So, all of us have tweaked something in the gym at some time or another. Many of us have gotten injured during an athletic activity. The “go-to” recommendations are usually RICE: rest, ice, compression, or elevation during the first seventy-two hours and then begin some form of rehabilitation. However, no one ever discusses what your nutrition should look like while you are recovering. Proper nutrition while injured or while rehabilitating can make the biggest difference in speed of healing and overall recovery. I would argue that nutrition is the missing link in all of rehabilitation. You can be doing everything correctly, but if your diet stinks, you won’t heal!
Where should I begin?
So you’ve been injured. The number one priority should be that you give your body the best tools for healing and rehab. This includes the fuel and tools that it needs to heal. You also want to avoid foods and lifestyle habits that promote inflammation. Some say inflammation is a good thing. I agree, it is a natural process, but too much of any good thing can cause increased pain and prolong recovery.
What should I avoid?
Alcohol consumption after an injury can significantly slow recovery time. More research has to be done to determine how much, but current thinking recommends avoiding it all together. This data can also be extrapolated regarding muscle recovery after training. Tissue is microscopically damaged after an intense training session, and alcohol consumption will slow recovery which will slow gains.
Sugar has been shown to promote inflammation. Avoiding foods that contain high amounts of high fructose corn syrup and sucrose will reduce inflammation and accelerate recovery.
Stimulants, such as coffee, increase your sensitivity to pain. Stimulants stimulate! This includes pain receptors. Most injuries come with their fair share of pain; why make it worse!
What Should I Eat?
Consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day. Most Americans do not consume enough fiber. Fiber is essential for healthy gastrointestinal tract. Fiber also helps control blood sugar levels, reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. High fiber diets are also beneficial for those that are looking to achieve a healthy weight. Fiber will help control inflammation in the gut, which will reduce the total amount on the rest of the body.
Eat 9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day. Almost all fruit and vegetables are anti-inflammatory; the more the better. Within fruit and vegetables, anti-inflammatory compounds reside. Many have been shown to work better than prescription drugs. In addition to the protection against inflammation, they supply vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals which protect against disease and supply building blocks of new tissue.
Eat 4 servings of Alliums per week. These include members of the onion and garlic family, which include onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, scallions, and chives. They contain a ton of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals and are best eaten raw.
Consume omega-three fatty acids. Omegas 3’s are anti-inflammatory and are part of the cell membrane. They also compose a substantial part of brain and nervous tissue. These are available in supplement form. Sources include chia seeds, flax seed, flax seed oil, and some marine plants. Salmon and fatty fish are also sources, but the quality and contamination are becoming an issue.
Eat healthy snacks. These include fruit and vegetables. Avoid packaged and processed food, as these are pro-inflammatory.
Avoid processed and refined sugars. Processing of foods leads to inflammation. Many contain chemicals that promote inflammation, but are also harmful to your nervous and endocrine systems. Be sure to check out my article regarding how sugar is labeled.
Avoid trans-fats. Trans-fats are the worst type of fats. They promote inflammation and have been linked to other chronic diseases. Avoid these like the plague!
Add spice to your food. Certain spices have anti-inflammatory properties and some have been proven to decrease inflammation better than prescription drugs. Turmeric is one example. Not only is it a very effective anti-inflammatory spice, it has also been shown to help fight cancer and other chronic diseases! Other anti-inflammatory spices include ginger, cinnamon, basil, cardamom, chamomile, celery seed, cilantro, cloves, fennel seeds, parsley, nutmeg, and rosemary.
Avoid red meats, poultry, and processed meats. If you are concerned that you are not getting enough protein, make sure that you consume plant sources, such as beans, lentils, or quinoa.
Avoid most oils. Extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil can be used sparingly. High quality canola oil is also acceptable, in moderate amounts. Avoid vegetable and corn oil as these are highly processed and create inflammation.
Avoid margarine and shortening. These contain trans-fats and are highly inflammatory.
Avoid foods made of white flour. This includes pastas, breads, and baked goods.
What About Supplements?
There are many supplements that will help with inflammation. In the acute phase, the first seventy-two hours following an injury, proteolytic enzymes are a great adjunct to conventional treatment. These will help debribe tissue and promote a healthy healing response. Make sure you take these on an empty stomach. If not, they will just break down the proteins in your stomach from food. Typical proteolytic enzymes include bromelin, from pineapple and papain, from papaya.
After the first seventy two hours, traditional anti inflammatory supplements are helpful. These include curcumin, quercetin, omega three fatty acids, ginger, etc. These should be taken three times a day in addition to an anti-inflammatory diet and rehabilitation program.
I also recommend additional vitamin C, proline and lysine. These amino acids, along with vitamin C are the building blocks of collagen, which forms the connective tissue matrix of our body. Your needs for vitamin C increase as well as the need for protein after an injury. Make sure to include these in your diet or supplementation program.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our office!