What Role Does Nutrition Play in Healing Exercise Injuries?

Healing Exercise Injuries

When you play sports or exercise, injuries come with the territory. Engaging in sports or physical activities brings about the risk of injuries. Whether you’re on the field, court, or in the gym, the potential for mishaps looms in the background. These unexpected incidents can range from minor scrapes and bruises to strains, sprains, or even fractures.

When you’re injured, the first thing you need to do is get evaluated, so you know what treatment you need and how you should modify your workouts to maximize healing and avoid further damage. But there’s another factor that goes into healing injuries and it’s one we don’t think about enough – nutrition.

Why Nutrition Is Important for Healing From Injuries

Nutrition is the hidden catalyst in this process of recuperation. It helps turbocharge the healing process and can even safeguard against injuries in the first place. So, it’s not something you want to ignore or take lightly.

There are two main types of injuries: soft tissue and bone injuries. Soft tissue, muscles, tendons, and ligaments, make up about 40% of all injuries. Think pulled hamstrings or those pesky lower leg issues that runners often face. These are the ones most people who exercise deal with. Let’s take a closer look at the role nutrition plays in speeding recovery from soft tissue injuries related to sports and exercise-related injuries.

Nutrition for Soft Tissue Injury

When you’re injured, whether it’s a pulled muscle or a torn ligament, your body goes into repair mode. It’s like sending out the construction crew to fix a broken bridge. And guess what? Protein is the chief architect of this operation.

Protein isn’t just a macronutrient; it’s made up of amino acids, the very bricks and mortar of tissue repair. So, when you indulge in protein-rich delights, your body becomes a rebuilder. It takes proteins, breaks them down into amino acids, and orchestrates the dance of repair for your beleaguered muscle fibers, tendons, and ligaments. Through good nutrition, you provide your body with the essential raw materials it needs to work its patch-up magic.

Protein is not just about recovery; it’s the key to emerging from an injury with sufficient strength and muscle mass. When you’re on the mend, especially if you’re sidelined for a while due to a significant injury, your muscles can atrophy from disuse. But here’s the plot twist: protein swoops in like a guardian to protect your muscles from excessive loss.

Ensuring an adequate protein intake helps mitigate muscle loss during periods of inactivity. The recommended range is 1.6 to 2.5 grams of protein for every kilogram of your body weight, contingent upon the severity of your injury. Getting adequate protein ensures that upon return to action, you’ll still have enough muscle mass to approach your workouts efficiently.

Timing matters too. It’s not just about how much protein you eat; when you eat it matters. Research suggests that spreading protein intake evenly throughout the day has advantages. Don’t just load up on protein-rich foods only at dinner; make sure you get some for breakfast and lunch too. This helps keep that muscle-building machinery active, so you don’t lose too much muscle.

The Role of Carbohydrates in Injury Recovery

Carbohydrates are the fuel that powers your healing engine during injury recovery. They play a vital role in your journey back to full strength, and here’s how they do it.

When you’re healing from an injury, your body’s like a machine in overdrive. It’s working hard to repair damaged tissues, build new cells, and get you back in the game. Carbohydrates are the source of energy that keeps this machine running smoothly.

When your body is repairing, it needs energy too, and carbohydrates are an energy source. But the ones you need are unrefined carbohydrate sources such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These dietary options provide a substantial energy boost but also come brimming with vital vitamins and minerals integral to the recuperative journey.

Now, how many carbs do you need during your healing journey? Guidelines suggest that athletes should aim for around 3 to 5 grams of carbs for every kilogram of body weight. That’s the sweet spot for keeping your energy levels up and supporting your body’s repair efforts. But since you’re not exercising with the same intensity, you want lower-calorie energy sources.

Complex, fiber-rich carbs are like a goldmine of nutrients. They provide not just the energy you need but also vitamins and minerals that help with tissue repair and overall recovery. Plus, they’re low in calories.

Vegetables and Fruits Contain Phytonutrients that Support Healing

When you’re injured, your body’s natural response is to launch the inflammation brigade to start the healing process. But sometimes, inflammation can get a little too heated and cause more harm than good.

That’s where polyphenols in fruits and vegetables come in. They help calm inflammation and reduce muscle damage. So, those berries, apples, and leafy greens on your plate? They’re not just tasty; they’re allies in the battle against inflammation.

Fruits and veggies are also packed with micronutrients, tiny powerhouses of nutrition that play crucial roles in all sorts of bodily functions, including healing. Think of vitamins like vitamin C, which is essential for collagen formation, a protein that’s like the scaffolding for your healing tissues. Or vitamin A, which helps with tissue repair and immune support.

Minerals like zinc are also in the mix, and they’re like the construction workers of the recovery team. They help build and repair tissues, ensuring that your body can bounce back from that injury quickly. And let’s not forget about the antioxidants in fruits and veggies. These compounds are like bodyguards, protecting your cells from damage caused by free radicals, which can run rampant during the healing process.

Omega-3s Fight Inflammation

When you sustain a soft tissue injury inflammation kicks in. It’s like your body’s way of saying, “Hey, we’ve got some healing to do here!” When you’re healing from an injury, inflammation is like the initial response team sent out to the scene. It helps kick off the healing process. But sometimes, especially in prolonged inflammation, it can become a bit too zealous. Thus, prolonged inflammation can be counterproductive to your recovery.

Enter the realm of omega-3 fatty acids, abundant in fatty fish, and select plant-based offerings such as walnuts, sesame seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseed. Omega-3s help temper the flames of prolonged inflammation. This measured approach fosters an environment where your body’s healing mechanisms can function optimally, promoting effective recovery.

A 2020 study suggests that a daily supplement of 2 to 4 grams of fish oil can not only reduce inflammation but also enhance protein synthesis. It’s like giving your body the blueprint and the materials to rebuild stronger and better.

In a nutshell, omega-3 fatty acids help balance the inflammation response, ensuring it’s effective but not excessive. And they’re not just there to calm the storm; they also aid in muscle repair and growth. So, when it comes to your recovery journey, don’t forget to give omega-3s a spot on your nutrition team. They’re like the secret weapons that can help you heal and come back even stronger.

The Bottom Line

Nutrition is like your secret weapon when it comes to healing from exercise-related injuries. It’s not just about healing up; it’s about coming back stronger. So, next time you’re on the mend, don’t forget to fuel right. And hey, maybe even consult with a sports dietitian – they’re like the coaches of the nutritional world, guiding you to victory on the road to recovery. So, make smart dietary choices while you’re healing!


  • Smith-Ryan AE, Hirsch KR, Saylor HE, et al. Nutritional considerations and strategies to facilitate injury recovery and rehabilitation. J Athletic Training. 2020;55(9):918-930.
  • Injury Prevention and Recovery – Today’s Dietitian Magazine. Todaysdietitian.com. Published 2020. Accessed August 20, 2023. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0423p18.shtml
  • “Nutrition for Injury Recovery and Rehabilitation.” https://www.nata.org/sites/default/files/nutrition-for-injury-recovery-and-rehabilitation.pdf.
  • “Nutrition for the injured and healing athlete – Sanford Health News.” 09 Nov. 2018, https://news.sanfordhealth.org/sports-medicine/nutrition-athlete-injured/.
  • Smith-Ryan AE, Hirsch KR, Saylor HE, Gould LM, Blue MNM. Nutritional Considerations and Strategies to Facilitate Injury Recovery and Rehabilitation. J Athl Train. 2020 Sep 1;55(9):918-930. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-550-19. PMID: 32991705; PMCID: PMC7534941.

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