When exercise and movement are part of our daily routine, one of the most frustrating aspects of injury recovery is not knowing how long the process will take. Wouldn’t it be great if we could speed things up? Enter nutrition.
Injury is usually followed by a phase of inflammation. Although uncomfortable, this is part of the body’s natural healing process and needs to take its course. But inflammation doesn’t only result from injury: dietary intolerances and nutritional deficiencies play a huge role. Optimising our diet helps limit overall stress on our body, which can significantly influence recovery.
Most of us know which foods don’t agree with us, and cutting these out is a great place to start. Dairy, lactose, wheat, gluten, yeast, eggs, nuts, seeds, caffeine, alcohol, sugar, citrus fruits and nightshade vegetables (bell peppers, aubergines, potatoes, tomatoes) are all potential suspects… But you don’t need to eliminate them all at once! Choose a couple at a time, and monitor your sleep, digestion and mood over 18–72 hours. If you have an intolerance you should see an improvement.
Secondly, make sure you’re eating enough protein. Protein helps regenerate every tissue in the body. A good recommendation is
1g/lb of body weight of quality protein from lean meat, fish, egg white, tofu, or good quality protein supplements. If you’re not used to eating this much protein, start with a palm-sized portion in every meal, then in every snack, and slowly work up to the ideal dose.
Increase your intake of good fats. Superstars in inflammation management are omega 3 fatty acids. These are mainly found in salmon, mackerel, flaxseeds and flax oil, and can also be taken as a supplement (vegetarian and vegan versions are available too). For an extra boost, swap vegetable oils for olive oil, nuts and avocado: this will limit omega 6 fats which, though necessary, can hinder the resolution of inflammation.
Other foods can also help speed recovery: turmeric, garlic, pineapple, raw cacao, green tea and blueberries all contain phytonutrients (plant-based nutrients) that have anti-inflammatory or anti-oxidant effects. Careful with the cacao and green tea if you’re sensitive to caffeine though.
Vitamins and minerals are key, especially vitamin A, C, zinc, iron and calcium. Leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, chard and beet greens are rich in vitamin A, C, calcium and iron. Calcium is abundant in dairy, but make sure you tolerate it well. Zinc is mainly found in beef and seafood, particularly oysters, though you might find it easier to use a supplement: 15mg of zinc picolinate is a good daily dose.
To cover all your bases, include good quality protein and fat in each meal and snack, aim for at least seven portions of vegetables every day (green leafy veg in particular), and pay careful attention to your body’s feedback. These few small changes can hugely speed up the healing process.
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