Nutritional Therapy for Injury Recovery


So you have just been injured (maybe an ACL tear or something similar) and you’re wondering “would eating differently help my recovery?”


If your nutritional intake isn’t currently optimal (as like most of us) the answer is YES! Even if you are eating optimally though, your nutritional needs might be different now that you have an injury.


Seeing a Registered Dietitian soon after the injury can be incredibly important to your recovery. The dietitian will screen you for nutrient deficiencies, energy balance, and tailor recommendations to your needs to help you get back on your feet (so to speak).


Here are a few tips to help you recover from your injury, whether you need to have surgery for it or not:


1.  Protein: Protein is a very important nutrient for building muscle. It provides the building blocks for cellular growth and repair, like those found in muscle, skin, and nails. It is also used to make enzymes and hormones. Protein is basically the structural and functional component of our body! Without boring you with the details, it is needless to say that protein is very important! It can also help us recover faster from surgery, injury, and illness.

Your proteins needs are slightly higher than normal when injured or sick. Try to aim for 20-30g of protein at each meal (at least 3 times a day).

What does this look like though? Here are examples of the protein content in several common foods:

  • ½ cup (size of a deck of cards) of cooked meat, fish, or poultry = 21g
  • 2 large eggs = 12g
  • 5 oz (size of three dice) of cheese = 12g
  • 1 cup of milk or soy beverage = 9g
  • ¾ cup cup yogurt = 8g
  • ¾ cup Greek yogurt = 17g
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter or other nut butters = 6g
  • 1 slice of bread = 4 g
  • ¼ cup of nuts or seeds = 7g
  • ¾ cup legume/beans/lentils = 12 g

While some foods provide more protein than others, they can be combined to give you the amount that you need.


Should I take a protein supplement powder? We usually do not need these types of products and should focus on meeting our protein needs from foods itself. We don’t need as much protein as some people like to believe we do. Our body can only handle so much at a time! The average man typically needs 60-70g of protein/day and the average female needs 50-60g of protein/day. When suffering from an injury or recovering from surgery, you will need a bit extra.


2.  Consume Anti-inflammatory foods: When we are injured or recovering from surgery we likely have quite a bit of inflammation near the injured site. Some foods and nutrients can help reduce inflammation! Some of these foods include:

  • Dark Leafy Greens (Spinach, kale, collard greens)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Ground Flaxseed
  • Extra-virgin Olive Oil
  • Fatty Fish
  • Citrus
  • Brightly colored fruits and vegetables
  • Avocados


Should I take supplements? Again, it is best to focus on eating nutrient dense foods instead of relying on supplements. Large doses of anything, even vitamins and minerals, can be damaging to our body and organs. Discuss taking any supplements with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian first.


3.  Avoid Pro-inflammatory foods: Just like some foods can help reduce inflammation, some foods can promote it. It is best to try to limit these foods while recovering:

  • Fast Food
  • Alcohol
  • Processed Meats
  • Soft Drinks
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Red Meat
  • Vegetable oils (ex. sunflower, safflower, soybean, and corn)
  • Trans Fat (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils)

4.  Complex Carbohydrates: It is important to meet your energy needs. These needs may change while you are injured and can depend on changes to your activity level and mobility. While recovering, it is important to fuel your body properly with complex carbohydrates. By doing this, your body can use the protein you consume for repair! Carbohydrate and calorie needs can differ drastically from person to person. Great complex carbohydrates include:

  • Whole Grain Bread
  • Brown or Wild Rice
  • Whole Grain Pasta
  • Large Flake Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Sweet Potato
  • Beans/legumes/lentils


Important Pre-Surgery Advice: If you are taking any supplements or natural health products, talk with your surgeon and anesthesiologist on whether these are safe during surgery. Some can interact with the anesthetic. You may be required to stop taking these products 2-3 weeks prior to surgery.