Food Rx: Eating for Injury Prevention



So, how do you prevent weight gain and still ensure a sound recovery? Don't cut back more than 500 calories a day. And if you notice that you're losing weight, start eating more immediately.

Other than calories, you need many of the same nutrients for recovery as you need for injury prevention. But now they're even more important. Bump up your protein intake to 100 to 120 grams a day. Zinc and iron are also crucial for recovery, which is why I've been eating lean meat nearly every day. The following nutrients are also a must:

Calcium: If you have a stress fracture or a broken bone, your body really needs this important mineral. You should take in up to 1,500 milligrams a day. If you don't eat dairy products, take a supplement, or drink calcium-fortified juice.

Vitamin A: Your body uses this vitamin to make new skin and other tissues that are vital to your healing. New research shows that your body isn't as efficient as we thought at converting the carotenes from fruits and vegetables into vitamin A. This means you need to eat even more of them. You should have two servings of leafy greens and yellow and orange vegetables every day during your recovery. Drinking vitamin A-fortified milk is also a good idea.

Vitamin C: Your body needs this antioxidant to make collagen, an adhesive-like protein found in your bones, connective tissues, and blood vessels. When you're injured, collagen is the substance that glues the injured area back together. Women need 75 milligrams of vitamin C each day, and men need 90 milligrams. If you eat a diet rich in berries, cantaloupe, oranges, and other fruit, you'll easily meet this requirement.

Refuel for Recovery

Once you've been given the go-ahead to start running again, you still need to take extra precautions. I'm sure you already know not to up your mileage and intensity too quickly. You'll also want to continue to adhere to a wholesome diet rich in protein, minerals, and antioxidants.

At this point you may want to add a supplement to the mix. Once you've injured a joint, you're at higher risk for developing osteoarthritis (a degenerative joint condition not uncommon among aging athletes). Fortunately, the supplements glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate have been shown to help decrease inflammation and improve mobility in people with osteoarthritis.

These two supplements may also help promote cartilage growth. But it's not certain whether glucosamine, an amino sugar, and chondroitin, one of the substances that make up cartilage, work alone or need to be taken together. So for now, take 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams of each, three times a day. Why so often? These supplements don't last long in your body, so frequent supplementation ensures that they're present at all times to nourish your joints. (Warning: If you take blood thinners such as Coumadin, do not take chondroitin.)

The better you feed your body, the more likely you'll remain injury-free, and the faster you'll bounce back if you do happen to get injured. Just be patient. You'll be running again in no time. Trust me. It's what I tell myself every day.


Liz Applegate, Ph.D., is the author of the book Eat Smart, Play Hard, published by Rodale, Inc., and available online at www.rodalestore.com.

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