We know that proper nutrition can decrease the time it takes to recover from an injury or surgery and return to play by upwards of 30%.  This means you can be back to your sport 30% faster if you follow a proper nutrition plan.  

As an athlete, injuries happen.  Tears, fractures, tendon ruptures, and the like are injuries many athletes suffer.  After sustaining an injury or having surgery, you may feel like nothing is in your control to participate in your recovery.  But a wealth of evidence has proven that nutrition expedites the healing process through tissue repair and maintaining muscle.   

We can help you recover from an injury or surgery and get back to training faster with personalized sports nutrition coaching. Click here to schedule a free discovery call with us. 

Why Your Injury Nutrition Matters

When events like this happen your nutrition becomes more important than ever.  Being immobile and having a lower activity level, this may be hard to see.  But your body needs MORE calories now than before. This is because you are rebuilding tissue. The only way that can happen is by providing your body the proper fuel and nutrients. We know it can be overwhelming and that’s why we are here to help you. It’s not just science there’s a lot of mental support that is needed through this time. We have worked with countless athletes to coach them through this process including being the contractor for the NFLPA PAIR program which helps injured NFL players return to play.  

Understanding how the body repairs after injury, the role of nutrition in this process and how to eat to heal are all important tools to have as an athlete.  In this article, you will learn exactly what foods and when to eat along with the necessary supplements to take to speed up and optimize your recovery. 


The 3 Stages of Injury Recovery

This is a complex process with a lot of detail. Whether you are a student athlete, fitness enthusiast or professional athlete  we highly recommend working with a licensed sports nutritionist to get you back in the action as soon as possible. 

Sustaining an injury can be one of the toughest events to face as an athlete.  While such a setback can feel unmotivating to participate in your nutrition, focusing on it can get you back to play faster.  In order to fully understand why nutrition is crucial, first, let’s talk about what happens as a response to an injury or surgical procedure.  There are 3 stages of the recovery process:

  1. Phase 1: Inflammation.  This is the first week following injury where the inflammatory process helps brings blood cells to the area to begin recovery
  2. Proliferation (Weeks 2-4): growth and regeneration of tissue
  3. Remodeling (Weeks 4-2 Years): strengthening and permanent tissue generation

Phase 1 Injury Nutrition 

During the first phase, these first seven days post injury/surgery are a pivotal moment in expediting recovery.  This is the inflammation stage.  Inflammation is important to bring nutrients and blood to the area.  But too much inflammation may cause limited mobility and damage around healthy tissue.  Excessive inflammation is detrimental and impedes recovery, but with the recommended nutrition strategies, we can lessen the inflammation and its potential damage.  Additionally, metabolic demand and energy needs can increase upwards of 20% more than a healthy individual, driving up your calorie needs.

The goal of this phase one is to tame inflammation, meet your increased nutrient needs and set the stage to speed up recovery time.  For some individuals getting in nutrition can be challenging due to stress, depression, pain, medication and mental state, but here is when nutrition is more important than ever.  It is important to follow these tips during the first week to ensure you are getting enough:

  1. Have small meals every 3-4 hours; use shakes and meal replacement drinks if difficult to eat.
  2. Ensure adequate protein carbs and fat: Aim for 1 g per pound of protein, ¼ plate carbs and 2 tbsp worth fat per meal.  Work with a licensed sports nutritionist to learn your specific energy and macronutrient needs. 
  3. Add in a high calorie protein shake throughout the day.  This is a great way to ensure we are meeting our protein requirements daily. 

Supplements Needed During an Injury

In addition to diet, there are several evidence based supplements that are proven to speed up recovery time.  These supplement help with tissue repair, reducing inflammation and are important especially in these first seven days. Don’t forget to look for NSF for Sport or Informed Sport supplements. 

  1. MEND: These products contain specific amino acids and antioxidants like Vitamin C and Zinc and are specifically designed to aid in tissue repair from injury.
  2. Collagen Peptides: Needed as collagen provides support for skin, muscle, bone and connective tissue.  
  3. Vitamin C and Vitamin A: Antioxidants aiding in decreasing inflammation.  Additionally, Vitamin C works hand-in-hand with collagen to repair tissue.  
  4. Fish Oil and Curcumin: These two supplements are powerful anti-inflammatory agents to help decrease the initial inflammatory response.
  5. Probiotics: If a surgical procedure is done using anesthesia, gut issues may occur and a probiotic can help in restoring gut health.  Additionally if there is an infection and an antibiotic is given, a probiotic supplement is needed.  
  6. Creatine: If you are not already taking creatine, we recommend starting now.  Creatine will help with maintaining muscle mass.  If there was a head injury, creatine is vital.  See our full blog on a concussion protocol here.  


