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Nutrition for healing

March 28, 2022

How does it work?

Unfortunately, injuries can lead to time of the sidelines and force you to reduce or modify your activity. This can lead to confusion regarding how your nutritional intake should change, or if it even needs to… to promote recovery? To match reduced activity? To keep muscle? 

You may experience less physical hunger due to reduced activity, whether that be time off training or bed rest following a surgery, you may not feel up to eating. Sometimes, the trigger to eating less may be driven by a fear or weight gain or a perception that your body needs less fuel.

The aim of injury recovery is to achieve the most optimal healing in the fastest time possible. Rehabilitation nutrition can be extremely influential on the healing process for both general population and athletes. 

Your basal metabolic rate, is the baseline amount of calories/energy your body requires keep functioning at rest (essentially lying in bed, breathing, cell function, brain activity). Did you know that this increases when your body is trying to recover?! It can increase by as much as:

  • 15-20% following minor sports injury 
  • 15-20% following minor surgery
  • 50% following major injury or surgery
  • 100% in severe injuries such as burns (that means it doubles!!)
  • Even just the use of crutches increases the calorie expenditure of walking by 2-3 times!

Therefore the overall change in metabolic demand may be less than first thought… And reducing food intake to compensate for reduced activity, may actually delay healing - timing and quality. 

Energy balance and adequate calorie and macronutrient intake is important to:  

  • Healing
    • Energy balance is critical to optimal injury recovery.
    • During the rehab phase, a stress response initiates an overall increase in energy demand. The body increases calorie needs to match the cellular turnover.
    • Protein contains amino acids, shown to accelerate wound healing, tissues rebuilding and glycemic control. 
    • Complex carbohydrates are key to recovery processes, including immune response, hormonal factors and enzyme process.
    • Fats are critical for wound healing, cell proliferation, cellular health and inflammation. 
    • Vitamin and mineral intake is important also:
      • Vitamin D for bone and immune regulation and skeletal muscle function
      • Vitamin A, C, E for immune health and healing  
  • Maintaining lean muscle mass 
    • A reduction in calories inevitably leads to a reduction in overall dietary protein intake. Protein is essential to the maintenance of skeletal muscle. Immobilisation (bed rest, cast or brace) or an inability to use a muscle can lead to a degree of disuse atrophy (muscle loss), so adequate protein is essential to maximising the preservation of lean muscle mass. 
    • Recent studies suggest increasing protein intake during this time to 2-2.5g/kg bodyweight.
    • Maintaining muscle mass will support an easier transition back into exercise and sport. 
    • Carbohydrates can help to inhibit muscle breakdown and help maintain skeletal muscle. 
  • Assisting the immune and inflammatory response  
    • Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to be beneficial due to the anti inflammatory effects. Omega 3 supplementation has been shown to increase sensitively to amino acids and muscle protein synthesis responses.  They are also related to positive impacts against inflammation and disturbances to the immune system. 
    • Inflammation is of course important, and essential, to initiate optimal healing. However, minimising excessive, prolonged inflammation as we transition out of the acute phase, can assist in recovery and return to activity. 

Key Points:

  • Healing increases your bodies metabolic demands.
  • A energy deficit (or dieting) may be detrimental to healing due to the reduced energy availability and reduced intake of crucial macro- (protein, carbs, fats) and micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals).
  • Energy balance is crucial to both the healing and return to sport processes
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