We’ve had our fair share of injury in this house, from the 5 year old’s fractured arm while twirling herself around the living room, to my husband’s two anterior cruciate ligament tears while playing rugby (as well as the relentless string of other more minor injuries). A ligament tear may not sound as serious as a fracture, but in reality for him it meant knee operations, 9 months of rehabilitation and not being able to play. As anyone who loves their sport knows, recovery from an injury can be very hard both physically and psychologically.
Luckily, in the professional era of sport, the medical team supporting the rehabilitation is second to none. Surgeons, physiotherapists, rehab specialists, strength and conditioners etc are all trained and experienced in getting players back to fitness ASAP.
But is there a role for nutrition in the rehab process? In my experience of working individually with professional and elite sports, specific nutrition advice for aiding the rehab process is nearly always over looked. For athletes immobilised or severely restricted in level of training by their injury, I have found that many can go in one of two directions. Both are detrimental to the recovery, healing and return to full fitness process:
- Weight and fat gain: Overeating due to carrying on with the usual nutritional intake without adjusting quantities to compensate for a reduction in activity. Comfort eating is also very common due to feeling very down/depressed about the injury and the physical pain, lack of certainty about the recovery, exclusion from training etc.
- Weight and muscle loss: under eating to compensate for the immobilisation and reduction in training, or as a method of controlling the situation (can result in disordered eating patterns)
Is there a better way? Can nutrition actually speed up the rehabilitation process? A review of research published last month in Sports Medicine (Tipton, 2015), as well as some other sport nutrition research has come to some important conclusions. As well as stimulating the muscles as early as possible post injury with pool work or electrical stimulation, these 5 nutrition points should be considered:
- Stay in ‘energy balance’. i.e. eating the right amount of calories to keep weight stable. Under eating has detrimental effects on wound healing and increases muscle loss.
- Protein intake needs to be high to prevent muscle loss and to stimulate muscle synthesis (0.3g/kg/meal or 2-2.5g/kg/day). Protein foods should be at EVERY meal
- Omega 3 fatty acids may be helpful to reduce long term inflammation and prevent muscle loss
- Creatine may encourage muscle growth – 10g/day for 3 weeks, then 2g/day after this
- Calcium and Vitamin D is needed for optimal healing of bone fractures
Food during the days, weeks and months of rehab should be the cornerstone of recovery nutrition and should be as wholesome as possible. There should be some consideration for specific supplementation if necessary and appropriate. For example, in the UK during the winter months it is not possible to get enough vitamin D from the sun, so supplementation is needed; if oily fish isn’t eaten an omega 3 supplement should be taken. Ensure supplements are certified by Informed Sport.
A Sports Dieititan specialises in assessing the athlete and in making specific adaptations and recommendations for the diet to ensure return to fitness ASAP. Psychological support by a dietitian can prevent or reduce binge eating/under eating/disordered eating behaviours. We provide tailored advice on calorie requirements; and the amount, timing and best sources of protein, omega 3 fats, creatine, calcium and vitamin D.