Phase 2 and 3 Nutrition Recommendations

During the proliferation stage, blood vessels are restored to bring nutrients and oxygen to the injury site.  Here is where new tissue is built, collagen is deposited and other components of tissue to rebuild.   In the remodeling phase, tissue strength and function are restored.  Nutritionally, continuing a diet with adequate protein, taking collagen peptides with Vitamin C, continuing with an appropriate supplement protocol, and adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet are essential throughout the all phases and beyond.  

An Anti-Inflammatory Diet is Key

While we should all be primarily consuming an anti-inflammatory diet regularly, this time is of utmost importance to.  Throughout all stages of injury recovery, consuming a diet rich in anti-inflammatory food and free from highly processed foods, foods high in added sugars and fried foods  are essential to minimize additional inflammation to the body.  An anti-inflammatory diet includes foods such as those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, probiotic rich foods, spices, fruits and vegetables including leafy greens, and fluids.  Below are a list of foods we recommended including:  

  • Fatty fishes (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
  • Lean Meats
  • Olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil, avocados
  • Nuts & seeds (brazil nuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds)
  • Fruit (Grapefruit, orange, strawberries, guava, watermelon, pineapple)
  • Berries (pomegranate, goji berries, blueberries, grapes, blackberries, raspberries)
  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens)
  • Vegetables (Beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, bell peppers)
  • Shellfish (oysters, mussels, lobster, crab)
  • Lean meats (bison, lean beef, chicken, turkey, pasture raised eggs, tofu)
  • Probiotic foods (Greek yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles)
  • Spices (Ginger, turmeric, garlic, capsaicin pepper, oregano, basil, raw cacao powder)
  • Fluids (green tea, beet juice, coconut water, pineapple juice, water and electrolytes)

How to Plan and Prepare Yourself

If you are here as a result of a sports injury, we suggest implementing these sports nutrition practices immediately.  Even if you are past the first several days, the moment you start your nutrition your body will start reaping the benefits.  While having a nutrition injury prevention strategy is needed, knowing what to do in the event a sports injury occurs is a great knowledge set to have as an athlete.  If you are having surgery that is planned, use this guide to set yourself up for success post op.  Here are our expert tips to plan and prepare on your way home from surgery:

  1. Have a meal plan:
    1. Whether that is ordering meal prep or having a friend or family member go grocery shopping, make sure you have adequate food at home.  Share with them the anti-inflammatory food list. Incorporate these foods into meals and snacks.  Unsure of some easy ideas?  Check out our blog on breakfast ideas for busy athletes. 
  2. Keep your supplement plan handy:
    1. Having and knowing your sports supplement needs will have you well prepared in the event of an injury.  Remember every day and every moment matters in the recovery process.  Have a friend or family go out to the store to grab what you need or ordering overnight shipping may be necessary. 
    1. Consider constipation from pain medication and anesthesia as well as dysbiosis from antibiotics.  A licensed sports nutritionist  can give you a supplement protocol to help tackle these issues. 
  1. Stock up on easy to grab, high protein foods and snacks:  
    1. Think ready to drink protein shakes, protein bars, sliced turkey, hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese or yogurt.  Prioritize protein with every meal and snack to ensure you’re getting an adequate amount.
  2. Get a detailed plan: 
    1. As licensed sports nutritionists, we detail each individual’s energy and supplement needs.  Especially post-surgery or injury when energy needs are higher, a custom plan will ensure you are able to meet your nutrient needs through meal and snack ideas, a structured eating plan and supplement protocol with dosages.  

By following an injury/surgery recovery nutrition plan, you will be setting yourself up for a more successful chance at a faster recovery.  Be an advocate for yourself following injury and share your plan with your family, friends, coaches and care providers to get the help you need immediately.  Every moment counts after an injury or surgery to ensure optimal recovery.  Learn more about how we help fuel your training and implement personalized injury recovery sports nutrition coaching by booking a discovery call here.