If you participate in sports, injury is almost inevitable. While nutrition won't guarantee you'll be injury-free, it can help you speed up recovery and shorten the time you're hanging out in the sidelines.
Athletes put in a lot of time and hard work to get to where they are. They are used to intense, rigorous activity that burns hundreds of calories a day. But what now? What can be done to optimize injury recovery, to ensure body weight stays in check, and to heal as effectively as possible?
One thing is for sure, cutting back on calories drastically will work against that goal. When an athlete finds themself hobbling around with a torn ACL, a broken ankle, a strained ligament, or any other injury, it can be discouraging and tempting to make some drastic changes to the diet. Some may think it is best to cut calories significantly to help stay in shape.
If you want to return to your sport, you need to support the body's healing processes without tapping into your hard-earned lean muscle mass.
Remember, when injured, the body's resting metabolic rate is higher than it would normally be. Why? The body's natural healing processes demand more energy than a body at rest. A drastic cut in calories will slow down this process and prolong injury.
So what is your best strategy then?
The following advice won't be organized according to injury type because, for the most part, regardless of the injury, the same principles apply!
Continue to eat a balanced diet. Reduce portions of carbohydrates from bread, pasta, and potatoes by substituting them with fruits and vegetables.
Limit high-sugar and high-fat foods (calorie-dense foods). Instead, maintain calorie intake with nutrient-dense foods (foods with a concentrated amount of nutrients) such as lean protein sources, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or non-fat dairy.
Inspltead of looking for a magic vitamin/mineral/anti-inflammatory supplement, allow some of the body's initial acute inflammation from the injury take place. This is part of the body's natural healing process so mega-dosing on anti-inflammatories may slow down this process.
Focus on the following nutrients that promote tissue repair, bone health, and immune strength:
+ Protein promotes healing and retains muscle. Continue to eat amounts of healthy protein similar to what you would be consuming during intense activity every 3 to 4 hours. Sources include beans, fish, poultry, lean meats, greek or regular yogurt, and whey protein. Include these in all meals and snacks (such as whey protein shake for breakfast, nuts and yogurt for snacks, beans for lunch, and grilled fish for dinner). Proteins with high-leucine content (whey protein, part-skim cheddar cheese, or lean meat) should be consumed during the day. Use slowly digested proteins closer to bedtime (this is found in low fat-cottage cheese, low-fat greek yogurt)
+ Vitamin A promotes cell growth and development (bell peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, papaya)
+ Calcium and vitamin D are involved in bone repair. Find them in low-fat dairy, fortified cereal, fortified tofu, leafy greens, eggs, and cold-water fish. Moderate skin exposure to the sun is your best source of vitamin D.
+ Zinc is involved in wound healing, protein synthesis, and immune function. Find it in almonds, seeds, seafood like crabmeat, cashews, fortified cereals, and lean beef.
+ Vitamin C is important for tissue repair, immune function, and wound healing. Great sources include citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, kiwi, melons, and peppers).
+ Copper helps immune function, bone health, and with elastin regeneration. It is found in sesame, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds, cashews, and shiitake mushrooms.
+ Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation in a more natural way versus prolonged use of anti-inflammatory drugs (cold-water fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, or sardines, flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds).
Don't Forget Hydration
It's easy to forget about hydration when you aren't sweating as much as during training or competition. Hydration is just as important, though, for health, healing, and efficient transport of these nutrients throughout the body.
Once you've implemented all these guidelines into your recovery plan, you can let your body to it's job.