We are what we eat right? Hence, recovering from any sports related injury warrants high quality nutrition. Feeding ourselves well and in appropriate quantities can increase rate of healing, decrease time away from the bike and counter negative effects of reduced activity.
Aim for an energy balance
It may seem obvious – you want to be matching energy intake to energy expenditure.
It may be tempting to reduce intake substantially due to immobility, however, bear in mind injury repair requires energy to heal. Negative energy balance will interfere with wound healing and exacerbate muscle loss; Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) requires energy, and a fit man uses approx. 500 kcal a day on MPS even without physical activity (1)).
On the other hand, a positive energy balance for a long period of time can cause weight gain, and possible inflammation if we eat the wrong types of food.
I’m not one for counting and weighing every single food item and converting it to calories, so heres my advice to achieve a healthy, healing balance.
Recommended foods and portion sizing
- The healing process is heavily reliant on amino acids given these are the building blocks of tissue and bone. The injury site will poach amino acids from elsewhere in the body if you are not providing it with enough.
- At a minimum, aim for 0.8 per kg of body weight. If you were consuming a lot more than this before the injury, you could manage slightly higher (1 – 1.2 x kg of body weight) to prevent loss of muscle metabolism.
- Choose: lean meats, fish, eggs, good quality dairy (full fat yogurt, cheeses), vegan sources (peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, rice, lentils, quinoa, nuts and seeds).
- See useful diagram below for protein in certain foods
- Ideally, you need a good portion of protein with every meal and with some snacks e.g.handful of nuts, smoothie with protein powder, almond butter on rice cakes, yogurt and seeds.
- Carbohydrates provide fibre, micronutrients and energy for healing support. Ideally aim for one portion at each meal – a portion is approx. a fistful
- Choose ‘complex’ carbs: wholegrains – brown rice, quinoa, chickpeas, rye bread etc, or vegetables – potatoes, broccoli, peas, carrots etc and ideally consume 1 piece of fruit per day (berries have the least sugar spiking ‘fructose’ and are an excellent source of antioxidants).
- Good fats are important – they repair nerves, support skin renewal, make new cells (the membrane is all fat) and omega 3 specifically can reduce inflammation in the body.
- Choose oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines), olive oil, avocados, nuts (esp. walnuts) seeds (pumpkin, chia, sunflower etc), and flaxseed oil.
And finally, as many veg as you can get! 7-10 portions of non starchy veg is ideal. See diagram for inspiration.
Foods to avoid
After the initial acute period of inflammation, which is beneficial to the body (for delivery of blood to the trauma site etc), we don’t want any more inflammation.
Sugar, trans-fat and hydrogenated fats all contribute to low grade inflammation in the body – avoid BBQ-ed meats, cured meats and processed foods, as well as anything with refined sugar – cakes, biscuits.
In addition, avoid any extra burden on the liver by reducing or avoiding alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
If nutrient status before injury was optimal, and the injury time is not too lengthy (< month) supplements are not critical – but may be taken if desired. If injury time is lengthy and levels of nutrients were not optimal before, I would recommend the below.
- Omega 3 for reducing inflammation and supporting cell renewal
- Vitamin C and E for antioxidant support
- Magnesium for muscle relaxation and repair, and good quality sleep
- If you struggle to get enough protein through foods, a pea and rice protein powder can help reach required levels
With supplements, my advice is always speak to a professional on the topic – nutritionist, dietician etc. Rarely do you want to take supplements long term (some can have negative impacts). The quality differs hugely between brands, and its always important to check drug-supplement interactions if you are on medication.
Get the blood flowing!
And finally, how do these nutrients get to the injury – blood flow! If the blood isn’t flowing, the nutrients won’t get to where they are needed. So discuss with your physio / chiro / trainer, what movements ARE possible with your injury to ensure you keep your blood flowing. Low intensity swimming, walking, yoga are all good if and when your injury allows.
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