There is no quick fix for running injuries. Healing them takes time and patience, but the right nutrition strategies can speed up the process so you can get back on the road as soon as possible. If you’re currently sidelined with an injury, take a look at your diet to see if there’s any room to optimize your nutrition for injury recovery, and check out these tips to help you get better faster.
Don’t cut calories
When dealing with an injury, many runners are tempted to cut back on their caloric intake because they’re not expending as much energy as they would if they were still training, but this is a mistake. Restricting calories can slow down the recovery process, so make sure you continue eating, focusing on good nutrition (more on that in a minute). Depending on the severity of the injury, you may even need more calories, so if you’re unsure how much you should be eating while recovering from an injury, talk to a dietitian with a background in sports nutrition for guidance.
Increase your protein intake
Protein helps build and repair muscle tissue, so when you’re trying to heal an injury it’s important to get plenty of protein in your diet. This is even more crucial if the injured area has to be immobilized for any length of time because you’re at a greater risk for muscle loss. Leucine, one of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s) that make up complete protein is particularly important because of its ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis compared to other amino acids. Foods high in leucine include chickpeas, soy-based products, eggs, chicken, salmon and beef.
For a similar reason to cutting calories, some runners think they should eat fewer carbohydrates while they’re injured since they don’t need the fuel for their runs. When you eat too few carbohydrates (and again, not enough calories), you risk your body having to dip into your protein stores for energy. This prevents the protein you eat from being used to repair an injured muscle, which slows down the recovery process.
Increase your omega-3 intake
Omega-3 fatty acids help decrease recovery time by reducing inflammation, so make sure you’re including plenty of fatty fish and seafood (like salmon, tuna and sardines), nuts, seeds and fortified products like eggs, yogurt and milk.
Get plenty of vitamin C
The sunshine vitamin is a mandatory co-factor in collagen formation, which is a main component of bone, muscle and skin. Eating more vitamin C will help improve your body’s collagen formation, thus expediting your injury recovery.
Up your calcium and vitamin D intake
If your injury is bone-related, you should aim to increase both of these bone-building nutrients. Calcium is crucial to building and repairing bone, but without adequate vitamin D, your body will have difficulty absorbing the calcium from your diet. It can be difficult to get enough vitamin D in the winter months, so focus on eating plenty salmon, eggs and fortified foods, and talk to your doctor about adding a supplement to your diet.
Eat plenty of fruits and veggies
When you’re recovering from an injury, you want to get as many vitamins and minerals as possible because when you support your overall health, you support the injury recovery process. Do your best to make sure you’re including a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet every day to ensure you aren’t missing out on anything.