“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
I am often asked what foods to be eating or supplements to be taking in order to recover from an injury faster. Nutrition plays a powerful role in optimizing and facilitating the healing cascade and should be considered when recovering from an acute or chronic injury.
The body goes through three stages of healing after an injury: Inflammation, Proliferation, and Remodeling. Using food to optimize each phase of the healing process can allow for a quicker recovery.
Managing Inflammation during the Inflammatory Phase
Inflammation is critical during injury healing as it triggers the repair process, but too much inflammation can be detrimental to the healing cascade. The focus during this stage should be on controlling excess inflammation, allowing your body to transition into the next phase of proliferation. Incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your diet and eliminating pro-inflammatory foods is one way to control excessive inflammation.
The following Anti-Inflammatory foods should be incorporated into your diet;
- Fatty Fish
- Fish oil; Supplementing with fish oil has been shown to decrease inflammatory markers in the body.
- Leafy Greens (Kale, Spinach, etc.)
- Olive/Flax oil
- Curcumin, a potent antioxidant and the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, has been used as a medicinal food for thousands of years. Research has shown that supplementation of curcumin can promote reduced swelling and tenderness.
- Bromelain from Pineapples; Supplementing with bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapples has been shown to promote reduced swelling and bruising after surgery and can help manage inflammation.
The following Pro-Inflammatory foods should be avoided;
- Highly processed foods
- Fried Foods
- Vegetable oils like corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil
- Soda or other sugar-sweetened drinks
Repairing Damaged Tissue during the Proliferation and Remodeling Phases
Protein, vitamins, and minerals are essential for repairing damaged tissue and optimizing the healing cascade in the body after an injury. Receiving adequate amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Zinc can help to support injury repair and recovery.
Vitamin A is linked with a decrease in immune suppression that is normally seen after an injury. Sources of Vitamin A include;
- Red/yellow/orange vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, beets, orange melon, Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, and Egg yolks.
Vitamin C helps to support a normal inflammatory response and assists in the formation of collagen, which helps provide the structure of tendons, ligaments, and skin. Vitamin C deficiency can lead to decreased stability of tissues and abnormal scar formation. Sources of Vitamin C include;
- Most fruits and vegetables
Zinc plays a role in new DNA creation and the ability of cells to multiply and protein formation. Zinc deficiency can limit wound healing. Sources of zinc include;
- Beans and legumes, Nuts and seeds, Whole grains, Seafood, Meats including beef, lamb, pork, poultry, Eggs, and Mushrooms
Protein plays a crucial role in the process of repairing damaged tissue and building new tissue. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 1.2-1.7 g of protein per kg of body mass, but our protein needs can go up if we are injured or recovering from a surgery. In order to meet our body’s protein needs when recovering from an injury or surgery supplementing with a whey protein or vegan protein can be beneficial.
Arginine is a semi-essential amino acid that is involved in multiple areas of human physiology and metabolism. It increases nitric oxide production, which can improve blood flow to damaged areas and provide important nutrients to promote the removal of dead and damaged cells.
Glutamine is an amino acid that assists in healing after injury or surgery and in muscle cell repair. Supplementing with L-glutamine during the later stages of healing can optimize healing rates.
Tissue healing is a complex process of reactions that take place in the body with the end goal of restoring structure and function to the damaged tissues. Proper nutrition can and should be used to optimize this complex process of healing allowing for a quicker return to sport or activity.