Guest Blog by Rachel Eagleton, Clinical Nutritionist.

A downside of finding a sport that you love is the inevitable injury that sidelines you. It could be a stress fracture, slipped disc or tendonitis. How do you use your nutrition to support your recovery? No – I’m not talking about eating your feelings via chocolate and red wine – but using your diet to support your recovery and get you back to your sport stronger than ever. This blog with cover everything you need to know about nutrition for injury recovery.

During recovery, your focus during your recovery should be on fighting inflammation and fuelling repair – loading up anti-inflammatory foods, keeping essential nutrient intake high, as well as boosting  protein intake.

Reducing inflammation

Load up on fruits, vegetables and healthy fats to reduce inflammation.

  • Vitamin C – (strawberries, citrus, kiwi fruit, capsicum and tomatoes) is essential for repairing connective tissues and cartilage as well as wound healing.
  • Vitamin A – (sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, kale and other leafy greens) to fight infection and for cell growth and development.
  • Zinc – (red meat, shellfish, legumes, nuts, seeds and eggs) is another important nutrient for immune function and growing and repairing body tissue.
  • Omega-3 (salmon, sardines, and anchovies, avocados, nuts and nut butters, seeds and extra virgin olive oil) helps reduce inflammation and speed recovery.

Pro-inflammatory foods from refined sugar and refined carbohydrates should be avoided, including processed foods high in saturated fats. Alcohol impairs wound healing and reduces the response of muscles protein synthesis by reducing the body’s inflammatory response so avoid alcohol.

Increase your protein intake

You might know that protein is critical after a workout to rebuild damaged muscle fibres – the same process of muscle protein synthesis is used to heal a soft tissue injury, making protein an important part of your nutrition for injury recovery. In addition to building and repairing muscle, protein also helps build and repair collagen and keeps your immune system healthy. Protein also helps keep you feeling full. Whole foods such as fish, meat, eggs and chicken, nuts, seeds, legumes and greek yoghurt are all excellent sources of protein as is a good quality VPA Whey Protein Isolate. Make sure each meal contains 20g of quality protein. Also consider an additional serve of casein protein prior to sleep – cottage cheese or greek yoghurt are good sources of casein protein as is VPA’s micellar casein.

If you have cut back on your exercise regime during your recovery period you may need less carbs. Make sure the carbs you are eating coming from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables since refined carbs equal inflammation.

Have you seen this advice before? Uh huh! Nutrition for injury recovery is pretty much the same diet as the one that supports your training during the good times – a wide variety of fruits and veggies, good quality lean protein, healthy fats and high quality carbohydrates.

Can I just take a pill?

There is plenty of research into supplements but direct evidence as to efficacy is lacking. Some strategies that may be worth trying include:

  • Supplementation with collagen is becoming of increasing interest to athletes as it’s recently been shown that taking 15g collagen with around 48mg of Vitamin C, 30-60mins prior to targeted training such as jumping rope, will double the collagen production after those sessions compared to undertaking the session without such nutritional support. Collagen intake has also been showed to improve function, instability and pain perception in ligament and joint damage of the ankles and knees. VPA’s Collagen Pro combines collagen with a pro and pre biotic to help you maintain your gut health.
  • Tart cherry juice for anti-inflammatory benefits and immune support.
  • Fish oil supplements (maybe?)

How can I avoid repeat injury?

Besides working with your physio to strengthen and refine your technique, it’s worth paying consideration to any nutrient deficiencies that may have led to your injury. Sufficient vitamin D and calcium are both critical to the prevention of bony injuries. There are small amounts of Vitamin D in oily fish and some fortified milk, however the best source is sunshine. Vit D status can be assessed by your GP. Milk, yoghurt, cheese and other dairy foods are the richest sources of calcium but other sources are almonds, canned fish (with bones), tofu and dark green leafy veggies. You also need to ensure you are getting enough energy availability which means paying attention to what and when you are eating.

Sources: Nutritional Support for Exercise-Induced Injuries, Clinical Sports Nutrition, Sports Dietitians Australia

Rachel Eagleton (MHumNut)  is a university qualified Clinical Nutritionist based in Sydney, Australia. She is also the busy working mum of two teenagers, so is practical and realistic with her advice. Rachel offers private consultations to improve your sporting performance, or your general health and well-being. You can find her at racheleagleton.com.au and on Facebook and Instagram for more healthy tips.