If you have ever trained or played sports, you have very likely dealt with some type of minor, or major injuries, and a general difficulty with the recovery process. It seems pretty simple for athletes to give the body what it needs so it can recover and rest properly, but most athletes seem to neglect this area of their training, even though it is a key component to being a successful athlete.
If to much muscle is broken down during training sessions without a proper supply of needed nutrients, acute inflammation will develop in the body at the site of an injury and it can last for multiple days.
Let’s begin by taking a look at way injuries occur in the first place.
- Physical Damage The intensity and length of workouts will effect the pain one experiences through inflammation. If 24 hours passes and you are still sore, you are likely not feeding your body with the proper nutrients to repair quickly. It’s also possible that you are experiencing muscle degradation, injury or an inflammatory response in this case.
- Free Radical Damage Antioxidants help to combat free radicals that are produced during long, intense training sessions. Antioxidants also help to speed up the inflammation process.
- A low intake of carbs and overtraining If you aren’t consuming adequate carbohydrates it will affect your muscle glycogen replenishment and in turn begin to decrease your performance. If proper nutrient levels are not being met, an athlete may begin to show signs of overtraining, such as fatigue, poor recovery and delayed onset muscle soreness.
- Lack of sleep Athletes need to treat sleep like their secret weapon! Adequate sleep helps to provide mental health, hormonal balance and muscle recovery.
- Dehydration By staying properly hydrated, you can prevent muscle cramps, sprains and strains from occurring.
By following a proper rest and recovery schedule, an athlete can actually correct and prevent injuries. Be aware of signs from your body. Knee pain does not equal ‘injury”. You must search for the root cause so you can begin to help your body to heal.
One of the main reasons that injuries occur, especially in younger athletes, is because of overtraining. Some athletes struggle with training obsession, food or diet restrictions and possibly mental stress. Overtraining results in the body breaking down needed fats and amino acids storage for energy. This will eventually compromise the system (liver, immune and cardiovascular) and it will bring an imbalance to the adrenal system. If an athlete begins showing signs of reduced strength, chronic pain, chronic sickness or poor sleep habits, they need to refocus and go back to the basics.
Every single athlete I know is always in pain, in some part of their body. But pain doesn’t necessarily mean injury. I wake up some mornings with a sore neck, but that doesn’t mean my neck is necessarily injured. Maybe I just need to give it some TLC and spend extra time warming up that area of my body before training, and getting in an extra treatment with my massage therapist. It’s really important to listen to your body, and take care of yourself before, during and after training sessions. Proper warm-up activities are key. If an athlete is showing signs of injury, warm-up time must be doubled (As well as cool down time). Inflammation is a natural and healthy response to an injury. Increased blood flow occurs at the site of an injury. Neutrophils, leukocytes and macrophages will be present to start the healing process. This process SHOULD NOT be interrupted by anti-inflammatory drugs, unless ABSOLUTELY necessary. Masking your symptoms may result in delayed healing. You body will need reduced acidity during this time, so try to eat a primarily raw foods diet in the beginning phase of an injury.
It is also important to avoid bed rest during this time as well. Find activities to do that don’t aggravate the area. Yoga, swimming, biking, or even walking will keep the athlete mobile, without aggravating the injured area. The injured/pained athlete should aim to be training the same hours that they would be even if they weren’t injured, just with less impact exercises. This will help the athlete to maintain range of motion, circulation and oxygenation, all of which help the healing process.
Lifestyle Changes to Improve Recovery
I realize I said this was going to be about nutrition and I haven’t talked much about food or nutrients yet, but I am getting there next! First, lifestyle changes. These are very simple things that one can do to help improve the quality and timeline of their healing.
- Sleep What more is there to say? You body recovers when you are sleeping. Getting deep, good quality sleep is important in decision making ability and strength and energy in training and performance. Not getting enough sleep can decrease glycogen production and carbohydrates that are stored for energy, leaving athletes feeling fatigued, weak and unable to recover properly.
- Treatments Acupuncture, Osteopathy, Hot/Cold, Massage, Chiropractor, Tropical creams made with arnica, or Arnica beads or tablets. Essential Oils such as rosemary, wintergreen, frankincense or peppermint are also helpful in relieving pain and inflammation and muscle tension. My favourite treatment that I can do on myself at night to help with my recovery process is cupping and using Doterra’s Deep blue oil blend or Saje’s Pain Release roll on essential oil stick. I recommend working with therapists on a regular basis, and combining different types of therapy. Acupuncture can help with circulation and pain while the Osteopath can help realign and balance your body through physical manipulation and stretching. Continuing your work with therapists when you are not injured is also very important, for maintenance issues. You can prevent a lot of pain and injuries by simply having regular visits to your therapist’s office.
- Hydration A dehydrated joint tissue is more susceptible to injury. Avoid sugar-filled drinks, as the sugar will feed to your inflammation. Coconut water contains magnesium and potassium and helps the body recover and promotes relaxation. Or simply add slices of lemon or cucumber to your water for an added twist.
- Collagen and Vitamin C Collagen is necessary for strength and flexibility in tendons and ligaments, while Vitamin C is an important factor in this collagen
- Calm Inflammation with essential fatty acids Omega-3’s are crucial for ensuring joints and tissues are nourished. Many athletes consume to much Omega-6 and not enough Omega-3.
Reduce Inflammation with: Cinnamon, pineapple, dark leafy greens, ginger, watermelon, walnuts and turmeric.
Key nutrients for Recovery from Injuries
And now, nutrients! One thing that a lot of people forget is that meat and dairy are inflammatory foods and inflammation is your worst nemesis when you are trying to recover from training sessions or injuries. Meat-based protein is acid-forming and it creates an unhealthy environment where the body will have difficulty recovering. These are a few of my favourite nutrients to help with the recovery during or after an injury.
- B Vitamins These help with tissue repair. You can find Vitamin B easily in dark leafy greens and whole grains.
- C Vitamin with Bioflavonoids Vitamin C is crucial for the healing process. It helps tissues repair and reduces inflammation. It is also needed to support the adrenal glands during times of stress. You can find Vitamin C easily in green veggies, citrus fruits and berries and fennel and peppermint tea.
- Essential Fatty Acids These have big healing properties. Reduces inflammation and pain and also lubricates the joints and improves range of motion due to their effect on blood and circulation. You can find EFA’s in chlorella, spirulina, flax seeds oil, hemp seed oil, coconut oil and avocadoes.
- Bromelain Reduces inflammation, swelling and bruising.
- Zinc Keeps inflammation down and promotes wound and tissue healing. Zinc is easily lost in athletes through sweat, so it is really important to supplement it or eat a lot of mushrooms, brown rice, lentils, raw pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
- Turmeric Reduces inflammation. If you combine Turmeric with Bromelain, it makes an extremely effective pain killer.
- Glucosamine and Chondroitin Improves joint elasticity, repairs and builds cartilage and protects cartilage from future damage.
Foods to Avoid while healing from injury
Processed, refined and fast foods. Red meat. Dairy. Sugars. Alcohol. Packaged meats. Saturated fats.