Nutrition and Injury Recovery

Eating a healthy diet can speed the healing process after an injury or surgery. It’s a premise that’s backed by research. But what is a “healthy” diet, exactly? Nutrition can be a complicated subject at a time when theories about what to eat and what not to eat and why fill the shelves of bookstores and are splashed across the covers of health-focused magazines.

What is “Good Nutrition”?

The easiest way to think about good nutrition is to zero in on the idea of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals as fuel — the very best type of fuel — to power and enrich every organ, tissue, and cell in your body. It’s important to remember that you have a choice. You can follow your taste buds exclusively and choose high-fat, high-sugar foods, and relatively “empty” calories, or you can recognize that your taste buds are only part of the nutrition puzzle. You also have to consider what your body needs to be healthy and functioning at its optimum capacity. If you do this, you’ll not only feel healthy, but you’ll be revving up your body’s immune and healing powers at the same time.

Variety and Moderation are Key

Eating a wide variety of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean forms of protein, while at the same time minimizing your consumption of “junk” foods like baked goods and fatty cuts of meat, will set you on a path to healthy eating by providing essential micro-and macro-nutrients, but you can actually help enhance the healing process once you understand how it works …

Understanding the Healing Process

Recovering from an injury, whether it’s caused by an accident or by surgery, consists of three stages

  1. Inflammation – You know this stage. It’s marked by pain, swelling, redness, and heat. Your body is busy drawing healing chemicals to the site of the injury.
  2. Regeneration – Old, damaged tissue is removed and new temporary tissue growth begins as blood flow to the area increases.
  3. Rebuilding – The temporary tissue generated during the regeneration phase is replaced by healthy, permanent tissue.

So how do these three stages of healing figure in when considering what foods to eat to hasten healing? Read on for the best foods to eat during each stage of your recovery …

What to Eat for Stage 1 Inflammation

This one’s a no-brainer. You’ll want to make sure you’re consuming plenty of foods with anti-inflammatory properties. Here are some examples:

  • olive and flaxseed oils
  • avocados
  • fish oil (either from fatty cold-water fish like sardines or salmon or in supplement form)
  • nuts and seeds
  • blueberries
  • ginger
  • green tea (It contains quercetin, a chemical compound that acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.)
  • broccoli, beets, tomatoes, spinach
  • yogurt
  • garlic (It’s been shown to suppress inflammatory markers while simultaneously stimulating anti-inflammatory proteins.)

What to Eat for Stages 2 and 3 (Regeneration and Rebuilding)

To help with tissue regeneration, you’ll need to consume plenty of

  • lean protein (lean meats, fish, low or non-fat dairy products, etc.)
  • high-quality carbohydrates like whole-grain rice, whole oats, sprouted grains
  • a good balance of fats — monounsaturated, saturated, and polyunsaturated (divided evenly)
  • a diverse (colorful) mix of fresh fruits and vegetables

Don’t Forget to Hydrate!

Did you know that water makes up 60 to 70% of your body’s total weight on any given day? That means that you need to drink at least 64 ounces of water a day just to break even! But water (and electrolyte balance*) becomes even more crucial when your body is trying to heal from an injury. You’ll need even more water in order to help new cells travel to the site of your injury to provide essential nutrients and oxygen for healing. Staying well-hydrated can also help prevent painful muscle spasms from occurring during the healing process.

*Electrolytes regulate nerve and muscle function, hydrate the body, balance blood acidity and pressure, and help rebuild damaged tissue.

So if you want to heal faster and more efficiently, follow the guidelines listed above, take a good daily multivitamin, and dedicate yourself to the recovery program designed by your physical therapist!  Contact our office at 570-208-2787 or feel free to email me directly at