Have you ever been injured, sick or had surgery? If so, I’m sure you’d agree that your main goal is to heal as quickly as possible to get back to your life. Interestingly, one of the most underutilized avenues to get back on your feet is nutrition. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recently published an article about the importance of using whole foods nutrition for enhanced injury prevention & healing. Choose to use food as your friend and learn what foods can help you.
Inflammation plays a critical & necessary role in the recovery and healing process. Inflammation increases the production of free radicals (that damage to cells). If the damage is in the acute phase we don’t want to suppress the inflammatory phase all together, but just control it. Antioxidants can neutralize the damaging effects to the cells and help repair the cellular damage they cause. Some important antioxidants in the body are vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin A, selenium, and zinc. Some of these antioxidants are produced naturally, whereas others need to be obtained from the diet. You should include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meats, poultry, fatty fish, and nuts and seeds in the daily diet to help ensure adequate intake of these important nutrients.
Flavonoids found in cocoa, tea, red wine, fruits, vegetables, and legumes can help manage inflammation through their antioxidant actions. It is probably good to eat more flavonoid-rich food in general and more so during acute injuries. The protective role of flavonoids during inflammation may be associated with their ability to sequester iron and the regulatory effect they exert on immune components involved in inflammatory processes. A variety of whole food, herbs, and spices can assist in this process. Garlic, turmeric (found in curry powder), green tea, blueberries, apples, citrus fruits, and pineapples also contain nutrients helpful for combatting the inflammation that occurs with training each day.
In addition to antioxidants, there are other nutrients such as Omega 3 Fatty Acids that decrease inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids come in different types: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Our bodies can convert ALA into DHA and EPA, but not very efficiently. Omega-3’s can be obtained in pill form or whole foods. The whole foods sources of DHA and EPA include algae and fatty fish such as salmon, halibut, herring, oysters, sardines, trout, and fresh tuna. Plant-based ALA sources include flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and sunflower, safflower, and seed oils. Foods that are fortified with Omega-3s may include eggs, milk, soy milk, yogurt, and buttery spreads.
After inflammation starts to subside, the injured part of the body begins to make scar tissue and remake connective tissue. This is especially true after surgery, when the proinflammatory response causes muscle dysfunction that can lead to muscle atrophy. Research suggests that antioxidants, like vitamins C and E, can help modulate the activity of these proinflammatory molecules (cytokines). Vitamin C– and flavonoid-containing citrus fruits (like oranges and grapefruit), bell peppers, and berries, as well as wheat germ and whole grains that contain vitamin E, might be useful at this stage of rehabilitation. Vitamin E also can be found in foods such as nuts and oils.
Vitamin C is needed to make collagen and also is needed for repairing tendons and ligaments and healing surgical wounds. Citrus fruits are high in vitamin C; however, do not overlook other sources of vitamin C, such as strawberries, kiwi fruit, baked potatoes, broccoli, and bell peppers. Vitamin A also may enhance the development of collagen. Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A and can be found in whole foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, squash, romaine lettuce, prunes, dried apricots, cantaloupe melons, sweet red peppers, and mangos. Emphasizing green leafy vegetables could allow the athlete to cover all of his or her bases well in combatting inflammation and oxidative stress. For example, kale is considered an excellent source of vitamins A (as in beta-carotene) and C, a good source of vitamin E, and also contains a variety of B-complex vitamins, including B1, B2, B3, B6, and folate. Zinc is a mineral also involved in wound healing and is found mostly in animal foods: meat, fish, poultry, and dairy foods. It also is present in whole-grain breads and cereals, dried beans and peas (legumes), and nuts.
Athletes (and everyone else) should be sure to consume adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, which help to strengthen bones. This is an important consideration for athletes prone to stress fractures or while healing from broken bones. Some of the best sources of these nutrients are low-fat dairy products. Nonfat milk has slightly more calcium than full-fat or low-fat milk and is fortified with vitamin D to help absorb calcium. Yogurt, also a good source of calcium, is not always fortified with vitamin D, so check the nutrition label of your favorite yogurt to make sure you are getting vitamin D. Some nondairy sources of calcium and vitamin D include fortified soy, rice, and almond milks, as well as fortified orange juice.
If you’re not injured, let’s keep it that way–start with nutrition as a preventative measure! If you are injured, sick or had surgery, good nutrition may be the missing link in your recovery program! If you have questions, never hesitate to ask!
Yours in Health,
Brook N. Bentley, M.S.
Adapted from ACSM’S Health & Fitness Journal, “WHOLE FOODS NUTRITION FOR ENHANCED INJURY PREVENTION AND HEALING” March/April 2016 – Volume 20 – Issue 2 – p 7–11