You guys know how much I advocate for exercise. I have written at length about it in my post Why Exercise is Important. Exercise – next to its physical benefits – also has amazing mental health benefits. But what happens when suddenly you cannot exercise any longer due to an injury? This was the case for me, when I tore the ligament in my thumb and had to undergo surgery at the beginning of 2021. It is also currently the case, where I find myself unable to properly walk due to a potential knee injury. When I tore the ligament in my thumb I was desperately searching for specific nutrition for recovery from injury. And I have to admit that the resources out there are limited.
So, I set off to re-research the topic again and thought I would take you along 😉. Not all of these tips will speed up the recovery process (see my next point) but they should support your overall wellbeing and recovery.
Take Time to Properly Recovery
First off – and I know this may be difficult to hear – take time to properly recover. You may want to get back to exercising or general movement as soon as possible. You may also feel bad for spending a lot more time laying down and not “doing very much”. Your body needs time to recover and to recuperate. Once you are properly recovered you will have all the time for exercising. So, take the time and trust the healing process 🙏🏻.
Your Body Needs a Lot More Food For the Healing Process
Even though you are likely laying around more and moving less, injury recovery is actually a very taxing and enormously energy-consuming process for the body. Correct wound-healing takes a heck of a lot of energy. For example, crutching takes about 2-3 times more energy than walking (!!). Depending on your age, genetic makeup, body weight, activity level, stage of injury and recovery your body is in, your body needs ca. 30 – 35 more kcals per body weight than when it is not injured. This is ca. 20% more of your caloric need than normal. So, if you find yourself hungrier during recovery this should not surprise you, and, in fact, be anticipated.
Do not fall into the trap of thinking that because you are moving less you need to adjust your food intake to less. This is definitely not the case and actually will prevent you from continuing or speeding up the healing process. The higher energy intake will also help to fight sarcopenia (sarcopenia is a loss of muscle mass and function).
Nutrition for Recovery From Injury
So, what are some of the things that you can do from a nutritional standpoint to support your recovery from injury? I will go into the main principles this week and cover specific micronutrients that can support your recovery next week.
Your body is already dealing with a lot of trauma and likely has hightened levels of inflammation due to fighting the injury. The best thing you can do for it is to eat plenty of foods that are anti-inflammatory. Eat plenty of veggies and fruits and as close to whole foods as possible. Dark, leafy greens are super rockstars against inflammation. Oily fish, such as tuna and salmon, olives, olive oil, avocados, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds are all rockstars as well. If you have been with me for a while, you know a lot of the posts on this blog contain foods in all of these categories – so feel free to give it a search 💕.
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet will also greatly increase your gut health and gut mircobiome. Gut health is so important in general, but at this stage in the process of recovery from injury especially so, because it allows for your body to absorb the nutrients it needs and sends them straight to where they are needed – to your place of injury.
Try To Avoid Blood Sugar Spikes
Again, blood sugar spikes cause inflammation and this is something we want to avoid at this stage in the process as much as possible. This is due to your body already dealing with a major inflammatory response. Try to avoid sugary foods, white bread, pasta, and anything highly processed. Unfortunately, inflammation can also be caused by gluten and/or dairy. See how your body reacts and potentially reduce those as well.
I totally get that this might be highly difficult, especially when you are sitting on the sofa frustrated/potentially bored. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of eating foods for convenience. I have written an entire post on How to Balance Blood Sugar Levels. I highly encourage you to follow these protocols now especially, it will also help in balancing your hormones, which again means less inflammation in the body.
Your body’s need for protein is up to 250% higher than usually. This is because protein is needed at every stage in the recovery process. Protein is essential for collagen production, immune function, tissue remodeling, wound contraction, and skin remodeling. Eating enough protein will also mean that you are not losing muscle mass, strength, and function. So amp up on the protein intake. Research has indicated that the greatest benefits during recovery come when you space out your protein intake evenly throughout the day.
Pro- and Prebiotics
If you are going through surgery or post-surgery, there is a high chance of you having to take antibiotics against infections. Try to support your body with both pre- and probiotics. Prebiotics are indigestible fibers that your good-gut bacteria (the probiotics) can feed on. Prebiotics are rich in, for example, onions, garlic, leeks, banana, oats, and asparagus. Probiotics can be found in anything with live cultures (which usually equals fermentation). Examples are kefir, homemade sauerkraut, kimchi, or kombutscha. Just make sure that the product has not been homogenized, as that means heating it and such will kill the live bacteria. You may also want to support yourself with a probiotic during this time. In Germany, they also offer “bacteria re-activation cultures” that you take for ca. 2 weeks and are available at the pharmacy. Perhaps check out whether you find something similar?
Hydration (No Alcohol)
Hydration is so important during this time of recovery. Fluids maintain skin turgor. Turgor means that (in this instance the skin structure) cells remain full of fluid and press the cell membrane against the its walls. Think of it like a plant, if the turgor is gone it becomes wilted, because there is not enough fluids to support the membrane. Fluids also help with oxygenation during the wound healing process.
On the topic of hydration, now is also not the time to drink alcohol. First off, alcohol may cause an inflammatory response in the body, which – as discussed above – is something we are trying to avoid. In addition, the liver needs to work extra hard in order to flush out alcohol toxins, I will get onto why the liver needs extra support right now in my next point. Alcohol can also lead to nutrients not being ideally absorbed by the gut, which again, we are trying to avoid as we need all the nutrient density possible. Last but not least, alcohol can dehydrate the body, which – again – is counterintuitive to hydrating in the first place.
Liver and Kidneys
Liver and kidney health is important for a number of things. Amongst others, skin, eye health, circulation, waste removal and flushing out toxins, and vitamin storage and absorption. In this context, we are focussing on the waste removal aspects. The liver and kidneys work very hard in order to flush out toxins daily from our bodies. For waste removal, the liver breaks down toxins into bile and urea. The urea is transported via the blood to the kidneys where it will then be eliminated as urine, along with other waste materials. Bile, on the other hand, is sent directly to the digestive tract.
When injured, there is a very big likelihood that you are taking significantly more painkillers than you normally likely would (if at all). This means that your liver needs to do a lot more work in order to break down the painkillers in addition to all of its awesome work it is doing. In this process, the liver gets depleted of glutathione. Glutathione is made from selenium in the body. So be sure to support your body with selenium (a great source are Brazil nuts). In addition, try to add in foods that are specifically good for both the liver and kidneys, such as cranberries, blueberries, bitter greens (e.g. arugula, dandelion, collard, mustard greens), cruciferous vegetables, and garlic.
Three Not-So Nutritionally Related Tips
Last but not least, there are three things I wanted to mention that are not necessarily nutrition-related but may still support your recovery.
There is a wealth of research that shows that in order to heal, your body needs adequate amounts of sleep. If you are finding yourself a lot more tired, do not fight it. Good, quality sleep at this time in the process of recovery is super important. Simply sleep when your body is craving it.
You may find that your digestion has gone a bit awool with all the laying around and less movement. What always helps me in instances like that is to soak 3-4 prunes overnight in warm water and have them in the morning with breakfast. Prunes are amazing for easy elimination and pooping (yes, I said it 🤪).
I have written an entire blog post about this here: The Mind-Body Connection. If you think positive thoughts and envision yourself moving again this may have a powerful effect on your recovery. It certainly might not hurt – so give it a try 😉.
I hope this post has helped you in order to learn more about nutrition recovery from injury. I could not find a “blueprint” like this and I wish I would have had it the last time around, but also this time around. Hopefully it will support you in your recovery 💕. Beautiful cover photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.