By Clare Keating, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist
Whether it’s a short term or long term injury, nutrition can play a role in how well and quickly you recover. It is definitely not the main factor in injury recovery, but it certainly plays a role in improving your rehab outcomes.
There are many nutrition factors that can play a role in facilitating a quicker recovery, from calories to protein, calcium, vitamin D and various supplements like creatine, collagen and fish oil, all of which we touch on below.
If your injury has stopped you from exercising or caused a reduction in exercise, your first thought may be to reduce your calorie / food intake. Reducing your calorie intake to compensate for reduction in exercise is actually NOT what we want to do
Why? Because being on low calories can reduce the healing process
Although you may not be needing to fuel your exercise, you still need to fuel your rehab!
It is easier to build muscle and strength (which is what you’re trying to do in rehab) when you are eating enough calories or a surplus of calories.
How? Because you have something (the calories) to build with! Being on low calories gives you nothing leftover to re build that muscle with.
Protein helps with many aspects of injury recovery.
The first being a reduction in the amount of muscle that is often lost in the early stages of injury, which = faster recovery. Secondly, when you are consuming enough protein your ability to build muscle and muscle strength is improved, which again = faster recovery.
How much protein do you need?
The recommended amount of protein during injury recovery is 1.6-2.4g/kg/day
E.g. If you are 80kg this would be 128-192 g protein per day
This is quite a large range, due to some injuries requiring more protein than others. For example if a limb is immobilised after injury or surgery then the risk of muscle loss in the first few weeks is very large, hence needing a higher protein intake to try and reduce this loss.
Creatine helps with building muscle and strength, which like protein is ideal for assisting in injury recovery. Similarly creatine helps to reduce the amount of muscle and strength that is usually lost in periods of immobilisation.
How much creatine do you need?
The usual protocol is 3-5g per day and after 4-5 weeks you will reach creatine saturation (what we’re aiming for), and then you continue taking it each day to maintain that level.
If you had not been taking creatine prior to your injury I would recommend a loading protocol so that you reach creatine saturation quicker. This would be 20g per day for 5 days.To avoid gut upsets (a common symptom with this protocol) split the 20g dose up into 4-5 doses throughout the day.
Collagen has recently become a very popular supplement due to new research coming out in the last few years. The current research shows that creatine supplementation can help with musculoskeletal injury recovery.
One of the most promising studies saw a participant who supplemented with collagen had complete healing of the patellar tendon, which is exceptionally rare!
How much collagen do you need?
15-25 g of hydrolysed collagen or gelatin
Taken with a source of vitamin C e.g. orange juice
40-60 minutes prior to exercise or rehab
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and Vitamin D can be helpful if the injury is bone related.
In general calcium and vitamin D lead to increased bone mineral density (aka stronger bones). Whilst some people get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D from food and sun exposure, there is still some (albeit small) benefit with taking a calcium and Vitamin D supplement to improve fracture recovery. If you are low in calcium and Vitamin D, you would benefit from this significantly more!
How much Calcium and Vitamin D do you need?
Calcium: 1000mg per day
For context 1 cup full cream milk has ~308mg
Vitamin D: 10-30 minutes of sunlight, or more if you have darker skin
What about in a supplement?
Vitamin D: 1000IU
It’s a good idea to get a combined calcium and vitamin D supplement as vitamin D helps with calcium absorption.
Fish oil is a source of omega 3 fatty acids, which have many health benefits. Although in the area of injuries the research is still quite limited. I believe it’s still worth mentioning though because the small amount of research that has been done, is positive. One study involving lower leg immobilisation for 2 weeks found that people who took fish oil maintained more muscle mass than those who didn’t.
How much fish oil do you need?
2-4g per day
Overall healthy diet:
Including a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds is important to ensure you’re consuming antioxidants and other important nutrients like magnesium and zinc, which all play an important role in improving injury recovery.
Nutrition can help improve your injury recovery and rehab process.
Eating at least maintenance calories / food intake, in some cases a slight surplus
Aiming for 1.6-2.4g/kg of protein per day
Consuming an overall healthy diet with a wide variety of whole foods
Depending on your individual situation, consider taking a supplement such as creatine, collagen, vitamin D, calcium or fish oil
If you'd like to find out how you can personally benefit from this information, book a performance dietitian consultation today!