The deficiency of protein and the companion nutrients iron and zinc may not only slow healing, but also may have triggered the poor bone health that preceded the stress fracture.
Among active women, protein-deficient "vegetarian" diets (such as the bagel & pasta diet) can contribute to amenorrhea (loss of the menstrual period). This results in reduced bone density and a higher risk of stress fractures.
Note that amenorrheic women runners have a 4.5 times higher risk of getting stress fractures than do their regularly menstruating peers.
If you are concerned about the adequacy of your vegetarian diet, your best bet is to get a nutrition check-up with a registered dietitian. (Call 800.366.1655 for a referral to a sports nutritionist in your ZIP code area.)
This nutrition professional will be able to help you consume not only enough protein, but also iron, zinc, and calcium all nutrients involved in bone health. Hopefully, you'll do this before you get a stress fracture!
Q: "I'm afraid I'll gain weight now that I'm injured and can't exercise the way I like to ..."
A: According to weight-control theory, the more you exercise, the more you'll eat; the less you exercise, the less hungry you'll be and the less you'll eat. But life factors easily confound this simple system and some athletes do gain weight because they eat for reasons other than hunger.
For example, an injured athlete who meets up with his teammates for dinner (after they have worked out) may eat just as much as they do which could be 600 excess calories for him.
Many active people equate weight gain with lack of exercise, but I often equate it with stress. That is, weight gained with injury generally relates to injury-created stress and unhappiness.
Injury is a good time to learn that your body won't get fat on you. If you eat when you are hungry and stop when you are content, you won't gain weight. Just be sure to use food for fuel, not for entertainment or lifting your spirits. (Note: You may gain some weight if you are very underweight but you'll also get healthier.)
Important: Do not severely restrict your food intake when you are injured. Your body needs adequate nutrition to heal your injury. Eliminating healthful foods hinders the process. Be wise!
Nancy Clark, MS RD CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) counsels casual and competitive athletes in her private practice at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill MA (617-383-6100). Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook, new Food Guide for Marathoners, and Cyclist’s Food Guide are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com. Also see www.sportsnutritionworkshop.com for information about her online workshop.