Injuries: What is the role of diet in recovery?
Injuries are common in both amateur and professional athletes. For the latter, such an event has a negative impact on the training program and especially on the games, as it increases the risk of exclusion from them.
For example, at the Rio Olympics (2016) the prevalence of injuries was 128.8 per 1000 athletes. The majority of injuries were muscular, followed by fractures and soft tissue injuries in the knee. Athletes of track and field, football and judo were more prone. In addition, the data showed a significant incidence of injuries to cyclists (BMX) (38% of injured athletes), boxers (30%), mountain bikers (24%), taekwondo athletes (24%), and water polo players (19%). Paralympics athletes suffered fewer injuries, which are usually fractures and tears.
Interventions to return to sports obligations depend on the nature of the problem and include immobilization, physiotherapy, surgery and medication. Physiotherapy is the first line of treatment for all types of injuries.
Nutrition is rarely included in the necessary interventions. However, it has been shown to play a leading role in faster recovery and return to active action. The right composition of the diet, both in terms of energy intake and nutrients, offers help in restoring health.
In particular, during the early stages of treatment as well as throughout the recovery period, dietary modifications ensure the intake of sufficient amounts of calories and nutrients needed to repair and heal wounds, as well as control inflammation and oxidative stress caused by injury.
Inflammation is a normal reaction of the body to repair damaged tissue. Its immediate result is the increase of free radical production. Free radicals are highly reactive oxidizing molecules that cause cell damage.
The imbalance between free radicals and the body’s antioxidant defenses causes lipid peroxidation and DNA damage, promotes the maintenance of inflammation, and prolongs the symptoms of injury and delays healing and recovery. Oxidative stress in immobilized or reduced physical activity due to injured limb, athletes contributes to muscle atrophy.
To accelerate the remission of inflammation it is necessary for athletes to follow a balanced diet with adequate intake of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances. Antioxidants are nutrients that neutralize these harmful effects and help repair the cell damage they cause. Important antioxidants in the body are vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin A, selenium and zinc.
In addition to antioxidants, there are other nutrients that are known to reduce inflammation. Omega 3 fatty acids also have anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties. Their complementary administration has been shown to be able to mitigate oxidative biomarkers in athletes who have undergone surgery. Their intake plays a key role in improving muscle loss due to immobilization, favoring the protein synthesis response, which is reduced due to injury.
This is why increased protein intake is required during recovery. Research shows that focusing on the amount, type and distribution of protein intake during the day (not in one meal) can reduce the loss of muscle mass and strength during recovery from an injury and stimulate synthesis muscle protein.
Probiotics are likely to contribute indirectly to the muscle recovery process, reducing recovery time. However, further studies are needed to investigate the effect of probiotics on muscle tissue, in order to confirm this hypothesis of some scientists.
Branched chain amino acids, such as leucine, isoleucine and valine, can also accelerate healing after musculoskeletal injury or surgery. They also have a special ability to enhance protein synthesis and inhibit their breakdown. Athletes who receive them build new tissues faster. Of all the branched chain amino acids, leucine is considered to be the most useful.
When it comes to bone injury, athletes need to get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, which help strengthen bones.
Injured athletes diet should have appropriate amount of dietary fibers, as some painkillers taken to manage pain after an injury can cause constipation.
The increased metabolic rate, which ranges from about 15% (after injury or minor surgery) to almost 50% (after major and major surgery) must also be taken into account when drawing up the diet plan. This increase in energy expenditure is caused by the body “preparing” for the repair of damaged tissues. In such cases, the body needs extra calories, but without exaggeration, because diets with high energy intake carry a risk of increasing body fat mass and changes in its composition, which could delay the return to the field. In general, athletes when they are injured should receive fewer calories than on training days, but more than they would eat if they were completely immobile.
In conclusion, injured athletes need to eat a variety of foods to meet their macronutrient and micronutrient needs in order to speed up their recovery, regain their strength and maximize their performance faster.