Sports injury recovery is a complicated science, and person trainers around the world are well versed in then light exercise, homeopathic creams/gels, and resting time needed to bring an athlete back to speed. However, few fitness coaches seem to appreciate the importance of nutrition in this period; although the contributions your food and supplements can make may be slight, their overall effect could be to get you up and back into the gym as soon as possible!
Vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are central to the various metabolic reactions that happen in your body. Some can contribute to tissue regeneration, whilst others offer important structural support to the bones. Because of this, supplementation can speed recovery after a sports injury, especially when the injured party suffers with a deficiency. Check out our 12 recommendations below, and we hope you get well soon!
Zinc is variably involved in cell division, protein-synthesis, immune response, DNA synthesis, and the inhibition of bacterial growth, and is used by numerous enzymes and proteins. Despite its importance, many people suffer with zinc deficiencies.
When zinc levels in the body are normal, supplementation won’t be helpful. However, those suffering with a zinc deficiency will find it harder to heal wounds and recover from injuries. Those looking to raise the levels of zinc in their body could try zinc supplements (around 15mg a day), or try sourcing it naturally from the diet.
Zinc-rich foods include meat, seafood, and nuts.
One important thing to remember when taking zinc supplements is that the more zinc you take, the more likely you are to suffer with a copper deficiency. Because of this (and the potential for side effects), try to limit the amount of zinc you supplement or at least ensure that you are supplementing copper in tandem. (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3724376).
Although we will go into detail about specific amino acids below, protein is great for injury recovery in general.
One of the biggest issues of concern to athletes suffering with an injury (and dealing with the immobility that follows), is the potential for muscles to atrophy and shrink. A diet rich in protein can prevent this, as dietary protein provides the building blocks for muscles. There is an argument that muscles actually require protein when immobile as a result of injury, due to the fact that muscle protein synthesis is apparently naturally reduced throughout these periods (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4672013)
Foods like fish, beef, chicken, nuts, and soy are great sources of protein, although athletes can use protein powders if diets are restricted for any reason. A preferable supplement option could be l-Leucine – this Branched-Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) has been put forward by some researchers as a particularly good way to reduce muscle atrophy (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21346336).
Vitamin C is thankfully very common in many diets, and is central to white blood cell activity and injury recovery. Vitamin C is often described as beneficial to health, due to its role as an antioxidant and supporter of immune system functions. In terms of sports injuries, vitamin C also helps to form the collagen fibre bonds that make up our cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and bones, a process that is particularly important when recovering from an injury.
Supplementing vitamin C is normally only important when suffering with a deficiency, as collagen fibres in these cases tend to be formed in a weakened state that is prone to re-injury. If suffering with a deficiency, consider approximately 1000mg of vitamin C supplements a day, although most will find that they consume ample amount of vitamin C through their daily intake of citrus fruits, vegetables, and potatoes.
Vitamin D is largely important in the injury recovery process due to its effect on another important mineral: calcium. Athletes suffering from broken bones should consider vitamin D supplements when recovering, especially given that many people in colder climates tend to suffer with a deficiency.
Vitamin D helps the body to absorb the calcium that is consumed, helping this vital mineral to perform its famous role of supporting bones and teeth. This interesting function becomes more important when the bones demand more support, and vitamin D has been found to aid recovery from fractures or bone breaks, especially amongst older patients.
Supplementation is a great option, as vitamin D is not often found in food – it is normally produced in the body naturally when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Those living in the far northern hemisphere or those that spend a lot of time indoors could be suffering with a deficiency that limits their recovery.
These natural compounds are involved in the creation of joints, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage, and are often supplemented to help patients manage the effects of osteoarthritis or recover from joint pain.
More recent research has suggested that the two compounds could also be useful for injury recovery when suffering with a bone fracture. This is because glucosamine in particular is known to maintain collagen synthesis and prevent collagen degradation (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23358550), which helps the body to repair tissue more effectively. Recent studies conducted on rats also noted that bone formation and fracture healing was maximised when glucosamine was used.
