Injuries are part of any sport. Most athletes have to deal with them at some point.
Correct nutrition plays a key role in the recovery process and prevention of further injuries, but this fact is often overlooked.
In this blog, we discuss the recovery process and answer the important question, do supplements really help with recovery?
An injured athlete is forced to move from full activity, which requires lots of energy, into inaction.
To prevent weight gain, many athletes drastically reduce their caloric intake.
But you should know that the healing and recovery process consume a lot of energy, especially at the beginning. In this phase, the energy consumption during rest increases up to 20%, depending on the severity of your injury.
Furthermore, many injuries allow for some level of physical activity, which further contributes to your total energy consumption.
If your caloric intake is too low, your recovery time will increase. An energy deficit leads to:
- reduced muscle protein synthesis,
- increased loss of muscle mass,
- weakening of the immune system.
On the other hand, you should also not get overboard with your caloric intake, as this will trigger fat accumulation.
Injury recovery requires a lot of energy. Careful not to fall into a calorie deficit!
Protein is an essential nutrient for athletes, especially those who engage in intense physical activity or recover after injury.
An adequate protein intake is vital to sustain and regenerate muscle tissue, as well as boost the immune system.
When you don't use your muscles, or when they are immobilized, they quickly begin to break down. It is estimated that during inactivity you lose from 0.5 to 0.6% of muscle mass per day, which leads to a significant loss of strength.
That's why, when recovering from an injury, your diet should be focused on the preservation of your strength and muscle mass.
Protein are extremely important to preserve and regenerate your muscle tissues. A sufficient intake of protein decreases muscle breakdown during a period of inactivity. It is recommended that during injury recovery you intake from 2 to 2.5 g of protein per kg of body mass, while some studies suggest even 3 g of protein per kg of body mass.
For example, an injured athlete who weighs 65 kg requires from 130 to 163 g, or even 195 g, of protein per day.
Try to distribute your protein intake throughout the day and include 20 grams of high-quality protein in each meal. This allows your body to best absorb the protein and increase the efficiency of muscle growth and regeneration.
If you fail to provide enough protein to your body during injury recovery, you will lose more muscle mass.
What about dietary supplements?
In regards to injury recovery, there are several interesting supplements with potential positive effects. Such supplements are calcium, β-hydroxy β-methylbutyrate (HMB), collagen, creatine monohydrate, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Even though there is plenty of research to confirm the efficacy of these supplements, you should take it with a grain of salt.
A full and balanced diet is still your best source of micro- and macronutrients, while dietary supplements should be used as support when the intake of nutrients is difficult or impossible with regular food.
One such nutrient is vitamin D, which is produced in the skin when exposed to sunlight. Based on its crucial role in boosting the health and strength of your bones, we can deduce that vitamin D also accelerates the recovery process. Learn more about vitamin D here.
At this point, we need to mention omega-3 fatty acids. They have been widely researched and gained a reputation for having a strong anti-inflammatory effect.
In the context of sports injuries, supplementing omega-3 fatty acids is useful in terms of muscle synthesis. The thing is, omega-3 fatty acids regulate muscle protein synthesis by increasing amino acid sensitivity.
There is supposedly also a positive correlation between immobility and the loss of muscle mass. This means that in case of severe injury, which forces you to stay inactive or prevents you from using a specific part of your body, the probability of the loss of muscle mass due to inactivity will be decreased if you supplement omega-3 fatty acids.
Furthermore, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), as representatives of the omega-3 fatty acids, reduce the sensation of pain, which is more than welcome during the first days of injury.
The best source of omega-3 fatty acids, more precisely EPA and DHA, is fatty sea fish. If you don't eat fish at least 2 times per week, you should consider supplementing omega-3 fatty acids.
But when buying omega-3 fatty acids, be mindful of their EPA and DHA content, as these two acids are responsible for the positive effects of omega-3 fatty acids.
Dietary supplements may assist injury recovery, but the most important aspect is still a balanced diet.
During injury recovery, nutrition is of vital importance and influences the time required to get back to training and achieve the performance you had before injury.
Focus on a sufficient intake of energy and high-quality protein.
Follow a complete and balanced diet, while dietary supplements should be used as support when getting all the required nutrients is difficult or impossible with ordinary food.