By Shelly Guzman, RD, CD
Despite precautions, many athletes will become injured. Certain nutrients are critical for successful rehabilitation and recovery. The following recommendations are for nutrients that are essential to the healing process. Though many come in supplemental form, the body absorbs the majority of these nutrients much more efficiently from food.
Vitamin A - promotes cell growth and development, bone development, and immune function
Food sources: liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, mango, turnip greens, spinach, papaya, bell peppers
Vitamin C - powerful antioxidant that helps the body form collagen, which is essential for repair of ligaments and tendons and strengthening of bones
Food sources: oranges, broccoli, bell peppers, strawberries, grapefruit, baked potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, papaya, cantaloupe
Vitamin D - needed for calcium absorption, normal development of bones, and prevention of muscle spasms; may support a healthy immune system
Food sources: cod liver oil, egg yolk, fatty fish like salmon & herring, beef liver, and fortified foods like milk and orange juice (the best source of vitamin D is sunlight)
Vitamin E - antioxidant that may prevent excess damage to cells
Food sources: avocado, egg, milk, nuts/seeds, unheated vegetable oils, whole grains
Zinc - necessary for wound healing and healthy immune function
Food sources: meat, seafood, sunflower seeds, almonds
Calcium - needed to build strong bones; plays a role in blood clotting, muscle contractions, and nerve-cell communication
Food sources: dairy, leafy greens, fortified tofu or orange juice, yogurt
Omega-3 Fatty Acids - help reduced pain and inflammation; important for brain development; reduces risk of cancer, heart attack, and stroke
Food sources: salmon, cod liver oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil, walnuts, chia seeds, eggs
Iron - necessary for oxygen delivery to cells and regulation of cell growth; a lack of iron results in an insufficient supply of oxygen to cells eventually causing anemia, fatigue, poor work performance, and decreased immunity
Food sources: beef, poultry, pork, beans, lentils, dried apricots, leafy greens, soybeans and tofu, and fortified foods (breads, cereals, orange juice)
Stressors such as surgery, anesthesia, and the injury itself can increase the body's basal metabolic rate by 10-20%. It is important for athletes going through surgery and rehabilitation to consume adequate levels of calories and protein for optimal recovery. Weight gain and muscle loss are both concerning for athletes when they are recovering from injury.
An athlete that has been injured should have a nutrition assessment by a sports dietitian. Why? A sports dietitian can help identify an athlete's caloric needs and protein requirements for weight maintenance and optimal recovery. If you have been injured you should see the dietitian as soon as possible, and if you are having surgery be sure the see the dietitian two weeks in advance of your surgery so you will have a plan for recovery after surgery.
Remember, Momentum Nutrition and Fitness is here to help! If you need help making a dietary plan for recovery from injury, call today.