For many people who are injured, dealing with all the aspects of recovery, getting reliable and helpful food tips quickly can be difficult.
Figuring out what food to eat to stay healthy can be a conundrum at the best of times, let alone when you’re in pain, stressed and worrying about your injury recovery.
Never fear; we got the low-down from seven wonderful dietitians and nutritionists on what to focus on. Here are their top food tips for injured people.
**And a lot of their advice applies at all times, whether injured or not.**
You can also learn more about How to Heal with Food: Nutrition for Injury Recovery.
Food tips from the experts
1. Prioritise protein in your diet
Good sources are dairy foods eggs, meat, or good plant sources such as legumes, soy or quinoa.
2. Eat well and eat regularly
This isn’t the time to be missing meals or turning to snack foods as you want to make every mouthful count.
3. Food will be the best source of most of the nutrients you need and food variety is the key to get these
Eat plenty of coloured plant foods, include some good sources of protein, and stay away from diet advice that tells you to cut out foods that dietary guidelines already recommend as being good for you.
Conditioning Therapist and Dietitian, Founder at Dancers Don't Diet
1. Be compassionate with yourself
Enjoy nourishing foods that feel safe and comfortable.
2. Embrace curious eating
Think: I wonder how I’ll feel if I eat this? I wonder if I can help my recovery by eating more vegetables or more fish?
3. Explore food variety
When it comes to micronutrients, the more variety you have the better. Enjoy foods with high nutritional value and don’t be afraid to enjoy fun foods with lower nutritional values too.
Nutrition and food tips for kids: Often kids recovering from injury can suffer from poor appetite due to pain and discomfort, so the following tips relate to this scenario…
1. Give injured kids regular opportunities to eat
Offer meals and snacks at regular intervals (about every 2–3 hours as a guide), even if your injured kid says they aren’t hungry. Let them choose how much to eat from what is on offer, but don’t pressure them to eat.
2. Try to feed your injured kid as normally as possible and include them in family meals
If they are old enough, include them in planning meals for the week (or a few days) ahead so that they can look forward to some of their favourites.
3. A meal in a drink
If your injured kid loves smoothies, include ingredients that will aid recovery such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Adding eggs, milk and yoghurt will provide protein and calcium and essential fats for healing muscles and bones.
Accredited Sports Performance Dietitian, Nutrition Coach, Exercise Scientist
1. Fill your plate with lots of colour
Fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants that help your body heal. A greater variety of colour equals an increased diversity of healthy nutrients. Furthermore, vegetables/salads also provide good amounts of fibre. This fibre has the potential to positively influence mental health via the gut-brain axis. I.e Higher fibre diets will lead to a healthier gut environment.
2. Evenly space your protein
For muscle maintenance, it is important to eat enough protein, but, it’s also very important to space it evenly through the day. This helps your body retain lean muscle mass for as long as possible (before you can get back to normal exercise capacity).
3. Frozen is fine
If you’re injured and can’t physically prepare meals like you used to (or want to) why not grab frozen veggies? There is much less time and effort involved, but you still get the beneficial nourishment of those body friendly veggies.
Lecturer Sport and Exercise Nutrition, University of Westminster
1. Calorie restriction due to reduced activity levels is not the answer
Maintain calorie balance but specifically aim to increase protein intake to limit muscle loss and promote tissue repair.
2. Space your protein
Spreading daily protein consumption over 4 even portions a day targeting greater than 20 g in each sitting has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis to a greater extent than in larger, less frequent serves.
3. Avoid nutrient deficiency
Increasing vitamin intake won’t shorten the recovery period but harbouring a nutrient deficiency will certainly increase it!
BONUS TIP 4. Avoid alcohol consumption, anti-inflammatory drugs and foods that reduce inflammation (fish oils, anti-oxidants)
The process of inflammation during injury promotes recovery and therefore nutritional or pharmacological interventions that reduce this response will prolong the recovery process.
Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist with Bite In2 Life
1. Think fresh
Try to choose a variety of less processed foods, including protein sources, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and herbs and spices as well as drinking plenty of water. It’s not about trying to be “perfect” but taking positive steps towards recovery.
2. Make things easy for yourself
Have simple food options on hand, get help from family and friends or use delivery services.
3. Consider including a multivitamin or other supplements
Depending on the duration and type of injury, certain supplements may act as a “back up” for key nutrients. Omega 3s, vitamin D and/or magnesium may play a role in managing a prolonged pain response as well as supporting mental health. Protein supplements may be handy if your appetite is low or you’re finding food preparation difficult. (Chat to a dietitian about your specific situation.)
Read more of Kaitlyn’s tips in the Food & Recipes Cheat Sheet.
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Nutritionist, Speaker, Coach
1. Apply self-compassion
Temporary injuries will heal if we allow them too, if we follow the recommendations for rest and repair. Pushing ourselves physically or berating ourselves mentally for failing to still eat how we might when we have full capacity is counterproductive. At this time it’s about what is practical and workable given your limitations.
2. Make sure you address pain
Pain will impact the things that help our bodies to heal, like sleep and digestion which then impact our ability to heal.
3. Ask for help with food
If you do have a friend or family member that can shop for easy to eat foods such as frozen meals, tinned soups, tuna or baked beans, crackers and dips, ready-made salads, breakfast cereal stock up on those foods to make it easy for you to eat. If you find anyone willing to make and share meals with you then that’s good because you will be eating well and importantly enjoying social support which helps our mental health. If you don’t have people close then allow yourself permission to call out for pizza or Chinese, this is about self-care not ideals. Providing our body with energy and protein is what our body needs to heal. And, set yourself up with a large water bottle to stay hydrated. Eat as well as you can with the capacity you have.
Which food tips did you find most useful?
If you’re feeling a bit lost about what food you should be eating, read the article How to Heal with Food: Nutrition for Injury Recovery. Then talk to your doctor or find a reputable dietitian in your area.
If you’ve enjoyed these food tips, sign up to the email list below to receive more tips to help you recover from injury and to find out about the services Recover from Injury offers.
Note that the images used in this article were sourced from Envato Elements under license and cannot be published elsewhere.