. 

 References: 

Weinert DJ. Nutrition and muscle protein synthesis: a descriptive review. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2009 Aug;53(3):186-93. PMID: 19714233; PMCID: PMC2732256.

United states olympic and paralympic committee (n.d.). Team USA Nutrition. Team USA. Retrieved April 18, 2023, from https://www.teamusa.org/nutrition

Karpinski, C., & Rosenbloom, C. A. (2017). Sports Nutrition (pp. 39-53). Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top