Injured athletes can heal faster with sports nutrition

athlete with back pain

Injuries can interrupt training and competition for even the most experienced athletes. When injuries occur, attention to sports nutrition can help get you back in action sooner. It can be tempting to slack off on your usual attention to eating well, but this is definitely not the time to indulge in junk food!

Three key nutrients for healing are calories, protein, and water. It can be challenging to adjust your calorie intake when injured. You want to promote healing, but avoid unwanted weight gain. You will need to consider how much your training volume has decreased and how aggressive your rehab regimen is. Calories should not be restricted too much, because you need to protect your existing muscle mass as much as possible. When you don’t eat enough calories, muscle may be broken down. There is also a calorie cost to the body’s healing process, and too few calories may slow things down. Focus on eating nutrient dense foods and avoiding highly processed and high sugar foods. Check your weight frequently and adjust your intake up or down based on trends that you notice.

Protein can also help protect your muscle mass. Proteins such as whey protein are high in branched chain amino acids (leucine, iso-leucine, valine) which are key for building muscle protein. You will want to spread your protein intake through the day. Be sure to plan a recovery snack for after each rehab session that provides some healthy carbohydrate and high quality protein. Examples might be cottage cheese and whole wheat crackers, yogurt and fruit, or cereal and milk.

Maintain good baseline hydration. Water is important for normal cell function and delivers nutrients for healing. As always, the quick and easy way to monitor hydration is checking your urine color. When you are well-hydrated your urine should be a pale yellow color like lemonade.

For more information about nutrition for injured athletes check out this information from the NCAA. If you aren’t sure about how to eat to maximize your recovery, consult with a board certified specialist in sports dietetics (CSSD.) A CSSD can help you to develop some meal and snack ideas to keep your recovery on track.

© 2015 Kathleen Searles, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN

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