When you’re injured, your body needs more of certain nutritients, vitamins, and minerals to help the heal ing process. To boost your vitamin and mineral intake, start by eating a variety of colorful fruits and veggies. Ensure you're getting enough protein, and there are several other functional nutrients that may support healing.
Because activity is limited following an injury or surgery, energy demands tend to be reduced. But they remain slightly elevated to support healing and rehabilitation exercises. Pain and inactivity during healing will often suppress appetite, making it more difficult to meet the nutrient needs for healing. To ensure adequate nutrient intake, it’s best to eat every four hours. Meals should always consist of a protein source, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits, and based on your needs, whole grains. Limit intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods.
Protein needs typically increase during tissue regeneration and repair. While minor injuries usually don’t affect protein requirements, major surgery can increase protein needs by 10% or more. A typical adult’s minimum protein needs are between 0.8 and 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight, depending on age and other factors. An athlete may require close to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. An injured athlete, depending on the nature of the injury and whether or not surgery is required, should continue to meet his or her minimum recommendations and consider the potentially elevated need for more protein when choosing meals and snacks. High-quality protein sources include meats, fish, poultry, beans, lentils, and supplements such as a protein powder.
#3) Amino Acids
As noted above, protein is necessary for supporting wound healing. In addition to overall protein, individual amino acids also play a role. For example, arginine is not only required for protein synthesis, it’s also a precursor to nitric oxide, which is important for circulation, and glutamine is used within a wound as a source of energy. Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB), a metabolite of the amino acid leucine, has anti-catabolic properties that help preserve lean muscle mass. In a 2013 study published in BMC Nephrology, individuals with foot ulcers supplemented with a combination of 14 grams of arginine, 14 grams of glutamine, and 3 grams of HMB per day exhibited accelerated wound-healing capabilities.
Bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme naturally found in pineapples. In studies, bromelain has been shown to promote reduced swelling and bruising after surgery by helping to maintain a healthy inflammatory response in the body’s musculoskeletal system. Increase your intake of bromelain by including pineapple in your daily routine or by taking a supplement that contains bromelain.
#5) Vitamins and Minerals
Three vitamins and minerals important for wound healing.
Vitamin A: required for epithelial and bone tissue development, and also appears to play a role in immune system function.
Vitamin C: Critical for synthesis of collagen found in connective tissue.
Zinc: Needed for enzymatic activities in DNA synthesis, cell division, and protein synthesis.
#6) Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Research demonstrates omega-3 fatty acids can influence the function of pro-inflammatory cells and help maintain the body’s normal inflammatory response. A 2011 study involving 68 healthy medical students found that 2.5 grams daily of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduced inflammatory markers. These findings were reproduced in a 2012 study of 138 healthy middle-aged and older adults. A 2009 study of 127 adults also found that higher levels of plasma omega-3 fatty acids were associated with lower levels of C-reactive protein, an important inflammatory marker. Eat two servings of fish per week, and include vegetables oils, nuts, and seeds to meet needs for omega-3 fatty acids. To ensure adequate omega-3 intake while recovering from an injury or surgery, consider taking a fish oil supplement.
For a healthy, healing meal, choose a turmeric-based dish, such as curry. Turmeric has been consumed and used to treat ailments for thousands of years, especially in Asian countries. Recent research shows curcumin, a phytonutrient found in turmeric, has important antioxidant and wound-healing properties.
Research has also shown curcumin supplementation of 500 milligrams twice daily can effectively promote reduced swelling and tenderness in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis and discomfort in individuals with osteoarthritis. Add turmeric to vegetables, rice, and soups, or take a curcumin supplement.
It’s important to inform your health-care provider of any supplements you’re taking. You might be asked to discontinue supplementation prior to a surgery to prevent an interaction with a medication. This is especially true for fish oil, which can affect the body’s ability to form blood clots. For more information, consider working with a sports dietitian to develop a personalized fueling plan for your recovery.