By Kimber Rozier CSCS, Pn1 – For all we do to prevent injury, it’s an unfortunate part of rugby. Sometimes it just happens – you land wrong and something snaps. I’ve torn ligaments, strained muscles, had staples in my head (more than once) and broken bones. And it’s heartbreaking.
There’s nothing worse than telling your body to do something and it just won’t respond. If you get injured – you have a choice. You can get upset, hang your head and drown yourself in ice cream and Netflix, or take your recovery into your own hands and come back even stronger.
Everyone knows injuries require physical rehab, but there’s another oft-ignored element to recovery – nutrition. The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ really does apply here. Let’s take a look at how you can build your body back to playing form by feeding it well.
Nutrition for Recovery
Food is medicine. You’re either supplying your body with the nutrients it needs to heal, or you’re increasing inflammation and making the problem worse. Taking extra care with what you eat can speed up the recovery process and get you back on the field sooner.
Immediately after suffering an injury, your body freaks out and starts to swell. This is when it’s typically the most painful. Fluids are rushing to the site of the injury to source chemicals and nutrients that start the healing process. Therefore, acute inflammation can actually be beneficial – but only to a point. Too much can cause extra damage and keep you from recovering range of motion.
Stage 1: Inflammation
During this phase of recovery (usually 0-96 hours) you’ll want your nutrition to focus on inflammation management.
Eat these foods
- Fish oil, krill oil, algae oil
- Salmon and other oily fish
- Mixed nuts
Avoid these foods
- Anything fried
- Anything overly processed*
- Foods high in sugar or trans fats
*These can be identified by tons of ingredients, things you can’t pronounce, and most things that come in a plastic wrapper.
If you want to really go for it – top things off with these ingredients
- Green tea
Stage 2: Proliferation
After you get the inflammation down and under control, the body enters the proliferation and remodeling stages of recovery. Basically, this is when your body starts to remove damaged tissue and rebuild new tissue to bring you back stronger than ever. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that your nutrition during this stage needs to focus on tissue repair and getting enough food to rebuild.
An athlete’s normal training load leads them to consuming more calories than your average bear. So it might seem that when you’re not training, you don’t need to focus on eating as much. On the contrary – your basal metabolic rate (how much energy you use at rest) can increase up to 20% after a musculoskeletal injury. Even 50% if infection is involved. Your body is hard at work trying to heal!
Of course, you won’t need as much food as you would when training three times a day, but skimping on meals leads to breakdown of existing tissue to fuel the healing process.
Curious as to exactly how much energy you need? You can estimate your own BMR, take in to account your daily activity levels, and add somewhere between 10-50% based on the severity of your injury. Obviously, a lot of these measures are pretty subjective, but at least you get a rough range of your energy needs and can go from there.
Stage 3: Remodeling
Making sure you get a good balance of nutrients to supplement your rehab can go a long way towards building strong, durable muscle, collagen fibers or even bone. As was the case during the inflammation stage, getting a good balance of fats will continue to be important.
Achieve this by dividing your fats evenly- a third monounsaturated, a third polyunsaturated and a third saturated fat throughout the day. Again, fatty fish, avocados, olive oil, nuts, full-fat dairy and grass-fed beef top the list.
Athletes already have a higher demand for protein, requiring somewhere between 1.5-2g/kg of body weight to support training. If you’re accustomed to following this dietary protocol, then no adjustment is really necessary for injury repair. Instead of building muscle as recovery from a training stimulus, dietary protein now shifts to regaining pre-injury status. However, if for some reason you’ve been missing this key element – be sure to up that protein intake. It’s key for maintaining muscle mass.
Finally, even though you’re not really training, you still need carbs. Vegetables, fruits and whole grains help keep insulin levels stable as well as providing critical micronutrients for recovery. And eating carbs will help regulate your emotions and mental state. It’s much easier to muster the energy to leave the couch if you’re not wallowing in your sorrows, believe me. Your carbohydrate need will definitely be lower with less intense activity, but don’t miss out on their health benefits by going super low or no carb.
Vitamins A, B vitamins, C D, copper, zinc, magnesium, calcium, iron and more each play important roles in general metabolic function, and some can even aid restoration. Here’s a short list of some carbs that can give you healing powers:
|Magnesium||Quinoa, Millet, Barley, Brown Rice|
|Iron||Beans, Dried Apricot, Raisins|
|Vitamin A||Sweet potato, Pumpkin, Squash, Carrots|
|Zinc and Copper||White Potato, Hot Cereal|
|Vitamin D and Calcium||Broccoli, Mushrooms, Milk|
|B Vitamins||Lentils, Beans, Whole Wheat, Dark Leafy Greens|
Take home message
Being injured is not an excuse to sit on the couch and eat whatever you want because you’re upset you can’t play. Pizza and ice cream might be calling your name, and while it’s okay to treat yourself, the focus should be on whole, real foods, good fats and lean protein.
Vitamins and minerals can facilitate remodeling of tissue, and you’ll get those from eating a variety of natural foods. And make sure you’re eating a sufficient amount – you need it to avoid breaking down even further. Take care of yourself, and you’ll be back sidestepping everyone in no time.
Kimber Rozier is a NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist and Precision Nutrition nutritionist who holds dual Bachelor’s degrees in Exercise and Sport Science and Spanish from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She spends her time traveling the world as an international rugby player for the USA and her career in 7s and 15s has taken her to places such as Hong Kong, Paris, London, and Dubai. She earned a bronze medal in the 7s World Cup in Moscow and played fly half for the squad throughout 15s 2014 Rugby World Cup in Paris. Kimber has recently played overseas in Ireland, furthering her career with Railway Union and as an athlete with Scion Rugby Academy out of Washington, D.C. She is currently training with Harlequins in England.