Nutrition is a critical part of health and development. Better nutrition is related to improved infant, child and maternal health, stronger immune systems, safer pregnancy and childbirth, lower risk of non-communicable diseases (such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease), and longevity. (1)
What is not written about quite as often it the role of nutrition in recovery, from illness and from injury. Research has shown that poor nutrition will impair recovery and lengthen the time it takes to return to activity.
The body’s protective response to injury is inflammation. It is an essential part of the repair process which brings healthy nutrients and cells to the affected site. With an injury, the body’s short term response is redness, swelling, and pain brought on by the immune system. However, prolonged inflammation, can affect the whole body even if your injury is limited to one area.
Nutrition has a powerful and nourishing role in helping the body recover from an injury. Antioxidants help the body prevent muscle damage and may aide in injury recovery. Some antioxidants are naturally found within the body, but are also consumed through food.
While injured, it is important to avoid overly restricting energy/food intake. The goal is to meet energy requirements, providing your body with the energy and nutrients it needs to fully heal. Meeting your energy needs will also slow muscle mass loss. If deficiencies in energy and protein occur due to a reduced food intake during the early phase of an injury, wound healing is impaired and muscle mass and tendon function loss are exacerbated. (2)
Regardless of the time point of your injury, it is crucial to eat a healthy diet that provides sufficient energy and nutrients. This will prevent unnecessary weight loss and micronutrient deficiencies. The reverse is also true: the urge to comfort ourselves with highly palatable sugary and fatty foods, resulting in body fat gain, should also be avoided.
Sufficient protein, carbohydrates and fats each have a starring role in accelerating a return to activity. Whole foods offer synergistic and therapeutic value in combatting inflammation, supporting regeneration and anabolism of injured tissues, and promoting healing and recovery. Helping those with injuries gain access to a wide variety of whole foods that meet energy, macronutrient, and micronutrient needs and assisting them in making sound nutritional choices can help maximize return to activity.
1. Nutrition by WHO [Internet]. World Health Organization Website. [cited 2022 Dec 2]. p. https://www.who.int/health-topics/nutrition. Available from: https://www.who.int/health-topics/nutrition
2. Nutrition for Injury Prevention and Recovery [Internet]. Uphill Athlete; Available from: https://uphillathlete.com/nutrition-injury-recovery/
3. Nutrition for enhanced injury recovery [Internet]. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/fulltext/2016/03000/whole_foods_nutrition_for_enhanced_injury.5.aspx