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You’re Injured: Does That Mean You Should Eat Less?

If you are active, no matter how "elite" of an athlete you are, pain and injury is something that we all have to deal with. When we are injured, we often take the right steps in going to see a physical therapist. However, how often do we dial into our nutrition as a way to expedite recovery?

Nutrition is an often overlooked tool for injury recovery by both athletes and physicians. Our diet has the power to mitigate the effects of injury and accelerate the healing process, yet is often neglected as part of the recovery process. Many people’s first instinct following an injury is to decrease the amount of food they eat for fear of weight gain. They drastically reduce their overall caloric intake and protein consumption, assuming that because their physical activity is decreased, their energy expenditure is also decreased, but is this really true? What if your body is actually expending more energy in order to heal the injury?

Tipton (2010) notes that, “First, it is quite clear that during the healing process, energy expenditure is increased – particularly early on and if the injury is severe – by up to approximately 20%. So, whereas overall energy expenditure still may be less than normal, the total likely is not as low as many would at first assume.” Additionally, if someone is on crutches, energy expenditures are 2-3x higher than if they were walking (Tipton 2010).

So is decreasing our calories post injury actually the best idea? How can nutrition be used as a tool in recovery?

How can you use nutrition to optimize injury recovery?

It is important to note that nutrition, like the rehab process, is highly individualized. What works for one person may not work for the next, and you should always consult a dietitian or doctor for medically focused nutrition advice. Highlighted below are some nutritional tips and recommendations that have been studied and shown to be beneficial in promoting injury recovery.

  • Adequate energy intake

  • Perhaps the most important take home message in nutrition for injury rehabilitation is that we must have a balanced overall energy intake. Being in an energy deficit (consuming too few calories) will not promote muscle maintenance and will hinder the natural healing process by the body.

  • Adequate protein intake

  • There is little evidence to suggest that protein intake needs to increase, but it is evident that protein and overall energy intake must be balanced in order to prevent loss of muscle mass and promote healing of the injured tissue.

  • Quintero et al. (2018) notes that,“During the repair phase, the optimal protein consumption (1.6–2.5 g/kg/day divided in several meals with 20–35 g of protein per meal) is crucial for muscle mass maintenance and to reduce the anabolic resistance of skeletal muscle in case of injury. Thus, for a 150 lb person, 109-170 grams of protein should be consumed per day in order to minimize muscle loss and maximize injury recovery.

  • Consumption of antioxidant rich foods and omega-3 fatty acids

  • Both antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be helpful in reducing inflammation. Of particular interest is the Mediterranean diet. Quintero et. al (2018) reports that “the Mediterranean diet, characterized by high consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids from olives, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, low consumption of red meat and moderate use of red wine can enhance antioxidant defenses and improves the lipid oxidation.”

  • Prioritize whole food sources

  • What is a “whole food?” Whole foods can be defined as “food that has been processed or refined as little as possible and is free from additives or other artificial substances.”

  • Eating mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and high quality protein sources will ensure you are getting proper amounts of the macronutrients and micronutrients that will facilitate recovery.

  • Movement

  • Unrelated to nutrition, but a critical point we emphasize here at Prime is optimizing our movement. While immobilization is going to be inevitable for some injuries, if you are able to keep moving in some form or fashion, that is going to be advantageous to injury recovery. If you break your arm, try to still go on walks. If you tweak your knee, squatting is most likely contraindicated, yet, hinging and upper body movements may be indicated.

Here at Prime, we take a whole-person approach when it comes to injury rehabilitation. We recognize that you are more than just your injury and there are more aspects to recovery than the hour you spend at physical therapy. Nutrition is just one crucial aspect of recovery, yet its role is often ignored in the recovery process. At Prime, we work as part of an interdisciplinary team to address the role of nutrition in your recovery from injury. Reach out to today to set up an initial consultation!

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