With summer on the way many of us start thinking more about our beach bodies, and therefore what we’re eating. We all know that what we put into our bodies can change the way we look on the outside, but what we eat can have just as much effect on our internal systems.
Our diet can influence our mood, energy levels, brain function and even how well we recover from injuries. In this blog I’m going to discuss a few of these topics and how tweaking your diet can provide a real benefit.
Fats are not the Enemy!
A myth that still seems to be very present in modern society is that fat is bad for you. Fats are not the enemy. Fats are in-fact essential to so many of our internal systems, and the RIGHT type of fats (such as those found in fish, nuts, seeds, avocado’s, olives) can actually help in keeping our metabolism high, and our bodyweight down. In relation to our recovery though, here are some of the main benefits from getting enough of the good fats in your diet:
- Anti-inflammatory effects – the effects of Omega 3 fatty acids (found in fish and olive oils) have been shown to help reduce inflammation at higher dosages. This can be of benefit in a new injury where inflammation is a major factor, or in more longstanding conditions like osteoarthritis where inflammation is still present. This could be of real benefit and possible alternative if you cant stomach anti-inflammatory medications.
- Optimise the central nervous system – Our nerves are all covered in fat to help with the transmission of signals, and a high proportion of our brain is also made up of fat. Good fats such as those mentioned above can help reduce inflammation in the brain, improve repair of nerves and improve nerve signalling which in turn can help us when trying to regain movement and strength of an injured area.
- Disease prevention – Research has also shown that good dietary fat can help reduce the risk of heart disease, and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis. Another reason to make sure you stock up on your olives, fish, avocados and nuts!
Protein: The Building Blocks for Repair
Proteins are essential for our growth and repair. When you’ve sustained an injury and have to spend more time watching Netflix, you might think you don’t need as much protein. Your protein requirements are however still higher than for someone who is uninjured but inactive. This is due to the need to rebuild damaged structures, and lay down new collagen for scar tissue.
Maintaining a sufficient level of protein in your diet can also help reduce the amount of muscle wastage that might occur from having to rest. Certain amino acids (the things proteins are made up of) have been shown in research to be particularly beneficial in reducing muscle loss. Trying to get a good portion of meat, chicken, fish or nuts at each meal should go a long way here.
Carbohydrates and Energy Requirements
Unlike proteins and fats which are essential to our health and survival (providing certain nutrients we can only get from food), carbohydrates are not technically essential. We can survive and be perfectly healthy without potatoes, rice and bread even if we do crave them sometimes!
Carbohydrate intake is still something you need to consider when injured. I like to think of carbohydrates at the extra source of energy to top up your calories after eating enough of your good fats and proteins. This can however mean finding a balance; eating too much when resting after an injury could lead to weight gain and therefore make things harder further down the line when trying to return to fitness. On the other hand, not taking onboard enough energy could leave you depleted, fatigued and actually hamper your recovery. Using an online calorie calculator or calorie tracking apps such as myfitnesspal can be useful here.
Vitamins and Minerals
So now you’ve considered the three main food types to help you recover. Job done? Not quite. The often overlooked area of vitamins and minerals is just as important to helping your recovery and boosting your general health.
I always think its better to get these through natural foods such as fruits and veg rather than a vitamin supplement, as our body can more easily process and absorb the nutrients from natural sources. Vitamin C can be found in peppers, oranges, and kiwis and is essential for tissue healing. Calcium is also important and can be found in dairy products or broccoli. Zinc plays a role in tissue healing, however this can be found in seeds, nuts and fish, so by eating those things, you can take care of a good amount of your protein, fat and mineral needs in one go!
On a personal note, I can attest to the benefits of increasing my fruit and vegetable intake, finding improved digestion, energy and focus through the day. A good tip I’ve found helpful is trying to make sure you eat all the different coloured fruit and veg you can find. Having this variety means you should get all the vitamins and minerals you need without having to put much thought into it.
If you’re feeling sorry for yourself after sustaining an injury, try to resist the urge to comfort eat on junk food. Eating food high in saturated and trans-fats (thinking of the stuff from your local kebab shop, pizza place or burger joint) can actually increase inflammation in the body. Something you don’t want when your body is already processing inflammation from an injury. The negative effects of junk food on digestion and general energy levels also need to be taken into consideration.
The take-home message – what you eat can make a difference to both your health and recovery from injury. A lot of the nutrients mentioned above should be part of a healthy balanced diet anyway, and for most of us it might only mean a few tweaks to get the most from your nutrition. Doing this alongside your physiothearpy treatment should help you get back to your best, that little bit quicker. Thats it for another month, keep a look out for our next update.