Updated: Nov 16, 2019
When an injury sidelines us, the natural reaction is to cut back on calories until it’s time to get back into working out—and burn energy—again. But the healing process demands fuel, too. “It’s like fixing a house,”. “A crack in the foundation requires raw materials to patch things back together, and in the body those raw materials come from what we eat.” Proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants help heal wounds, relax stressed tendons, and mend fractured bones more quickly. So in addition to your doc’s advice to R.I.C.E. rest, ice, compress and elevate, you want to choose the right combinations of recovery foods to speed up the healing process and get back to your routine. Here’s where to aim your cart. Buy: Carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, and kale for vitamin A; oranges, strawberries, peppers, and broccoli for vitamin C Why: Vitamin A helps make white blood cells for fighting infection, “which is always a risk with injury.” Vitamin C has been proven to help skin and flesh wounds heal faster and stronger, making it a valuable ally when caring for road rash. Vitamin C also helps repair connective tissues and cartilage by contributing to the formation of collagen, an important protein that builds scar tissue, blood vessels, and even new bone cells. Meat Counter Buy: Lean turkey, sirloin, fish, and chicken Why: Lean meats are packed with protein, a critical building block for producing new cells. In one study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, researchers at the University of Ottawa identified a protein that acted like a bridge between damaged tissues, promoting repair. Because athletes require about 112 grams of protein per day (for a 175-pound male or female) for optimum healing, eating meat is an easy way to rocket toward this goal faster. Dairy Department Buy: Eggs, milk, and yogurt Why: All three are good sources of protein—milk and yogurt also contain calcium, which repairs bone and muscle. The vitamin D in dairy products improves calcium absorption and helps injured muscle and bone heal. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgeryreported that boosting this nutrient’s levels in deficient patients produced earlier results. Cereal Aisle Buy: Fortified cereal Why: It contains zinc, a proven asset to the immune system and to healing wounds. Along with red meat, fortified cereals are the best sources (some deliver 100 percent of your recommended daily value). By itself, zinc doesn’t repair damaged tissue, but it assists the nutrients that do. “Just don’t overdo it,” adding that too much—more than 40 grams a day for an adult—of this potent mineral lowers HDL cholesterol (the good kind) and actually suppresses your immune system. Cereal supplies moderate zinc doses as well as whole-grain carbohydrates, which fuel your body’s healing efforts and keep it from dipping into protein for energy. “Eating enough carbs ensures that your body puts all of its available protein toward repairs,” Sass explains. Seafood Section Buy: Salmon, tuna, and trout Why: In addition to an added protein bonus, fish is packed with omega-3s, fatty acids which quench the inflammation that slows recovery from tendinitis, bone fractures, and sprained ligaments. Supplement Aisle Buy: Vitamin D, Calcium Why: As we mention above, vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium you’re getting from your diet. This is an especially important combo if your injury is bone related. While there are some foods that contain vitamin D, they are few, and your body can produce it from exposure to the sun. If you’re spending most of your recovery time laid up on the couch, you could be deficient. And if you follow a dairy free diet, then you may also need an extra boost of calcium. Check with your doctor to see if you should add vitamin D and calcium supplements to your treatment. That said, more calcium doesn’t equal stronger bones—in fact, too much can lead to kidney stones so be sure to follow your medical professionals recommendation. A blood panel should be able to show any excesses and deficiencies of vitamins in your body.