Today’s post is a guest post from Holly at The Run Experience! The Run Experience is another fantastic resource for runners, especially on preventing injuries. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said “let food be thy medicine;” while food will not substitute for a treatment protocol and possible physical therapy, your diet can improve the rate of recovery from injury. Holly discusses nutrition for injury recovery in today’s post. Thank you to Holly!
Injuries happen. And while hopefully we’re doing what we can to prevent them, every now and again something flares up, or an accident happens during a training session (or elsewhere), and we find ourselves out of the game for a bit.
Luckily, our bodies know how to heal themselves. Internal processes are able to repair most injuries without any external assistance. And food can help! In this article we’re taking a look at the three main stages of injury recovery, and which foods can help the process at each stage.
Nutrition For Injury Recovery: The Three Stages of Recovery
On an extremely simplified level, injury recovery happens in three stages: inflammation, proliferation, and remodeling.
We’re talking mainly about tissue injuries here, although bone injury recovery falls into similar categories.
Inflammation triggers the tissue repair process. Proliferation involves removal of damaged tissue, while temporary tissue is formed in its place, and blood supply to the injured area increases. After that, remodeling creates permanent new tissue in the area, completing repair of the injured area.
Now that we have a general overview, let’s dive into what foods can help at which stages.
Stage 1: Inflammation
Inflammation occurs within the first 7-10 days after your injury. The general nutrition goal here is, unsurprisingly, to include more anti-inflammatory foods, and less inflammatory foods.
Anti-inflammatory foods include:
- Olive oil
- Fish oil
- Flax oil
- Nuts and seeds
We want to avoid inflammatory foods such as vegetable oils, processed foods, and trans fats. This is no easy feat, because emotional eating is often a natural response to an injury. We can’t work out so we feel upset, and start to crave those inflammatory foods.
Try to recognize this tendency and avoid it. It is key to remember that your recovery will only take longer if you allow yourself to have those processed foods that your emotions are telling you you’re craving.
Those foods are fine to treat yourself when you’re healthy, but there is no need to lengthen the recovery process by eating them when you’re injured.
Supplements will help us here also. Turmeric or curcumin are excellent at reducing inflammation. If you’re taking them in powder form, try to include 7 teaspoons per day, or if you’re taking them in pill form, about 400-600 micrograms per day. Garlic is also great during the inflammation. Try to incorporate 2-4 cloves of garlic per day, or 600-1200 micrograms per day.
The third supplement that will help us during the inflammation stage is bromelain. This is found in pineapple, so aim to eat 2 cups of pineapple per day during this stage, or 500-1000 micrograms if you’re taking bromelain in pill form.
Stages 2 and 3: Proliferation and Remodeling
We’re going to address the last two stages in tandem, because our nutrition approach will be the same for both phases.
Energy intake should be our top priority for the next 2-6 weeks after the 10-day inflammation stage ends.
To do this, be sure you’re getting adequate protein. This means that you are incorporating 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day.
Next, make sure your dietary fats are balanced between monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are found in:
- Olive oil
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
And polyunsaturated fats are found in:
- Sunflower oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Flax seeds
In this stage, we’re looking to balance these two groups within our diet.
Next, make sure you’re “eating the rainbow”. Try to incorporate all colors of fruits and vegetables to ensure your body is getting the vitamins and minerals it needs.
And to round out our food groups, be sure you’re getting enough carbohydrates. It’s true that we need less carbohydrates when we’re recovering than when we are training, but this is not the time to cut them out completely. Carbs play an important role in muscle repair.
Supplements will help in these stages as well. First, be sure to get enough vitamin A, meaning 10,000 IU per day. This seems like a lot, but it is only for this 2-6 week period after inflammation, while we are still recovering.
Also, try to include 2-4 milligrams of copper per day, 1-2 grams of vitamin C per day, and 15-30 milligrams of zinc per day.
Other helpful supplements are:
- Proteolytic Enzymes
For all of these supplements, be sure you are using a brand that has been third-party tested! Informed Sport is a great resource to be sure that the brand of supplements you are using is free of any banned ingredients. You should always be sure you know what is in the supplements you’re taking.
Also, before you load up on supplements, check with your doctor! Be sure that supplements you take will only help you, and they won’t interfere with any other medicines or treatments.
In sum, use food! Food is an incredible tool to aid recovery, and it’s right at our fingertips. Eat intelligently to get yourself back to training as soon as possible!
About the Author
Holly Martin is a San Francisco-based running coach and personal trainer. With a 20+ year background in dance, Holly brings a strong focus on technique and mobility to all of her coaching. Currently, she coaches online with The Run Experience, an online training community for running training plans and workouts. She trains clients at Midline Training and Nfinite Strength. Check out her blog for more advanced running tips and techniques.
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