Injuries are frustrating. Forced time off from exercise or training can lead to frustration, along with loss of strength and other fitness benefits. Obviously, once injured your first port of call should be your trusted medical professional - perhaps doctor or physiotherapist. However, after that, you may wish to look into the impact of your injury and altered activity levels in your diet. With some alterations to your nutrition strategies, you may find you make your way back from injury quicker.
Essentially, we have three main goals when it comes to injury nutrition:
- Maintain muscle mass, or at least minimise loss
- Optimise our body's repair response to assist regeneration of damaged tissue
- Similarly, we want to avoid gaining to much fat to avoid further dips in fitness performance.
Let's look at each of these factors in turn.
Optimising nutrition to maintain muscle mass during injury
Ideally, we want a regular intake of protein over the course of the day. To preserve muscle mass, we'd look at consuming protein between 4 and 6 times per day.
If we maintain our muscle mass while injured, we'll have less 'catching up' to do when we return to exercise.
Top protein choices to include in your nutrition plan during injury
- Red meat
- Dairy products, such as yoghurt, milk and low fat cheese
- Beans and other legumes
Where possible, include one of these protein sources in a meal or snack every 3-4 hours. That should help keep your protein intake sufficient to maintain muscle mass during periods of lower physical activity.
Nutrition strategies to help your body repair tissue and recover from injury
As well as your muscles, we also need to think in terms of tendons, ligaments and bones. Basically, we need all these structures to heal so that no further damage occurs.
A beneficial nutrient for repairing these structures is vitamin C. Vitamin C helps your body build and produce collagen - the main structural protein in connective tissue.
In addition to the protein sources mentioned earlier, we'd also want to include foods high in vitamin C.
Vitamin C rich foods to support collagen production and repair after injury
- Red capsicum
- Citrus fruits
- Brussels sprouts.
Additionally, keeping your diet high in Omega-3s will help reduce inflammation and promote healing.
Oily fish are good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids
- Rainbow trout
As always, a healthy and nutritious diet containing plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables provides a range of benefits.
Keeping to a well balanced nutrition plan during times of injury will ensure that your body has access to a range of different chemical compounds which naturally reduce inflammation.
Adjusting your diet and calorie intake to avoid gaining too much weight while you are less active
For the most part, your training volume and/or intensity reduces when you are injured.
As a result, your body won't have as high energy demands as when you are exercising at full capacity. Consequently, your food intake should reduce to maintain an appropriate energy balance.
As you become less active, your body generally adjusts your hunger hormones to reduce your appetite. However, these changes don't occur straight away.
It can take time for your appetite to down-regulate appropriately, which may lead to overeating.
If we maintain too high a positive energy balance for too long, we gain weight.
As always, we want to tailor our total energy intake in a way to stabilise our weight and assist recovery. That being said, we don't want to cut our calorie intake too drastically either. In doing so, we may inadvertently deprive our body of the much needed energy it requires to rebuild and repair.
The advice of an accredited sports nutritionist or dietitian can become crucial to fine tune your nutrition plan to the exact nature of your injury and requirements.