For those who lead an active life, whether you play sports, compete in triathlons, or lift weights on a regular basis, injuries are just part of the game. We try our best to stay healthy and do things safely, but regardless of the precautions you take, at some point or another you will most likely suffer from some sort of injury. It may be something minor like inflammation, or you may tear something, but regardless of what it is, there are certain foods and supplements that can greatly aid the body in speeding up the healing process.
Phases of Healing After an Injury
Let’s first look at the three stages of tissue injury.
The first phase is the inflammation phase. During this phase, swelling, increased temperature, and redness occurs, as the body tries to force blood and nutrients to the area. This generally occurs shortly after sustaining the injury.
The second phase in the injury healing process is the proliferation phase. During the proliferation phase, damage tissue is broken down and removed, and the body begins to build new tissue. Fresh blood flow supplies the important nutrients and materials needed.
The third phase is the remodeling phase. This may be the longest lasting phase, depending on the severity of the injury. During the remodeling phase, the body continues to build on and reinforce the new tissue built, strengthening it and integrating it into our existing structure. Depending on the severity of the injury, it may take quite a while for the new tissue to be as strong as the original, pre-injury tissue was.
Nutrition Through the Healing Process
Now that we’ve had a very brief overview of what happens during the healing process, let’s take a look at the food and supplements we should be consuming during the healing process. As you can see, it takes a lot of nutrients and work for the body to build new tissue, so consuming the right nutrients can supply your body with what it needs most.
Inflammation Phase Nutrition
During this phase, some inflammation is necessary, since we want all the nutrient-rich, healing blood to flow to the damaged tissue. However, too much can be problematic, so we want to make sure our nutrition is anti-inflammatory, as there will be plenty of inflammation from the injury alone.
You want to eat plenty of anti-inflammatory healthy fats during this phase. Best sources are avocados, fish oil, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, mixed nuts, and healthy oils such as olive oil, flax oil, or coconut oil. You should also avoid foods that are known to be pro-inflammatory, such as processed foods, high levels of saturated fat, vegetable oils, and trans fat. Basically, you should avoid junk food for now.
Anti-inflammatory supplements are also useful here. Curcumin, garlic, bromelain (found in pineapple), berries, and herbal teas rich in antioxidants. You can find these in food form, or take them in supplement form.
Proliferation and Remodeling Phase Nutrition
During the proliferation and remodeling phase, your energy output will increase, as your body begins the hard work of rebuilding. Your metabolism may increase by up to 15 to 20%, so be sure to eat at your maintenance calories at minimum, preferably more. You’ll need more food than if you were sedentary, but less than if you were training on a regular basis. If it’s an injury that still allows you to be active, you’ll want even more food. It’s best to avoid restricting calories or being in a deficit, unless you want to slow down your recovery.
Eat a well-rounded diet that provides adequate nutrition, and is based on whole food sources. You definitely want to consume plenty of protein, moderate amounts of good fat sources, a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, and some whole-grain carbs. Try to get as many different colored vegetable sources as possible, as you need a variety of nutrients to aid your recovery.
Useful supplements that have been shown to be beneficial are Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Copper, and Zinc. It’s also not a bad idea to use a greens supplement or multi-vitamin if you find you aren’t getting a wide variety of vegetables on a daily basis.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to be sure you are supplying your body with nutritions, unprocessed, whole foods, and a wide variety of them. Your focus should be on healing your body so you can get back to your daily activities, so now is not the time for restrictions or worrying about trying to lose body fat. Give your body the food it needs to heal.