Did you know that nutrition can play a key role in recovery after an injury?
When you are sidelined from a sports or overuse injury (sprain, strain or tear) or post-surgery, there are a number of nutrients from food that can support your recovery and wound healing.
How You Heal
When you are injured, your body quickly responds to stabilize and then repair your injury using these healing phases:
● Homeostasis - If there is an open wound, your body first sends platelets to slow and then stop any bleeding.
● Inflammation - Regardless of the type of injury (open or closed) your body will send a flood of white blood cells to clean the area. This is known as the inflammatory response.
● Proliferation and Remodeling - Your body begins to form new cells to replace damaged cells. New capillaries form to provide nutrients and oxygen to the area and promote collagen and elastin production necessary for new tissues.
This natural repair process can be supported with proper nutrition. A healthy and balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins can provide the nutrients your body needs to heal. However, ensuring that your balanced diet also includes specific key nutrients is essential to the road to recovery. Here are examples of key nutrients and how they can help you recover:
Vitamin K - If there is bleeding involved (or risk for open injury and potential bleeding), vitamin K can boost your platelet production. Other nutrients that increase your platelet count include folate, vitamins B-12, C, and D. Food choices for Vitamin K include meat liver, soybeans, and leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and turnip greens.
Vitamin C - Vitamin C is best known for supporting a healthy immune system and fighting infection but has also been shown to speed wound and injury healing. Vitamin C is essential for the collagen production your body needs to repair skin, bone, and blood vessels. Vitamin C is also used in the production of elastin, which allows tissues to stretch without breaking. Foods high in vitamin C include strawberries, kiwi fruit, red peppers, oranges, brussels sprouts, and broccoli. Other nutrients that support the formation of collagen and wound healing include zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper.
Vitamin A - Vitamin A contains retinol and beta-carotene, which support cell growth and the formation of new tissues. Vitamin A also promotes the production of connective tissue, including collagen. To increase your vitamin A intake, eat more brightly colored fruits and vegetables, carrots, apricots, cantaloupe, spinach, kale, and sweet potatoes.
Anti-Inflammatory Foods - While inflammation is part of the initial healing process, over time, it can slow or hamper the healing process. To encourage healing and reduce pain, heat, and swelling, there are a number of anti-inflammatory nutrients and spices: Omega 3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout), curcumin (found in the spice turmeric), ginger, and resveratrol (an antioxidant found in grapes and blueberries). These healthy fatty acids, fruits, and spices contain polyphenols and antioxidants, which reduce cell damage. Other anti-inflammatory foods include tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, almonds and walnuts, and fruits like strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges.
Protein - You need a steady supply of protein and amino acids to repair and heal damaged tissues. If you don't supply adequate protein, your body will draw it from other tissues and organs. Often, after surgery or a sports injury, you must rest and immobilize the injured body part. This lack of activity can cause a significant decline in strength and muscle mass. Fortunately, increasing your protein intake can minimize this loss. Eat more protein-rich foods like, meat, beans and lentils, eggs and dairy products.
Water - Water is essential for the body's processes and function, including injury recovery and healing. Water helps your blood flow as it carries nutrients and oxygen throughout your body. Water is also vital to all phases of the healing process and supports the removal of dead cells, and byproducts from the injured area and from your body. Water is also critical for proper skin hydration and skin integrity. Dehydration can delay wound healing and injury recovery - prevent dehydration by increasing your fluid intake (preferably water) during your recovery.
Author: Mandy Megan Conyers-Smith, MScCN, RD