How Nutrition Impacts Injury Prevention and Recovery
Injury is an unfortunately common occurrence for many active individuals, and it’s no surprise that many of us are interested in how nutrition may come into play for preventing and recovering from exercise-induced injuries! There are a few different types of injuries that are common as a result of exercise, including muscle, bone, and tendon/ligament injuries. All of these can be debilitating for an athlete and so information about how to improve outcomes is essential.
Remember that you should also listen to advice from your personal health professionals first and foremost. They know you, your body, and your lifestyle best, and so they will be able to give you personalised information that will be most relevant to you. Now that’s out of the way, let’s break down the different types of injury and how nutrition relates to them!
At this point in time, there’s limited research on most injuries and their relation to nutrition. For muscle injuries, we rely mostly on laboratory induced muscle damage to research both prevention and recovery. What we know for sure, is that nutrition can assist with injury prevention and also preventing the loss of those hard-earned muscle gains during the time that you may be side-lined as the result of an injury. Some of the key points to keep in mind are:
- When you have an injury, this will likely cause a decrease in energy requirements. If you are needing to take time away from training or competing, it’s important to adjust your nutrition accordingly.
- Nutrition can support muscle repair via adequate protein. There is not enough evidence to say that protein can help to prevent injuries, but it may help with recovery. Additional protein can potentially help with recovery as resting a limb during injury reduces resting muscle protein synthesis, and may cause a resistance to dietary protein. Additional protein can help to overcome this!
- Omega 3 has shown some importance in managing inflammation, and so should be prioritised as a part of a recovery diet.
Stress fractures are particularly common amongst athletes, as they are caused by repeated overuse of a particular bone. High volume and high intensity training can lead to injuries like this, and so athletes who develop stress fractures are likely to see a significant loss in training time. Since stress fractures are relatively not well understood, we assume that nutrition for good general bone health is best for avoiding and recovering from stress fractures.
- Nutritional inadequacy is detrimental to bone health, and so adequate nutrition can be assumed to be essential for avoiding stress fractures.
- Adequate supply of calcium, protein, magnesium, phosphorous, vitamin D, potassium and fluoride is essential for bone health.
- There is also some evidence showing that manganese, copper, boron, iron, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, and B vitamins are involved in bone health.
- These important nutrients can be achieved by eating plenty of dairy, fruit and vegetables (especially leafy greens).
- It’s important to eat plenty and avoid low energy availability for optimum bone health.
- Some evidence points to above average protein intake assisting with bone health, particularly with adequate calcium as well!
Tendon and Ligament Injuries:
Tendon injuries are the most common musculoskeletal issue in sports with lots of changes to acceleration and plyometrics involved. This affects many athletes, from hurdlers, to jumpers, to throwers, to runners! Given the huge number of athletes that experience tendon injuries, it’s particularly important to focus on it’s prevention and best recovery practices.
- Load on tendons increases collagen synthesis, and it is doubled for approximately 24 hours after exercise. This means that training with load is essential to prevent tendon injury. Some evidence shows that nutritional interventions combined with this load can help to further improve collagen synthesis and therefore promote tendon and ligament healing, however this is yet to be definitively proven.
- Vitamin C has been known to be an essential part of tendon health for over 200 years, and so there is no doubt that it should be prioritised in the diet.
- Copper works in a similar way to vitamin C when it comes to collagen synthesis and tendon health, and so should also be prioritised in the diet.
- There are also other nutrients, including glycine and gelatin or hydrolysed collagen, which may assist with tendon and ligament injury recovery. However, these are much more difficult to get from a normal diet and so should be discussed directly with your health professional.
Overall, the emphasis should always be on food first. When it comes to injury prevention and recovery, an adequate diet that hits all daily requirements for the nutrients mentioned is the best course of action.
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