Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Injury Healing Through Nutrition
“Do I have to eat beets to heal my injury? They smell like dirt. And they dye my teeth red!”
“Is it true that eating a lot of protein is going to make my muscles stronger and protect my bones?”
“I hear curry helps control swelling. How much should I be taking?”
Questions like these often arise in Sports Nutrition Clinic when I have an athlete recovering from an injury. Young athletes and their families want to know the very best tips and tricks to speed up the healing process and return to their sport as soon as possible. Let’s begin with some definitions and background to better understand the role of nutrition in injury healing.
Inflammation is the body’s protective response to infection, injury and even intense physical activity. It is a critical part of the repair process which brings healthy nutrients and cells to the affected site. Acute, or short term inflammation, is a normal response to high-intensity exercise.
With an injury, the body’s short term response is redness, swelling, and pain brought on by the immune system. However, prolonged inflammation, can affect the whole body even if your injury is limited to one area.
Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) are a normal byproduct of cell breakdown. When you have an injury or if exercise intensely for a long period of time without proper recovery, cell turnover increases and can lead to high amounts of ROS within the body. Enter in our hero- antioxidants which work to protect the body from build of excess ROS!
Antioxidants break down ROS to less harmful byproducts and prevent further damage to cells. A high level of ROS and low amount of antioxidants within the body can lead to oxidative stress which puts young athletes at risk for fatigue, injury, muscle damage, and even chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis. These negative results are the opposite of what young athletes are working to achieve!
When an athlete is injured, they suddenly lose control of many aspects of their plan of care. Resting and following doctors’ orders can be very difficult for athletes who could once train at high levels without a challenge. The good news is that nutrition is a part of the injury treatment plan athletes are able to influence. Nutrition has a powerful and nourishing role in helping the body recover from an injury. As mentioned previously, antioxidants help the body prevent muscle damage and may aide in injury recovery. Some antioxidants are naturally found within the body, but can also be consumed through food.
Further evidence is needed to determine whether athletes, let alone injured athletes, are in need of higher amounts of antioxidants. Based on current evidence, increasing dietary antioxidants is preferred through food over supplements. Athletes are encouraged to eat a wide variety of the antioxidant rich foods shown below while also avoiding foods that can contribute to inflammation such as processed foods and those containing an excessive amount of saturated or trans-fat.