Jul 13, 2017
Healing Foods
John Berardi and Ryan Andrews

When an athlete is injured, they’re usually eager to follow any protocol or strategy that promises to speed up the rehab process. They’ll use specialized weightroom plans, come in for therapeutic massage, and try innovative modalities like light therapy or underwater training if they think it will hasten their return to action.

But one area that’s often overlooked is the rehabbing athlete’s diet. A growing body of research reveals that the consumption of certain types of foods, supplements, and even spices can influence how the body responds to inflammation and repairs tissue. That may sound surprising, but it makes sense. After all, food provides the building blocks for cells and influences the messages sent throughout the body to regulate blood flow, tissue replacement, and healing.

What are real meal solutions for rehabbing athletes? Try having them follow these dietary guidelines when recovering from an injury:

Frequency: Eat every two to four hours.

Protein: Each meal should contain complete protein, including lean meats, lean dairy, eggs, soy products, or a protein supplement if whole food is not available.

Vegetables and Fruit: Each meal should contain one to two servings of vegetables and/or fruit.

Starches: Additional carbohydrates should come from whole grain, minimally processed sources like whole oats, yams, beans, whole grain rice, or quinoa. Athletes can slightly reduce their intake from this category during rehab, and eat more as soon as they return to active training.

Fats: Athletes should choose from among these “good” fats each day to promote a healthy balance of fat types: avocadoes, olive oil, mixed nuts, flax seeds, and flax oil. In addition, three to nine grams of fish oil should be added to their daily diet.

Supplementation: A multivitamin or other vitamin tablets can be used to supplement micronutrient intake. Natural supplements with anti-inflammatory properties (such as garlic extract, turmeric extract, or bromelain) can also be considered, but should always be used with caution.

It may have occurred to you that many of the nutrition strategies discussed in this article would be sound advice whether an athlete is injured or not. And you’re right. Biological needs change somewhat when the body is repairing itself and recovering from injury–especially during the inflammation stage. But for the most part, good nutrition is good nutrition.

John Berardi, PhD, CSCS, is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Texas and is trained in exercise physiology and exercise nutrition. He is also the President of Precision Nutrition. Ryan Andrews, MS, MA, CSCS, RD, LDN, is Director of Research for Precision Nutrition.

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