Being injured is one of the hardest parts of being a runner. If you are unable to exercise due to broken bones, knee surgery, stress fracture or tendonitis, you may wonder: “What can I eat to heal quickly? How can I avoid getting fat while I'm unable to run? Should I be taking supplements?” This article will address those concerns, plus more.
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To start, I offer this motherly reminder: Rather than shaping up your diet when you get injured, strive to maintain a high-quality food intake every day. That way, you'll have a hefty bank account of vitamins and minerals stored in your liver, ready and waiting to be put into action.
For example, a well-nourished runner has enough vitamin C (important for healing) stored in the liver to last for about six weeks. The junk food junkie who gets a serious sports injury (think bike crash, ACL repair or even car accident) and ends up in the hospital has a big disadvantage. Eat smart every day.
A big barrier to optimal fueling for injured runners is fear of getting fat. Please remember: even injured runners need to eat. I've had a marathoner hobble into my office on crutches saying, “I haven't eaten in three days because I can't run.” He seemed to think he only deserved to eat if he could burn off calories with purposeful exercise. Wrong.
Another athlete lost her appetite after having foot surgery. While part of her brain thought “what a great way to lose weight,” her healthier self realized that good nutrition would enhance recovery.
Despite popular belief, your organs (brain, liver, lungs, kidneys, heart)—not exercising muscles—burn the majority of the calories you eat. Organs are metabolically active and require a lot of fuel. About two-thirds of the calories consumed by the average (lightly active) person support the resting metabolic rate (the energy needed to simply exist).
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On top of that, your body can require 10 to 20 percent more calories with trauma or minor surgery; major surgery requires much more. Yes, you may need fewer total calories because you are not training hard, but you definitely need more than your sedentary baseline. Your body is your best calorie counter, so respond appropriately to your hunger cues. Eat when hungry and stop when your stomach feels content.
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