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How Should You Eat When You're Injured?

If you are active, no matter how elite of an athlete you are, you have likely experienced some sort of injury in your lifetime. Whether you experience an overuse or acute injury, it can oftentimes feel like a frustrating and confusing setback. And when we are injured, we often take the right steps in going to see a physical therapist, like our very own at Made 2 Move, but how often do we dial into our nutrition as a way of expediting 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. And yet paradoxically, 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 nutrition be used to optimize injury recovery?

It is important to note that nutrition, like the rehab process, is highly individualized. What works for one M2M patient may not work for the next, and you should always consult a dietitian or doctor for medically focused nutrition advice. 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. A reminder that all of our tissues utilize calories for fuel, and this need is often even higher during times of injury recovery

  • 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. Working with a nutritionist or dietitian, like those at Clar-e-ty Nutrition, can help you figure out what your calorie and macronutrient needs are according to your goals.

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 improve lipid oxidation.”

  • Prioritize whole food sources

The term “whole foods” has become somewhat of a buzzword in the world of social media and nutrition, but what actually 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.”

Think: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and high quality protein sources. These foods undergo little, if any, processing and will ensure you are getting the proper macronutrient and micronutrient amounts that enhance recovery.

  • Movement

Unrelated to nutrition, but a critical point we emphasize here at Made 2 Move 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 your overall recovery from injury.

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 tolerable. Working with a Made 2 Move physical therapist can help you define what types of movement will be beneficial in working towards full recovery.

Here at Made 2 Move, we take a whole-person approach when it comes to injury rehabilitation. We recognize that you are more than just your injury and that there are more aspects to recovery than the 1 hour physical therapy session you come to.

We also realize what areas our M2M team is experts in and what areas it may be more valuable to refer you to another expert. Because of this, we work as part of an interdisciplinary team to address the role of nutrition in your recovery from injury, with Clar-e-ty Nutrition being one of our favorite nutrition experts we send patients to! Nutrition is just one crucial aspect of recovery, yet its role is often ignored in the recovery process. Ready to dial in your nutrition for performance, maintenance, or injury recovery? Reach out to today to set up an initial consultation!


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