An injured runner tends to be a miserable runner and so the quicker you can get back to doing what you enjoy, the better for you, your coach, your family and friends.
While there are many anecdotal suggestions for treating injury, is there any scientific evidence for making changes to your diet during this time?
More than 50% of all injuries in runners can be classified as sprains, strains, ruptures, or breaks of musculoskeletal tissues. It has been demonstrated that nutritional and/or exercise interventions that increase collagen synthesis and strengthen these tissues can not only have an important effect on injury rates but can also enhance recovery from injury.
One nutritional component that is showing very positive signs in improving collagen synthesis is the use of Vitamin C enriched gelatin; the optimal dose seems to be around 15g a day. While more studies are still required to determine exact dose and duration of supplementing the diet with gelatin, it seems that it does indeed have a positive role to play in recovery from an acute injury.
However, before you all rush out to buy gelatin, it’s important not to overlook the other key components of your dietary intake that can have a huge impact on recovery from and prevention of injury.
One of the common mistakes many injured runners make is to cut down on carbohydrates. While it may be necessary to reduce your energy intake slightly to compensate for the lack of energy expenditure, the composition of your diet still needs to be nutrient dense in order to ensure optimal recovery.
While carbohydrates are indeed the main supply of energy for exercising muscles, they are also actively required when the body is at rest for a number of metabolic function. The problem with reducing energy intake too drastically and specifically carbohydrates, is that the body will start to look for other sources of fuel for energy.
The body’s first point of call is usually to break down protein from your diet and also body stores, namely muscle tissue. If proteins are used for energy, they are no longer able to complete their actual role within the body and so injury repair may take a lot longer.
So regardless of what you may read, don’t ditch carbohydrates as the body needs the “working” energy from them to utilize protein in the recovery process.
Most runners consume enough protein and this is definitely something that should be encouraged, especially when energy intake is reduced.
Having a diet high in protein will not only help with repair but it will also prevent loss of lean muscle mass while you are unable to train.
Aim for around 0.4g of protein/Kg BW at 3 meals a day plus 2-3 additional 10g protein based snacks.
Recommended examples include:
– 300ml of milk
– Matchbox size portion of cheese
– 100g Greek yoghurt
– 2 medium boiled eggs
An injury is often accompanied by inflammation – while there is no conclusive evidence around what specific foods can help reduce inflammation, some studies have shown that a diet high in essential fatty acids, especially omega-3; and Vitamin E can be of benefit.
Once the inflammation is reduced, the body can begin the healing process. Food to include are oily fish such as salmon and mackerel which are excellent sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Avocadoes, nuts, seeds and foods high in wheat germ, such as wholegrain bread all provide Vitamin E.
The final tip, while not necessarily a nutritional one, is to ensure adequate rest time. Many runners make this mistake all too often; rushing back to training when their injury is still not one hundred percent – it’s important to look at your long-term outcome. Do you want to get back as quickly as possible but risk a recurrence of your injury? Or are you best to let your body heal appropriately and then return to training?
A gradual build up of activity is definitely recommended when returning from an injury. This will ensure that your body is back to full strength and more likely to benefit from training.
About the Author
Renee McGregor RD SENr is a Performance Dietitian and author who works with elite athletes, coaches and sport science teams to provide nutritional strategies to enhance performance and manage eating disorders.
She is the author of Training Food, Fast Fuel books and Orthorexia, and soon to be released Healthy eating goes bad.