Eat you way back to sport; how diet and nutrition can boost recovery from injury

It’s not easy to get accurate figures when it comes to sporting injuries since so many never get registered at hospitals or become incorporated into nationwide surveys. Most people simply manage their injuries at home and limp along until they get better. Interestingly, back in 2005 Barclays Bank (Barclays Spaces for Sports) commissioned a survey into the rate of sporting injuries in the UK and published some very interesting results; just under 30% of the UK experience a sports related injury every year. That translates to roughly 22 million cases per year, the majority of which are the direct result of over-exertion, lack of preparation and general clumsiness! Most people recover well from injury but some 25% of those injured were forced to quit their sport. By far the most common injuries were sustained in sort tissues such as ligaments and tendons with football injuries leading the pack.

While some 26% choose to leave their injury to nature to heal there are many ways encourage the recovery from injury that could reduce the risk of a problem becoming chronic or forcing early retirement from your chosen sport. All to often little is mentioned about the effects of food, diet and nutrition and its effects on the healing process. Keeping in mind the saying “we are what we eat” it would make sense to look at your when suffering from an injury because your food will, in essence, be the mother-load when it comes to supplying your body with the building blocks for healing and tissue regeneration. It’s amazing that Hippocrates noticed this and famously commented “feed the patient and they’ll get better” over 2000 years ago and its only now that we beginning to re-appreciate the effects of nutrition on healing all over again. In general, the healing time can be viewed as the expected amount of time for wound repair, following an injury or surgery. The disability time refers to the generally expected maximal amount of time within which a person should have regained pre-injury or pre-surgical ability and performance. As a rule of thumb, healing time is always longer than disability time.

From injury to recovery
If someone reaches their expected healing time but continues to complain of pain and disability the condition is said to shift into the chronic phase, a scenario that has many possible implications. To illustrate this with a common example; the healing time for a simple knee ligament injury is in the region of 3 months. Someone complaining of persistent pain and disability after this time is then considered to be suffering from a chronic injury that needs careful investigation in order to discover if there are any maintaining or aggravating issues. Nutritional and dietary factors are now thought to play a key role in healthy resolution of tissue repair following injury and there is special interest in key amino acids, vitamins and zinc. If all the right nutrients are in place injury healing should run like a seamless process and full function should be restored. However, deficiencies and poor diet can cause serious disruption to one or more of the 4 key points of the healing process. If this happens, a weak and ineffective repair will result nudging the problem ever closer to a chronic injury state. Nutritional research has now confirmed that each of the 4 stages (vascular reaction, inflammation, proliferation and remodeling) of the healing process requires specific vitamins, minerals and amino acids for a successful outcome, even from relatively trivial injuries

Healing; a 4-stage process
The initial phase following any sporting injury is characterized by the rapid constriction of blood vessels closely followed by a more prolonged phase of blood vessel dilation as the vessels open up and become leaky. This allows important healing components of the blood to exit the blood vessels and take up residence within the damaged tissue. You tend to notice this phase of the reaction since there will be swelling, heat and pain! Despite this rather unpleasant side effect is vital ti the healing process since it starts to clear away the damaged tissue. Because of the presence of white blood cells any invading bug are confronted and destroyed which prevents opportunistic infections complicating the injury. The second stage of the process is associated with some persistent warmth surrounding the damaged area. Heat is a typical sign of injury and represents the outward effects of inflammatory chemicals and increased blood supply. Its over these phases that the protein-based healing framework is laid down forming a vital scaffolding onto which new tissue will be built as the region is repaired. For this reason, this stage of the healing process is descriptively known as the proliferative phase. In most cases, basic tissue healing is up to 70% complete after four weeks, but the process of remodeling in more extensive injuries can continue for around two years.

