Heal Like A SuperHero Part 2: Nutrition Guide for Injury Rehab

Exercise, Nutrition, & Supplement Strategies for Getting Past Injury

Written by Matt Unthank, M.S., CSCS Director of Training at Crossover Symmetry.

We’re back with part 2 of our injury rehab guide, created in collaboration with our friends at Crossover Symmetry. If you missed part 1, Exercises for Injury Rehab, check that out here.

As always, nutrition is a massive factor for building a healthy and high-performing body and is even more critical when rehabbing an injury.

Not only does the body require additional nutrients for healing, but a nutrition strategy helps fight off the muscle wasting that occurs during periods of detraining. Nutrition is especially relevant for more serious injury issues, such as surgeries or immobilizations, that create a high amount of stress and significantly limit movement.

In this section, we'll examine the unique nutritional demands for overcoming an injury and how you can support it.

Calorie Intake

Depending on the amount of tissue damage, the response to healing an injury can increase basal metabolic rate by 20% for minor strains and up to 50% for burns and major surgeries.

If you're unsure about your calorie needs, the Harris-Benedict Equation provides an easy estimate of your metabolic rate. Then multiply this number by your daily energy expenditure and a stress factor to account for injury healing to get your target calorie amount.

Harris Benedict Equation

(Mifflin MD, St Jeor ST, Hill LA, Scott BJ, Daugherty SA, Koh YO. A new predictive equation for resting energy expenditure in healthy individuals. Am J Clin Nutr. 1990 Feb;51(2):241-7. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/51.2.241. PMID: 2305711.)

 

Smith-Ryan AE, Hirsch KR, Saylor HE, Gould LM, Blue MNM. Nutritional Considerations and Strategies to Facilitate Injury Recovery and Rehabilitation. J Athl Train. 2020 Sep 1;55(9):918-930. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-550-19. PMID: 32991705; PMCID: PMC7534941.

Protein

The second priority to maintaining energy balance is ensuring adequate protein intake. Not only does protein provide essential amino acids needed for rebuilding tissue, but it also helps to preserve lean mass during periods of detraining.

Active individuals should consume 1.4 to 2.0 g/kg/day but should take in more for injury recovery. For injuries that require rehabilitation to immobilization, protein intake should increase 2.0 to 3.0 g/kg/day.

Specifically, leucine is an anabolic trigger and should be a priority to help stimulate protein synthesis. Foods high in leucine included chicken, milk, fish, and whey protein.  

To supplement a high protein diet, athletes should look for high-quality, minimally processed protein options. Blonyx Egg White Protein Isolate is a dairy and gluten free alternative that has 20 grams of protein per serving without and only 7 simple ingredients.

To fully maximize the body's protein synthesis, space your intake out over multiple timepoints, aiming for 30g total and 3g of leucine per meal.

Take a look at some of the best dairy-free protein options on the market now and find the best fit for you.

Carbohydrates

With protein in check, use carbohydrates and fats to fill in the rest of your calorie demands. Complex carbohydrates should deliver the bulk of your calories to help fuel the body to prevent muscle breakdown while also providing needed vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Aim for 3 to 5 grams of carbohydrate for each kg of body weight to make up roughly half of your total calorie intake.

Fats

The remainder of your calorie intake will come from fats. These also provide the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are necessary for cell formation. These fatty acids come from avocado, olive oil, fish, flax, nuts, and seeds. 

Attempt to consume 0.8 to 2 grams/kg/day for roughly  20% to 25% of your calories.

Next up, Part 3: Supplements for Injury Rehab

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