How injured runners can eat for recovery
Are you an injured runner? Has an injury ever sidelined your running before?
Let's face it... nobody wants to be injured. We all dread it... and sometimes we even pretend we don't have an injury because we don't want to accept reality. You're frustrated. You're discouraged. You just want to be healthy and run!
Sometimes I see runners completely change their diet when they're injured. They might drastically cut back on how much they're eating. They might cut out entire food groups. They might implement lots of "rules" about what they can eat, when they can eat, or how much they can eat.
Other runners use it as a time to eat foods that they don't normally eat when they're running and training regularly - like hitting up fast food joints more often, or reaching for more snack foods like potato chips, or drinking more beer or wine.
The thing is, both of these scenarios are harmful. They're not going to help you recover, and they're not going to be helpful habits to have once you're able to return to running. Eating well can actually help you recover from your injury and prevent you from getting re-injured. At the very least, it can assist you on your journey!
So what are some tips to help you eat better as an injured runner? Read on.
Increase your protein intake
Injured runners and endurance athletes have higher protein needs than healthy athletes... who already have higher protein needs than the average person. When you’re injured, you are less active which can lead to loss of muscle and lean body mass. Eating more protein aims to help prevent this. Plus, you need the protein for the healing process.
How much protein? Injured athletes might need as much as 1.6-2.5 grams per kilogram of body weight... for more information on protein needs, check out this article.
But it isn’t necessarily as simple as just having a big steak at dinner and then calling it a day. For one thing, you should do your best to spread your protein throughout the day as evenly as possible... so you need protein at each meal and your snacks, or at least every 3-4 hours throughout the day. Aim for 20-35 grams at each meal to make sure you’re getting enough.
There is some research that shows that eating a high protein snack before bed can be beneficial as well -- as much as 30-40 grams to promote recovery and muscle synthesis. In practice, this could be quite a lot of protein to get in for some athletes, so a protein shake could come in handy. And getting in even 10-20 grams of protein would be better than none at all.
Eating high quality protein several times throughout the day also means you're more likely to get adequate amounts of leucine in your diet. Leucine is a branched-chain amino acid that is extremely important in building and repairing muscles, but also helps prevent muscle loss. Foods high in leucine include meat, fish, cheese and dairy, tofu, tempeh, and nuts/seeds.
Underfueling will slow down healing... don’t skip meals!!
It might be tempting to cut way back on your calorie intake because you're not moving enough. And it's true that you probably don't need as much energy if you're not running every day or being as physically active.
But if you cut back too much, or you're regularly skipping meals and snacks, then your recovery is going to be slowed way down and can even put you at risk for further injury. You're also going to lose muscle a lot faster, which is going to slow your metabolism, slow your recovery, and lead to a loss of strength.
You need energy to maintain your muscles and bones, to keep your immune system humming, to keep up your metabolism and actually produce energy. Everyone's needs are different. For help in figuring out how much energy you need, click here.
Choose anti-inflammatory fats
When you're injured, you're already in a state of inflammation, so choose anti-inflammatory fats (like avocado, fish like salmon and tuna, nuts, seeds, flax, and olive oil) rather than pro-inflammatory fats (like those found in processed meats and fried foods).
Omega-3 fatty acids are not only anti-inflammatory, but essential. You must get them from your diet (because your body can't make them). They're anti-inflammatory, they are important for brain and heart health, and actually seem to help with building and maintaining your muscles.
Skimping on carbs is detrimental
Carbohydrates are your body's go-to fuel source. If you're not getting enough carbohydrates in your diet, your body is going to start to break down muscles and protein in order to create the energy that it needs. (And yes, it will break down some fat for energy too... but the first thing your body uses for energy would be protein!!)
You definitely want to maintain your muscles while in the recovery process, not lose them, right? So don't go on a keto diet and expect great results.
Eat plenty of fruits and veggies
Fruits and veggies are full of so many nutrients that help with injury recovery! They're full of antioxidants (which protect against cell damage) and vitamins that promote healing.
The more color the fruit or veggie has, the more nutrients it has. You'll need a variety of different colors too, as they all provide different nutrients. Eat the rainbow of fruits and veggies - red (tomatoes, apples, strawberries), orange (peppers, oranges, pumpkin), green (spinach, kiwi, broccoli), white (cauliflower, onion, garlic), purple (eggplant, blueberries), and more.
Plus they're a great source of vitamin C, which helps with wound healing, growing and repairing tissues (like muscle and tendons), and keeping up your immunity. Foods high in vitamin C are citrus foods, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries.
At the end of the day, being injured sucks. It doesn't last forever (even though it might feel like it!). But clearly, good nutrition can make that injury period go much smoother (and probably faster) -- while eating poorly can actually make your injury last longer. Plus, if you have bad eating habits while you're injured, you're probably going to keep them once you're able to run again... and that is going to slow your progress to your running goals. Working on good eating habits now can only help you out once your running picks up again.
If you want to overcome your injury faster and set up solid habits that will sustain you when you're running more (and help prevent another injury!), send me a message or click here to have a free call with me. Are you ready to be the best runner you can be?