Like some of the other vitamins and minerals on this list, copper plays an important role in synthesising connective tissue like collagen and elastin (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6110524). This means that copper needs to be present in the body when it makes and strengthens new connective tissue, which is a key process in the road to sports injury recovery.
Supplementing copper is even more important when athletes choose to supplement zinc (another obvious choice during injury recovery). This is because high levels of supplemented zinc naturally cause a reduction in the body’s supply of copper.
L-Arginine is an important amino acid that stimulates insulin release, encourages protein synthesis, and helps with the process of collagen repair and synthesis. When placed into the body, arginine also changes into Nitric Oxide (NO), which then helps blood vessels to more easily transport red blood cells around the body.
One recent study found that arginine helped to regenerate muscles that have been strained through injury. It is thought to do this through increasing deposits of collagen, reducing the excretion of nitrogen, and speeding the overall process of wound healing.
Although many of us already know that certain minerals (such as calcium or magnesium) are vital for maintaining strong and healthy bones, these inputs aren’t considered to be particularly important when recovering from an injury. Instead, many researchers recommend trying other vitamins that promote their absorption or preserve their effects.
Vitamin K is known to conserve the supplies of calcium in the body, and seems to be involved in fracture healing and the building of collagen tissues. In fact, some have noted that the body’s vitamin K stores appear to gather near the site of the wound, perhaps suggesting its level of importance to the process of repair. Vitamin K can be sourced naturally through leafy greens, prunes, and dairy products, although supplementation is possible if necessary (Source: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v185/n4716/abs/185849a0.html?foxtrotcallback=true).
One other way to increase calcium retention is to take boron, which is also known to have the same effect on other bone-friendly minerals like magnesium. Vitally, boron also enhances the overall effect that Vitamin D has, as it seems to increase the levels of Vitamin D found in the bloodstream (Source: https://examine.com/supplements/boron). Consider taking a boron supplement alongside a Vitamin D supplement in order to accentuate the vitamin’s beneficial effects.
Glutamine helps to metabolise cells, and evidence shows the body demands ample supplies of it during traumatic periods. Various studies over the years has shown that glutamine can reduce fatalities in cases of starvation, severe trauma or sepsis, as well as quicken overall recover time.
Although this role may seem inappropriate for smaller and less severe sports injuries, glutamine has occasionally been found to help quicken recovery in these cases as well. One study combined a glutamine dose with an arginine dose in order to help patients recover from a small wound. The study found that the two ingredients worked well with one another to stimulate the production of collagen, helping even a small injury to recover faster.
This naturally-occurring substance is mainly known for its ability to produce bursts of energy during weight training, and is thought by some to actually increase the risk of sports injuries. This controversial viewpoint notwithstanding, creatine may help to preserve muscles during periods of immobility.
More than one study found that creatine hugely limited the rate of muscle atrophy experienced during short periods of inactivity, particularly on the upper body. However, other studies have disagreed with this finding, and even those promoting it have little understanding of how the process works. Consider creatine supplementation as an inferior alternative to a protein-rich diet whilst recovering.
Understanding the role that omega-3 fatty acids can play in sports injury recovery require knowing a little more about inflammation.
Although painful, the inflammation response is the body’s way of healing a wound. Trying to limit this effect should therefore not be your objective when looking for supplements to help with recovery. Despite this, long-term inflammation can sometimes delay recovery and prevent wounds from healing (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4672013).
Athletes that have been experiencing severe injuries that have caused uncontrolled inflammation may wish to consider utilising the anti-inflammatory effect provided by omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats can be found naturally in fish, eggs, and chicken, and can all be sourced through supplementation.
Readers be warned: omega-3 fatty acids are also thought to limit muscle protein synthesis after recovery, and the circumstances under which it can be useful for sports injury recovery are limited at best. Consider chatting with your doctor to see whether this particular supplement suits your situation.