By Andrew Hall Advanced Sports Dietitian | Exercise Scientist
Did you know that it takes three times more energy to cover the same distance on crutches as it does compared to walking normally? If you have ever experienced a sporting injury, it’s likely you will have an inkling of what happens and the frustration involved. How do you cope with this nutritionally? Read on…
IN THE EARLY DAYS
Injuries severe enough to result in immobilisation of a limb and/or bed rest lead to considerably reduced physical activity, fitness levels and a change in energy requirements. Disuse of a limb (e.g leg in cast, arm in a sling) results in loss of muscle mass, reduced muscle strength and function. Consider the shrinking muscles around a knee after ligament surgery for example. During the early stages of recovery, it is important to match the amount of energy from foods and drinks to the body’s need for energy. Surprisingly, immediately following an injury, energy expenditure may be increased by 15 % up to 50 %, depending on the type and severity of the injury. Nevertheless, it is common for an injured person to eat less due to reduced activity levels, and while this thought is understandable, it could impact on tissue healing and muscle wastage in the early stages (bad news).
A structured and supervised nutrition plan can assist in maximising the rehabilitation speed by prescribing correct energy, protein, healthy fats and other important nutrients. This will aid in holding on to that hard-earned muscle mass while keeping body fat levels in check.
Someone who is constantly finding themselves injured, or if the injuries linger for extended periods of time, should consider the influence of nutrition and its impact on systemic inflammation. While inflammation is a vital tissue healing response from the body in the first 24-48 hours post injury, chronic systemic inflammation can negatively impact on injury healing over time.
Research tells us that the more fruit and vegetables someone eats, the lower their inflammatory markers are likely to be. Studies have also found that a diet rich in antioxidants (from plant foods) may dampen down the inflammatory response in early inflammatory joint disease, slowing its progression. I’m sure we all know someone with joint pain who takes anti-inflammatory drugs, pain killers, and fish oil supplements. But there is much more that can be done by consuming the best foods and aiming for quality food choices. Health conditions which can potentially benefit include: tendonitis, ankolysing spondylitis, arthritis, gout, and cartilage damage. Food quality has also been shown to influence the perception of pain, and many people notice pain reduction simply from focussing on adequate hydration and nutritious eating. I’ve had clients tell me that their knee pain reduced noticeably by cutting out soft drinks (including diet versions), which is absolutely a good reminder of how significant what we choose to eat and drink is.
Bone health is a critical consideration for any athlete. Yet it is particularly important for those indoor sports (away from sunlight and Vitamin D opportunity), non-weight bearing sports (swimming) and physique sensitive sports (diving, gymnastics, body building). For all the runners out there, bone-stress injuries make up a great deal of the injuries that stop you from pounding the pavement. If not you, I’m sure you can think of many in your running group that had to stop or modify their training due to stress fractures.
Vitamin D and Calcium are the most commonly known ‘dietary’ influences on bone health. But big picture considerations also include total energy intake, fruit and vegetable intake and protein source selection. The Framingham Osteoporosis Study has shown both men and women with fish intakes ≥3 servings per week gain hip bone mineral density over four years compared to individuals with low to moderate weekly fish intakes who lose bone mineral density. Fruits and vegetables contain a vast range of vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and antioxidants which all have a role to play in health and bone strength. Higher fruit and vegetable intakes are also linked to higher bone strength and less bone loss over time.
GET BACK IN THE GAME
Playing a range of sports has personally led me to a variety of injuries over the years. So I researched profusely what could be done nutritionally to get back in the game asap. The answer is, that there is plenty.