Nutrition is always linked to weight loss, muscle gains or recovery after workouts but very rarely is mentioned on injury recovery.
What we might be forgetting from our nutrition
Nutrition is often disregarded on injury because there are so many other factors that influence it and one more factor can be a little overwhelming. It should be expected that, with a balanced and healthy diet we should not have to think about our nutrition as an injury risk factor, but it can be an issue in more cases than you would expect. Athletes that train 2 or more hours a day are exposed to great energy deficits that can be easily countered through sugary drinks or high caloric diets, but calories are not the only thing they are using!
A quick search on google about “Nutrition for athletes” will give you countless pages about carbs, protein and fats, but very few mention other nutrients such as iron, calcium, Vitamin D or others that are also lost or metabolized by the body when exercising. An imbalance or lack of any of these will not only influence the performance of the athlete but it can also increase his risk of injury and even slow his recovery time.
How to use nutrition to improve recovery time:
It does not take a genius to think that if I break or make some damage in my body tissue, I must repair it with a “material” like concrete on a building. Now, if I do not have enough “concrete” I cannot repair or rebuild because I have to keep the rest of the “building” (body) functioning well. This means that during my recovery, I should maintain or increase my protein intake compared to the amount I was taking while still training. Then, by maintaining or increasing my protein intake, my body will keep more muscle mass and will have enough protein to repair what is damaged.
2 to 2.5 g/kg/day of protein is recommended for injury recovery (Tipton, 2015).
Creatine supplementation after injury has also shown promising results when it comes to maintaining muscle mass even after 2 weeks without usual training. This means that when you are injured, taking about 5g of creatine a day will help you keep muscle mass. This way, when you are back training, your body will be better prepared to start where you left off.
20g (1st day), 15g (2nd day), 10g (3rd day), 5g (4th day) and continue with 5g per day of creatine is recommended.
Research has shown that injuries will increase the energy expenditure of the body about 15%-50%, depending on the severity, so even without training your body keeps using a high amount of energy to heal (Tipton, 2015). This means that even though you are not doing any more training, your body will need a lot of energy to recover! It is important to keep those energy levels high without exceeding your expenditure too much because then you could gain unintended mass. Fortunately, with all the applications and personal activity trackers now in the market, you can make a better judgement about how much to change your macro-nutrient intake after incurring on injury. Check your garmin or other tracking device and use the aproximate energy expenditure to estimate how much you can eat, but remember your body is now using extra energy to keep up with the healing process so you can increase that baseline measure by maybe a 20% to be safe. Maintain your protein intake according to the 2 g/kg per day we recommended earlier and then complete the rest of the caloric intake with carbs and fats on a ratio you find works for you. If you are not sure what ratio to use, the recommended is usually a 2 carbs to 1 fats; 2 grams of carbs per gram of fat.
1.) Maintain the 2 to 2.5g/kg per day of protein as the most important macro-nutrient in your recovery
2.) Subtract the kilo Joules (or calories) that are no longer expended through sport but add a 15%-30% extra to the baseline energy consumption you have noticed your body needs.
For the healing process to be as efficient and fast as possible there cannot be any nutrient deficiencies in your system. The most common deficiencies. but not limited to, are: Vitamin C, Omega3 Fatty acids, Antioxidants, Vitamin A, Zinc, and Iron. All these nutrients are usually supplied by a balanced diet of non-processed foods but could lack in some cases so it is important to keep track of the amounts your body needs for staying healthy and having a complete and efficient healing process. BUT DO NOT FORGET that an excess of these nutrients will not be beneficial and can even be detrimental to your overall health, so it is important to get professional help to manage the amounts correctly.
I would recommend you measure your daily intakes of micro-nutrients to pinpoint the ones that need to increase on your diet and then supplement accordingly or change your diet to support these nutrients. Remember though, do not exceed the recommended values because it will have no extra beneficial effect when in surplus. There are many nutrition tracking applications that can tell you what you might be missing. (Fitness Pal can be a good choice)
Tipton, Kevin D. “Nutritional Support for Exercise-Induced Injuries.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 45 Suppl 1 (2015): S93-104. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0398-4