Nutrition After an Injury
I often get questions regarding if your diet should be altered after an injury. Eating healthy is always good and usually promotes adequate healing; however, the right diet and supplements can accelerate the process of recovery. In order to understand what you should be eating after an injury, it’s important to understand what is happening at the cellular level.
The Recovery Process
In most cases, cells follow a very organized and predictable pattern after an injury. There are three overlapping phases of recovery the cells follow during the healing process. The first phase is inflammation, followed by proliferation and remodeling.
Immediately after an injury, soft tissues such as blood vessels, muscles, and connective tissue are damaged. Cellular debris become scattered and broken blood vessels limit local cellular transportation causing many cells in that area to die. The immediate response is swelling and pain. This happens because the body is trying to get more blood and plasma to the damaged area to help remove the cellular debris and dead tissue. The pain is there to notify you that you that an injury has occurred. Swelling is actually a central part in the acute phase of an injury and should be considered normal. However, too much swelling will be detrimental and cause more injury to the surrounding tissues.
Once all of the cellular debris have been removed and new vascularization has initiated, proliferation begins. You can think of proliferation as the initial cellular framework being laid down to reconstruct the damaged area.
This framework is always shorter than the tissue it is replacing so the area will be tight and need to be gradually stretched over time. This tissue will eventually be replaced by collagen which starts the third and last phase of healing, remodeling.
Physical therapy is very important during the remodeling healing because collagen is laid down in the direction of where the forces are being applied to the tissue. To ensure that the healing tissue will provide resilient support, a physical therapist should be applying the right type of stresses to the area of healing tissue to reduce the likelihood of re-injury.
Eating to Heal
All of the rebuilding that occurs in the second and third phases of healing requires a lot of energy and protein. It may come to a surprise to you that your normal resting metabolic rate can increase by 15-50%, depending on the severity of the injury. It makes sense that if you’re inactive you are going to burn less calories and should eat less. After an injury you’re going to be less active, which is why many people make the mistake of not consuming enough calories to meet the energy demands of the healing tissue. A person with an injury should be eating every 3-4 hours, and with every meal there should be adequate macronutrients. Also, it is important to eat food that are anti-inflammatory.
Proteins: Consume at least 1gram of protein per 1 pound of your body weight to ensure you have enough material to rebuild.
Carbohydrates: Fewer carbohydrates are needed due to inactivity; however, it is still recommended to eat enough carbs to maintain normal blood glucose levels. Avoid simple sugars and eat complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, oats, beans, etc.
Fats: Your diet should be balanced with the different types of fats. ⅓ should be saturated fats, ⅓ should be monounsaturated fatty acids. and ⅓ should be polyunsaturated fatty acids. Eat foods such as avocados, olive oil, mixed nuts, fatty fish, flax seeds, and flax oil.
Every meal should contain 1-2 servings of fruit and vegetables with a greater focus on vegetables. Finally, do not forget about vitamins and minerals. Calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc, vitamins A, B, C, and D are all important for injury recovery.
Here’s a brief list of the vitamin and mineral supplements that help with acute injury recovery:
- Vitamin A – 10,000 IU/day for 2-4 weeks post-injury
- Vitamin C – 1000-2000 mg/day for 2-4 weeks post-injury
- Copper – 2-4 mg/day for 2-4 weeks post-injury
- Zinc – 15-30 mg/day for 2-4 weeks post-injury