Being injured sucks. Simple as that. And when fitness is a major part of your identity, it can seem like your whole life is thrown off track.
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Did you know that a healthy diet can actually help you recover faster from an injury without having to take a bunch of medications? It’s true. Nutrition can make or break your progress towards recovery.
If you’ve ever had an injury or any kind of surgery which puts your active life on hold you know the emotional roller coaster that can come along with it. It can be hard to find balance on what to eat while managing your stress, weight and emotional hunger. Food is something that’s very important for your health—which gets even more important as you are trying to recover from an injury.
The right food and supplements in addition to stress management can speed injury recovery. This is important — but often ignored.
I find the hardest part is controlling your food intake – meaning portions. You’re temporarily not an athlete while in recovery which means that you can’t eat like an athlete. You must reduce your portions in order to offset unnecessary weight gain and to better balance out your blood sugar. It’s definitely individualized so make sure to ask a Dietitian (like me) what your macro-nutrient and micro-nutrient needs are.
What I’ve noticed during my own healing journey is that less physical activity means lower appetite. If an athlete is eating based on hunger cues, s/he may under-eat during recovery. S/he might lose lean mass, heal poorly, and progress slowly.
So let’s start with the basics.
Macronutrient needs during recovery
To ensure a quick recovery I recommend slightly increasing protein which can help with the healing process. Everyone has individual needs, but a good rule of thumb is to aim for 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. Make sure to spread this out throughout the day. This is meant for short-term use.
Really it’s a matter of getting healthier fats in your diet and eliminating unhealthy processed fats. Aim for more omega-3s and cut down omega-6s, to get an omega-6 to -3 ratio that’s at least 1:1 and preferably closer to 3:1.
While athletes need glucose for athletic injury healing, no specific carbohydrate recommendations have been established for injury periods.
Most active people rely on carbohydrates for energy. When you are accustomed to a higher intake of carbs, not getting enough will be an additional — and unwanted — stressor. Make sure to work with a Dietitian on how you can cut back on your carbs without increasing risk of micronutrient and energy loss.
Get carbohydrates from fruit, whole grain, minimally processed, high-fiber sources like whole oats, yams/sweet potatoes, beans and legumes, whole grain rice, quinoa, etc.
Micronutrient needs during recovery
Vitamin A: carrots, sweet potato, kale, spinach, broccoli
Vitamin C: strawberries, broccoli, tomato, brussels sprouts, orange, kale, caulifloer, grapefruit, spinach, pineapple, bell peppers
Copper: almonds, sunflower seeds, lentils, asparagus
Zinc: beef, chicken, shrimp, oysters, kidney beans, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, spinach
Eat more anti-inflammatory foods
These foods include curry powder/turmeric, garlic, pineapple, green tea, and blueberries.
Stress Management While Injured
If you’re anything like me then you must feel like you are losing your mind while in recovery mode. I don’t like sitting still.
Exercise is a stress reliever for many and it can make you feel good, stronger and more confident about your body. When you are unable to do the activities that you LOVE it can make it very emotional. Depression may set in as well.
Here are 5 tips to get through this recovery period without losing your mind – staying calm during the emotional chaos.
- Meditate. Phone apps make it easy with guided meditation to walk you through every step. Try downloading HeadSpace or Calm.
- Journal. This book is one of my favorites.
- Read a “self help” book (it can be really uplifting). I like this one and this one
- Limit your caffeine intake.
- Get enough sleep. Ideally 7-8 hours per night. Not only will losing sleep damage your health, it will make you generally less effective. A tired mind is one that is not able to think clearly and it is hard to stay calm when you are living in a mental fog. We can only learn and adapt when we are rested.
At the end of the day try to remember to trust the process. Realizing how long the road to recovery is can be very difficult. Your recovery is in your hands, so take responsibility and get invested in the process.