Pain and discomfort from an injury is something we all want to avoid and due to being a participant in the game of life you are bound to have your share of bumps and bruises along the way. That said, when we do get hurt we want quick relief so we resort to strategies such as ice/heat, massage, muscle activation/light stretching and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen. Over the past few weeks I covered all of these strategies and when and if they should be applied. 
When we do suffer an injury inflammation is our body’s natural response to initiate the healing/recovery process. The initial inflammatory response helps to drive the “groceries” in and drive the “garbage” out. However chronic and out of control inflammation could stall the recovery process and also damage non-injured tissues surrounding the site of trauma. So we need to make sure we mange the delicate inflammation balance. Think of inflammation like a wood burning stove if the light is just flickering that’s not enough and if the fire is out of control it’s very dangerous. What we need from the fire or inflammation process in this case is a nice balance that provides just the right amount of heat and light.
Does the food we eat play a role in how we mange the inflammation in our bodies? If you consume a lot of processed foods your body is more prone to inflammation and if you throw an injury on top of that you could skew that delicate inflammatory balance toward the out of control range. And there are many foods that can help control excessive inflammation and restore that delicate balance. Food also provides the building blocks for the tissues and bones in our bodies. So when tissues are damaged and in need of repair and regeneration the food we consume provide the raw materials required to rebuild our bodies.
The answer to the above question then is a definitive yes! Nutrition can be a big player in your ability to recover from an injury.
Step one in using nutrition to improve injury recovery is to eat more “good” fats while reducing fats from highly processed foods. Eat more olive oil, avocado, ground flax seeds or flax seed oil, chia seeds, nuts such as pecans, almonds and walnuts. Processed vegetable oils like corn, canola, safflower, cottonseed and soybean should also be greatly reduced. Egg yolks from pastured raised hens and fatty wild-caught fish such as salmon also provide recovery-boosting fats.
Even though these “good” fats create an anti-inflammatory response in the body, this response doesn’t interfere with repair; rather, it only helps with injury healing and tissue regeneration.
The following foods are also rich in natural inflammation-modulating agents:
Cocoa (unprocessed powder or dark chocolate)
Energy needs increase during acute injury repair
Cutting down drastically on the amount of food you eat after you are injured is another sure-fire way to stall your recovery. You may not need as much food as when active but providing your body with enough fuel to carryout the recovery process is crucial. Consider the following example of a young male athlete. He’s 14 years old, 5’6″ and 140 lb.
Basal Metabolic Rate - 1611 kcal/day (the rate at which energy is used by an organism at complete rest)
Energy needs when sedentary - 1933 kcal/day (activity factor of 1.2)
Energy needs with daily training/competition - 2739 kcal/day (activity factor of 1.7)
Energy needs during recovery - 2319 kcal/day (activity factor of 1.2 and a 20% increase in metabolism due to injury)
As coaches and parents we need to monitor our young athletes to ensure they are eating enough while injured. Young athletes may be concerned about gaining weight while sedentary and they also likely will have less of an appetite because they aren’t as active.
Injury repair requires more protein
To ensure a quick recovery, make sure to get higher protein intake consistently. Protein digests into amino acids that are needed to repair damaged tissues.
Vitamins and minerals are nutrients required in small amounts for metabolic reactions that occur during the recovery process. You can ensure adequate vitamin and mineral intake by consuming a “rainbow” of colorful fruits and vegetables. This will go along way toward preventing any deficiencies. Fruits and veggies also contain powerful antioxidants that help control excessive inflammation.
According to Dr. John Berardi (PH.D. Nutrition)
While it is important to prevent any vitamin and mineral deficiencies there are a few vitamins and minerals that may require additional supplementation. 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
Calcium and iron deficiencies are, like zinc deficiencies, quite common. Because they’re important for bone health, athletes who are deficient in calcium and iron are more likely to suffer stress fractures.
Thus, while these two minerals may not play direct roles in injury healing, they play a large role in prevention. Get enough calcium and iron, preferably from whole foods rather than supplements.
Ensure that injured athletes eat enough calories and protein, by using some simple strategies:
Eat every 3-4 hours.
Each meal/snack should contain complete protein including fish, lean meats, grass fed and organic dairy, eggs.
VEGETABLES AND FRUIT
Each meal/snack should contain 1-2 servings veggies and/or fruit (1/2 – 1 1/2 cups or 1-2 pieces) with a greater focus on veggies.
Additional carbohydrates should come from whole grain, minimally processed sources like whole oats, yams/sweet potatoes, beans and legumes, whole grain rice, quinoa, etc. The athlete should eat fewer starches when not training (such as during injury recovery), and more when training (unless they want to lose fat).
Eat at least 2-3 of these healthy fats each day: avocadoes, olive oil, mixed nuts, fatty fish (such as salmon), flax seeds, and flax oil, whole eggs.
Waiting until you are hurt to start eating nutrient dense foods is not the recipe for a quick recovery. The best strategy of course is prevention and by consuming a variety of whole foods consistently it will ensure that if you are injured you have the raw materials on hand to fuel the recovery process efficiently.