As I lie here a few days post-op from microfracture surgery, I started thinking about foods that can aid in healing from injury. Unfortunately, being injured is usually part of being an athlete. One of the most important factors for a complete recovery is following doctor’s orders! This usually means rest, something with which many athletes may have a difficult time (I know I do)! However, how does food help the healing process, or does it?
Whether you’re recovering from surgery or a pulled muscle, a healthy, well-balanced diet may accelerate the healing process. Let’s take a look at the top food considerations for healing:
As athletes we know that when we are not active we don’t need as many calories. After an injury we may be tempted to drastically reduce calories to avoid weight gain. But metabolic rate increases about 20% during injury, so consuming a low-calorie diet will only prolong your recovery.
One of the most important nutrients to consume is adequate water. Surgery causes a loss in body fluids and electrolytes; rehydration is crucial for your recovery. Aim for 8 cups of water daily. You may also drink diluted juice (50% water, 50% juice), sports drinks, or tea (watch caffeine intake).
Protein is needed for tissue repair and regeneration. We all know to include protein in our post-workout recovery nutrition due to tissue damage. Why would an injury be any different? When you have elective surgery or are trying to heal bone fractures, protein requirements increase by at least 50%. Considering an athlete needs 1.2-1.7g/kg ideal body weight when he’s healthy, injury needs increase to 1.8-2.5g/kg!
Fats lubricate the body, muscles, ligaments, and skin. Athletes who add more fat to their diet may notice an increase in healing, especially when omega-3 fats are consumed. These long-chain fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that may speed healing of injuries.
Fruits and vegetables
These are packed with phytochemicals and antioxidants, all of which help the body clear any chemical and cellular waste, and fight inflammation. Make sure you get at least 2 cups of colorful veggies along with a couple of pieces of fruit each day.
Tart cherry juice
Research suggests the anthocyanins found in cherries, which gives them their bright red color, may reduce inflammation linked to muscle damage or injury. A recent study1 followed 20 healthy men and women who consumed cherry juice for five days prior to a marathon and two days after the race. Those who consumed cherry juice had a faster recovery of strength, enhanced total antioxidant capacity, and decreased inflammatory markers.
This may be a bit overwhelming, so I provided a couple of ways to implement the above recommendations:
Tart cherry juice (no added sugar)
Essential fatty acids (an oil-based version, ex: Health from the Sun Total EFA’s)
Whey protein powder
Cocoa (for more antioxidants and of course, chocolate!)
Ground flax seed (optional)
And even some dark green leafy veggies (spinach is a good choice)
Blend in a blender; use juice, water, or even milk until desired consistency is achieved.
Boil a whole chicken for about an hour
Remove skin and bones; shred meat
Add the following (or anything else you like):
Bouillon to desired taste
Kale or chard
Let simmer on low until you are ready to enjoy!