Crashes, overuse injuries and freak accidents happen to athletes in every discipline of sport all the time. While rest is the best thing you can do to get yourself back to training, you might be able to speed the recovery and repair process by upping your nutrition game. Luckily, there are several foods you can eat that are full of nutrients that can aid the body’s ability to regenerate new tissue — all combining to help you come back stronger and faster.
Here’s a short list:
When injury takes away the daily workouts you’re accustomed to, it seems natural to cut back on calories to avoid sedentary weight gain. However, this can actually delay the repair process. Injuries take energy to heal, meaning your metabolism goes up to allocate energy to create tissue. Eating enough nutrient-rich calories is key to a speedy recovery.
This macronutrient is used in greater amounts when an injury is present. Increasing intake of protein-rich foods throughout the day will help to rebuild damaged tissue while preventing the atrophy of muscles that aren’t being actively worked. Specific amino acids such as leucine and arginine (found in eggs and turkey) can accelerate healing even more by targeting blood flow and collagen deposition to the affected area.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that activates the body’s immune response. This vitamin also helps the body generate collagen production for repair of skin and ligaments. While oranges typically come to mind for providing vitamin C, other foods, such as bell peppers, strawberries, papaya, broccoli and tomatoes are all rich in the nutrient.
This mineral is involved in many enzymatic reactions related to the healing process such as protein synthesis and collagen production. Athletes whose diets lack zinc may suffer from delayed wound healing. The best bet is to consume zinc-rich foods on a daily basis such as oysters, grass-fed beef, chickpeas and pumpkin seeds.
Fats help keep cell membranes flexible and healthy which is crucial to rebuilding the body after injury. Keep the focus on fatty foods that will promote overall wellness, decrease inflammation and increase satiety like avocados, fish, grass-fed proteins, nuts, algae and seeds.
Repairing connective tissue and forming new blood cells requires adequate copper intake. Sprinkling pumpkin seeds or cashews on your leafy greens is an easy way to boost your intake of this trace mineral.
The jury on this one is still out … but it won’t hurt! Bodies naturally create collagen and certain nutrients boost production. Science has yet to prove that ingesting collagen (think bone broths and powders) will actually help create the structure internally, but if nothing else, you’ll get a nice dose of protein by taking in more collagen, so it’s a potential win-win.
This substance with high antioxidant and antiviral properties is produced by the body to maintain and grow cells. Some research points to COQ10 supplementation assisting in the healing process of soft-tissue wounds. While some foods contain this, it is almost impossible to get beneficial amounts without a supplemental source.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Meals that can boost your body’s healing power:
Kale salad with sardines, hard-boiled egg, oranges, sliced bell peppers, crispy chickpeas, avocado and pumpkin seeds drizzled with a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette. Sip 1 cup warm, grass-fed beef bone broth on the side.
Roast turkey sandwich with hummus and roasted red peppers on whole-grain bread. Served with a smoothie of spirulina, walnut milk, collagen powder, kale and dates.
Nutrient intake should be based on your individual activity level, body needs and specific injury. For optimal results consult with a sports dietitian who can develop a diet plan to get you back to full health ASAP.