Injuries are an unfortunate and sometimes unavoidable aspect of participation in sport and exercise. Treatment options for injury often include rest, ice massage, manual therapy, heat, electrical stimulation and acupuncture. An often overlooked intervention is nutrition.
To understand the potential of food to help in the healing process, we first need to understand a little bit about the stages of injury.
Most exercise-related injuries go through three main stages in the recovery process. In the first stage, which lasts anywhere from 1-7 days, pain, swelling, redness and heat draws chemicals to the injured area to start the healing process and increase blood flow to the area. In the second stage which can start as early as day 4 and last about 6 weeks, inflammation begins to settle down and the body starts to repair the damaged tissue by laying down collagen. These new collagen fibres are put down in a in the form of scar tissue, which is weaker and less flexible than normal tissues. In the third stage which starts around 2-3 weeks post injury, healing continues to progress and the collagen fibres improve in quality, organization and strength.
Nutrition plays an important role in each of these stages.
Although inflammation is a critical part of triggering the repair process, too much may cause more damage. During this phase, try to include more anti-inflammatory fats in your diet. These include:
- Olive oil
- Ground flax seeds
- Mixed nuts and seeds
- Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines
Herbs and spices like garlic, ginger and tumeric may also be beneficial to help you control inflammation.
At the same time, try to limit pro-inflammatory foods like:
- Processed foods high in saturated fat (hot dogs, bacon, some lunch meats)
- Vegetable oils like corn, sunflower and soybean
- Food with trans fats (biscuits, cakes, pies, cookies, cream filled candies)
Stage 2 and 3
In these stages, metabolism may increase anywhere from 15-50% to support new tissue growth. So you’ll need more calories than when you are sedentary, but fewer than when you are training and exercising regularly. Over the course of the day:
- Eat adequate protein: choose minimally processed meats, poultry, fish, legumes, eggs and plant-based proteins.
- Eat the rainbow: include a mix of different fruits and vegetables.
- Eat enough carbohydrate: choose minimally processed carbohydrates like whole oats, whole grain rice, whole grain bread, freekeh, barley and quinoa.
Unlock Foods Potential to Heal
Next time you find yourself sidelined with an injury, consider adding a registered dietitian to your treatment team to help ensure that you are getting the right nutrients to support your body in healing.
Writer: Stephanie MacNeill (RD)