Sports are great – who doesn’t love sports?! It brings people together, giving athletes a sense of belonging and accomplishment. But a not-so-awesome yet frequent occurrence from sports participation is injury.
It’s pretty intuitive that proper nutrition can support recovery, but would you believe me if I told you it can also fend off injuries in the first place?
This message should really resonate with you if you’re consistently battling new injuries. Keep scrolling to find out how nutrition may be the solution to your injury woes!
Since it’s always better to be proactive than reactive, let’s address how nutrition can be used for injury prevention!
The ultimate way to prevent injury is to EAT. ENOUGH. CALORIES! This translates into having energy available in the body which can be used for purposes far beyond that of just fueling training sessions.
Our body has a baseline requirement for energy just to survive (not to be dramatic but it’s true!) and carry out basic bodily functions related to immunity, bone remodeling, and muscle repair.
Impairment to any one of these processes undoubtedly impacts an athlete’s ability to bounce back from hard training session after hard training session.
When your body lacks “energy availability”, sacrifices have to be made somewhere for your body to meet its basic survival needs. These sacrifices create weak points in stressed bone, muscles, tendons, and ligaments that lead to injury over time.
If you’re eating enough calories to meet your needs, there’s also a better chance that you’ll be getting enough protein, vitamin C, vitamin D, copper, omega-3’s, and calcium – all of which are important for muscle, bone, tendon, and ligament health!
On the topic of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, it can be difficult to meet requirements through foods and supplementation is often necessary for vitamin D. This is especially true for athletes living in northern climates or competing in indoor sports.
For the anti-inflammatory omega-3’s, there’s not enough research yet to give a recommendation on dosage for daily long-term supplementation as injury prophylaxis. The best strategy at this time is to ensure you’re getting these healthy fats through food sources (i.e. fatty fish, nuts/seeds, fortified eggs).
It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), diet quality is clearly necessary to supply the body with all of the nutrients it needs to thrive!
Polyphenols are also consumed when we focus on eating high-quality foods (i.e. whole fruits and vegetables). There is some research to suggest that polyphenols can combat muscle damage with their anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory properties. For a dose of polyphenols, try Dietitian Illustrated’s Cherry Choco-Mint Shake!
Eating to Treat Injury
Once an injury hits, the goal is to recover with minimal training time lost and maximal retention of muscle mass, strength, and aerobic capacity.
With some level of immobilization accompanying most injuries, athletes can benefit from increased protein to offset the catabolic state that results.
Immobilization also equates to reduced energy expenditure which can affect body composition if energy intake isn’t adjusted to compensate. However, athletes may restrict their energy intake too much out of fear of weight gain.
It’s important to remember that the healing process demands energy. So although an athlete may be less active, energy needs are not as reduced as one may think – especially if you’re using crutches which burn 2-3 times more energy than normal walking!
Injury also produces an inflammatory state within the body so one may consider taking an omega-3 supplement at this stage. Research suggests that a 5 gram fish oil supplement should be taken for a minimum of 2 weeks to see benefits.
Don’t just take any ol’ fish oil supplement – make sure it has been third party tested through the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) certification program.
Otherwise, a high-quality diet can provide the additional nutrients needed to optimize injury recovery. These nutrients include zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin C which support proper healing of tissues.
Vitamin C is particularly important for promoting collagen synthesis; food sources include bell peppers, kiwi, citrus, strawberries, broccoli, and red cabbage.
Overall if there’s only one thing you take away from all of this, it’s that proper nutrition is a powerful tool in the athlete toolbox, crafting the nuts and bolts of any training plan where injury prevention is fundamental.
Review the literature for yourself!
Research used for this post can be found here: