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Nutrition for Injury

Injury is a fact of life in sport, and there is no doubt that poor nutrition will impair the healing and recovery process. It is very tempting to over-indulge in comfort food and alcohol to ease the disappointment and boredom. However, the likely impact of this is to lengthen the recovery process as protein and energy malnutrition exacerbates the inflammatory response and slows the healing process.

Stage 1 – Immobilisation and muscle mass loss

During the initial phase of injury it is likely that there will be a period of immobilisation (lasting between a few days and up to several months) leading to muscle mass loss. The loss of muscle during this time leads to functional problems that can be influenced by nutrition.

Days 1-5 post injury: Inflammation

Following trauma or injury, an inflammatory response is initiated. This is necessary, to some extent, for the healing process to do its job. The length of this phase depends on the nature of the injury however, it may last for a few hours up to several days.

  • Decrease Omega-6 fatty acids (vegetable oils, pumpkin seeds, cashews, avocado)
  • Increase Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils, flax seeds, walnuts)
  • Include sources of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet
  • Supplement with 1000mg Omega-3 per day

Day 1 to start of rehabilitation: Muscle mass loss

During immobilization or inactivity, rapid loss of muscle mass leading to a decrease in muscle strength and function occurs. Although energy expenditure is likely to fall dramatically during this time, it is important that sufficient energy is consumed to support the healing process.

  • During the first 5 days of injury, maintain ‘normal’ energy intake
  • After 5 days of injury (if rehabilitation has yet to commence) reduce daily energy intake to avoid unnecessary weight gain
  • Carbohydrate intake should come from low-GI sources (e.g. vegetables, beans, pulses, wholegrains)
  • Avoid bad fats (e.g. chocolate, pastry, processed meats, fast food, crisps, cakes, biscuits)
  • Eat good quality sources of protein (20-30g) at every meal and snack time
  • Supplement with 5g Leucine per day (BCAAs)
  • For bone, ligament or tendon injuries, eat food sources of calcium (e.g. milk, yoghurt, green leafy vegetables, beans) and supplement with  1000 IU vitamin D per day

Stage 2 – Rehabilitation and hypertrophy

The key nutritional goal during this stage is to support muscle growth and increase strength with rehabilitation and training. It is vital that energy intake is sufficient to meet the extra energy expenditure associated with training and building muscle. During rehabilitation-induced muscle growth, there is an increase in protein breakdown as the muscle signalling pathways repair after a period of complete inactivity. Energy restriction during this time is heavily discouraged.

  • Maintain a healthy balanced diet containing low-GI carbs and good quality sources of protein
  • Avoid excessive intake of antioxidant containing foods (green tea, cherry juice,  citrus fruit, berries, dark chocolate)
  • Reduce intake of anti-inflammatory foods
  • Avoid alcohol!
  • Resume training day nutrition strategy to support rehabilitation sessions