Nutrients are the vital basic raw materials for healing
A quick look at the health section of your local supermarket or health store will reval just how many vitamin and mineral supplements there are, each with their own story to tell! When it comes to injury management there are a few that stand head and shoulders above others, these include vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc, L-Arginine and L-Glutamine. Vitamin A is needed for the formation of strong and effective collagen fibres that prevent wounds from breaking down prematurely. This is especially evident in skin injuries. Along with its collagen strengthening function vitamin A is also necessary for an effective immune response that protects against nasty infections that sould seriously delay the healing process. Because of its potential to be toxic, retinol (true vitamin A) is not normally recommended as a supplement. To get round this, it’s non-toxic relative, known as beta carotene, is safe to use by those who have not had a history of smoking related lung cancer. This caveat to beta carotene use follows on from some research findings indicating that it may aggravate this form of lung cancer. In health the body can convert beta carotene into retinol as needed without the worry of toxicity. Foods that are colourful tend to owe their colours to the carotenoid group of compounds of which beta carotene is just one. Select from a variety of foods such as carrots, spinach, kale, apricots, papaya, mango and tomatoes. Vitamin C is another important nutrient needed for the production of strong collage. While scurvy (a gross deficiency state) is unlikely today, an optimal amount of vitamin C is still essential for the healthy resolution of an injury. Vitamin C is also needed for the normal functioning of many immune cells as well as for the strength of blood vessel walls. Collagen, the very glue that holds us together is dependant on adequate vitamin C levels, a lack of vitamin C is commonly associated with fragile and poorly healed injuries. Its interesting that we all tend to associate oranges with vitamin C but its sweet red peppers that actually boast the highest amounts. Other vitamin C foods include cooked broccoli. Contart to popular belief, cooking is known to release more readily available (bioavailable) vitamin C than eating food raw. Also consider eating more ‘greens’, sprouts and tomatoes to boost your vitamin C intake from foods. When we look to the trace element zinc it becomes apparent that a deficiency is known to result in a delayed or poorly healed injury. Zinc is needed to increase scar strength. The need for zinc is thought to be the highest from time of injury especially during the early inflammatory phase. Getting a good boost of zinc from your diet can present vegetarians with a dilemma; the highest amounts are found in oysters (around 77mg per serving), followed by beef, crab, pork and lobster! However baked beans (1.7mg per serving) and cashew nuts (1.6mg per serving) offer fair amounts when eaten on a regular basis. Zinc toxicity can be an issue with higher intakes. Keeping a supplement dose to around 15mg for a few months is a reasonable thing to do over a phase of injury when your zinc needs are higher than normal.

The need for proteins
Protein intake is vital to optimal wound healing, it’s an established fact in all manner of injuries. Out of the many available to the body two key amino acids (Arginine and Glutamine) appear to be essential for soft tissue regeneration and repair. Arginine has a surprising immune function in addition to stimulating the production of complex proteins needed essential for the formation of new body tissue where as glutamine is used by specialist healing cells known as fibroblasts as a primary energy source during the healing process. Fibroblasts are central to the balanced production of fibrous tissue scar tissue. Using supplements of these important amino acids has been shown to enhance repair and healing. Balancing the proteins in your diet is normally the best way to obtain a broad a broad spectrum of well absorbed amino acids with foods such as parsley, raw spinach, fish, meat and beans boasting a high glutamine content with chocolate (yes chocolate!), coconut, dairy products, meat, oats, nuts, raw cereals, peanuts, soybeans and walnuts serving as good sources of arginine. To be on the safe side, those suffering from viral infections or who are pregnant or lactating and those with schizophrenia should avoid taking over 30 mgs of arginine per day while those with liver or kidney diseases, Reye’s syndrome or other disorders resulting in the accumulation of ammonia in the blood need to avoid excessive glutamine intakes.

In managing your sporting injury it is important to remain realistic and understand that healing is a natural process but it can be enhanced with good diet, specific supplements when needed and the careful use of physical therapy and rest.

 

Product link: ST-Repair, nutrients to support tissue healing

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