Injury, Diet and Recovery: Guidelines for Nutrition and Healing

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Sad but true, being injured is part of being an athlete. Not surprisingly, injured athletes have numerous questions and concerns about nutrition as it relates to healing.

Often, they attempt to pump their bodies with super nutrition, similar to pulling out the fire engine in an emergency situation. While enhanced post-injury nutrition does not result in rapid healing, eating well every day of training is a wise bet. That way, if you do get injured, your body will already be in great nutritional shape.

The following article answers the nutrition questions injured athletes commonly ask. Hopefully, you are healthy and don't need these tips. But when and if your injury comes, you'll know the best nutritional attack.

Q: "I broke my leg in a skiing accident. If I start drinking more milk, will the bone heal quicker?"

A: No. Most bones take six to 10 weeks to heal. Period. Extra calcium will not speed the process. But adequate calcium is important; be sure to eat at least three calcium-rich foods per day (cereal/milk+lunch/yogurt+dinner/milk).

Hopefully you have already invested in optimal bone health by feeding your body plenty of calcium pre-injury. The teen years are particularly prime times for enhancing bone strength. (Unfortunately many teens drink more Coke and Pepsi than milk.)

Throughout your lifespan, be sure to maintain bone strength with a strong calcium intake. This advice goes for men as well as for women. Few men recognize that osteoporosis can be a problem for men who live older than 70 years.

Q: "Should I start taking vitamins to help recover from knee surgery?"

A: You do need good nutrition to enhance post-surgical healing. But vitamins are only one little piece of the nutritional picture. Minerals such as iron and zinc enhance healing, as does protein.

Your best bet is to first eat wholesome foods; they can supply the nutrients you need. Given that many breakfast cereals, snack foods, and energy bars are vitamin-fortified, you may already be consuming far more vitamins than you acknowledge. Reading food labels can give you helpful information about the amount of vitamins in your standard food choices.

Instead of rushing to buy vitamin supplements, first buy piles of colorful vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach. (One small stalk of broccoli provides the recommended intake of Vitamin C, a vitamin that enhances healing.) Other vitamin-rich foods include oranges and all citrus fruits, kiwi, and cantaloupe; mineral-rich foods include lean meats, yogurt, and milk. Hopefully, you have been routinely eating these foods pre-injury so your body is already in great nutritional shape.

Q: "My stress fracture hasn't healed in six months. Could my vegetarian diet be slowing the healing process?"

A: Unlikely, if you are eating a balanced vegetarian diet that is rich in tofu, beans, nuts, and other plant proteins. But if your vegetarian diet is simply a meatless diet that lacks alternate proteins, YES!

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