Nutrition to Speed Injury Recovery

healing with foodHave you ever had surgery or an injury and wonder “What can I do to help myself get better faster?”  Sure, the obvious things come to mind; rest, ice/heat, take an anti-inflammatory, or pain medications.  But, what if you could do something to proactively help speed your recovery?  Have you ever considered  your “nutrition” as medicine?  Not only can the foods we choose to nourish our bodies with each and every day have a profoundly positive impact on how healthy we can keep our muscles, joints (bones), internal organs, etc., but they can also help to reduce the recovery time from an injury or a surgery.

First we need to understand the basics of what happens after an injury/surgery and how the body starts to repair itself.  Having this understanding can help us choose our foods more wisely in order to speed the recovery process!

Here’s a quick breakdown of what happens after an injury/surgery:

1)     Coagulation – Starts and lasts for about 1-2 days post-injury.  This is the process where blood starts to form clots.

2)     Inflammation – Starts and lasts up to 5 days post-injury.  After an injury or damage to the tissue has occurred, the body produces chemicals , which are drawn to the site of injury to help clean up the area. This step can be unpleasant and painful as it promotes swelling, redness and heat at the site of the injury.   However, it is perfectly normal and mandatory for the healing process to start.

3)     Migration – As the inflammation process continues, the body will start to lay down temporary scar tissues.   In order to do this, new cells will have to be created and then sent to the site of the injury. This is the beginning of the healing process.

4)     Remodeling – Can last 5 days up to 2 years post-injury.  As the scar tissue starts to diminish it is possible that it can be replaced with stronger connective tissue. This is where rehabilitation and therapy comes in.  With the proper care and treatment (and nutrition) the new tissue has the ability to be even stronger than before the injury.

How Can We Use Nutrition to Help with Injury Recovery?

Here are a few things we can add to (or delete) from our diets as we go through the healing process – and even beyond it!

Eat Healthy Dietary Fats! – Healthy dietary fat is very important for injury recovery, especially during the inflammation stage.  Since trans-fats and omega-6 fats promote inflammation in the body, we need to reduce this type of fat during the recovery period.   Common foods that contain omega-6 fats are: corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, and processed, packaged foods.   Be sure to read labels because these oils are hidden in a lot of foods – especially in salad dressings, ketchups and other condiments.  What we should increase or add to our daily meals during the recovery period are monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fats because they inhibit inflammation.  Monounsaturated and omega 3 fats are found in olive oil, mixed nuts, avocados, flax oil, ground flax, and other seeds.  Another important oil to add to our diets is fish oil.

Add Herbs and Spices to your Foods!

Certain herbs can also contribute to the reduction of inflammation and decrease our need for anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen.  Did you know that anti-inflammatory drugs, if used too often or too long, might even slow injury healing because they reduce the inflammation too effectively?  Something to think about.

The following herbs can be useful in reducing inflammation for the first few weeks post-injury:

– Curry powder/turmeric – The active ingredient in this herb is curcumin.  Try adding 1 tsp per day of the powder or 400-600mg of the supplement, 3 times per day.

– Garlic – Aim for 2-4 garlic cloves each day (if you can tolerate it) or 600 to 1,200 mg of aged garlic extract.

– Boswellia – A favorite of Ayurvedic medicine. As an anti-inflammatory, try 300 mg 3 times per day.

– Pineapple – Bromelain, found in pineapple, is another anti-inflammatory that’s great for digestion and for inflammation/pain relief.  Aim for 2 cups of pineapple per day or 500-1,000 mg in supplemental form.

Eat more Calories!

This is an easy one!  But, be careful of the foods you choose and don’t use it as an excuse to overeat.  Try adding only an additional 100-300 calories per day.  Eating a few extra (nutrient dense) calories can provide additional energy for proper tissue repair.

Tips for incorporating good nutrition habits after an injury.

1. Eat frequently. Eat every three hours or so.

2. Protein with every meal.  Choose meats, dairy, eggs, beans, vegetarian proteins, or supplements.

3. Vegetables/fruit with every meal.  Choose any vegetable or fruit you like, but focus more on veggies.

4. Starches with each meal.  Minimally processed sources like whole oats, whole grain rice, sprouted grain breads, and quinoa are best.

5. Fats with each meal.  Choose avocado, olive oil, mixed nuts, or flax seeds with each meal. Add 3-9g of fish oil to the diet. Cut back on corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, and highly processed, packaged foods.

6. Herbs and Phytochemicals. For the first 3-4 weeks post-injury, turmeric, garlic, bromelain, and boswellia can help manage inflammation. You can check for supplements that combine these herbs so that you can take them all at once.  Follow the label directions.

7. Vitamins and Minerals. For the first 3-4 weeks post-injury, vitamin A, vitamin C, copper, and zinc can assist in the recovery. You can either use a multi-vitamin/multi-mineral or include each separately.

While this article stresses the importance of nutrition for an effective recovery after an injury,  we should all strive to eat a whole food (mainly raw foods like plants and nuts) diet which includes lean proteins and healthy fats all the time.   Nourishing our bodies on a daily basis is always the best route and will help support a healthy and active lifestyle.  Trying to incorporate a sound nutrition plan after an injury might be too daunting.  Why not be proactive and start today?

Author: Beth Michels, Yoga I.S. Certified 200 hour RYT


Nutrition and Supplements for Injury Recovery

Date Released : 29 Aug 2012

By: Dr. John Berardi


Dr. John Berardi has been recognized as one of the top exercise nutrition experts in the world. His work has been published in numerous textbooks, peer-reviewed academic journals, and in countless popular exercise and nutrition books and magazines.

Through his company, Precision Nutrition, Dr. Berardi has worked with over 60,000 clients in over 100 countries. These clients range from recreational exercisers all the way up to the athletic elite, including: The Cleveland Browns, The Toronto Maple Leafs, The Texas Longhorns, Canada’s Olympic Ski Teams, Canada’s Olympic Bobsleigh and Skeleton Racers, World Champion UFC Fighters, Canada’s Olympic Speed Skaters, and more.