Feed a fever, starve a cold, nourish an injury

Overall, I’m a pretty damn lucky person. I know this.

So I’m not bitter about my recent patch of bad luck when it comes to injuries: just a couple of weeks after returning to regular training following my hip flexor tear, I am injured again. It could be much worse, and besides, I am learning about a lot of common injuries that I had never experienced before, freeing up time to take clients and fitness classes at times when I would normally be training, and being forced to take control of my diet again in order to give my body exactly what it needs to heal as quickly and fully as possible.

This time we are healing a bone bruise. I am having trouble getting my head around the fact that a bone bruise is more severe than your normal black-and-blue skin bruise! A bone bruise is basically one stage away from a fracture on the bone damage scale – it implies the rupture of a certain number of bone fibres, but not enough for it to show up as a fracture on an x-ray. An MRI scan can detect bone bruises, which can be caused by one violent or rapid impact or by repeated impact on the same area.

In my case, I was performing the second or third of our technical drills in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which involved swinging one leg backwards over our partner’s feet. I dropped my right foot too low too early, and clashed feet. No big deal, happens all the time. Except that this time the base of my big toe was overcome with a searing and lasting pain unlike anything I had experienced before, except perhaps when I bruised my heel a couple of years ago in Thai boxing sparring. I don’t think even my toe hurt that much when I fractured it! What really struck me about this is that the pain lasted, without subsiding, for the entire class, so that I was utterly unable to focus on anything and found myself forgetting even the most basic techniques.

So I’m back to no impact, as little pressure on the foot as possible, and just generally being careful not to put it in situations where it could get knocked and the recovery could be set back. I don’t argue with the need to rest anymore, as I know from experience that when I train injured I don’t train as hard or as well, and then I get more frustrated, as well as opening myself up to the possibility of injuring myself further.

It’s funny because as much as people talk about the importance of diet for overall health and athletic performance, and as much as people talk about the importance of rest and recovery to treat an injury, you hear very little about the need to alter the diet to help your body recover. And yet it seems so obvious!

Ben gives quite a simple regime to injured clients, and I have been following the same rules and guidelines the last few times I have been injured. To be honest, my normal diet fits in with it pretty well anyway, but I just pay a little more attention to the following:

1. No caffeine

Ok, so I don’t normally do this. I usually drink anywhere between 2 and 4 cups of green tea a day, and eat about 20g of dark chocolate. Now these aren’t what people tend to think of when they think of reducing their caffeine intake, but the fact is that they still contribute caffeine, and caffeine impedes the body’s repair mechanisms by inhibiting the absorption of a number of key nutrients like vitamin C.

So, no chocolate, and on to white tea and herbal teas.

Herbal teas

2. A plant-based diet

Well this one is easy for me! Ha! I do find it interesting, though, that Ben gives this advice out to his clients, and I feel very smug in knowing that I am giving my body the best chances of staying injury-free in my everyday life.

The reasons for adopting a plant-based diet are many: many clients will experience some fat loss as a result of eating more fibre and less saturated fat, which will reduce the load on their recovering body; animal products are harder to digest, and so the body spends more energy trying to break down meat and dairy instead of directing it to repairing the injured tissues; and plant-based diets tend to be higher in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which will help provide the building blocks needed to heal the affected area.

3. Vitamin C

I’ve already mentioned vitamins and minerals, but I just wanted to put an extra bit of spotlight on vitamin C. Vitamin C is essential in the process of collagen synthesis, which – put simply – helps the body regenerate tissue, thereby healing an injury.

Unfortunately, there are not to my knowledge any collagen supplements on the market which are suitable for vegans. However, by consuming more vitamin C, at least we can help our body produce collagen more effectively. I would imagine that a vegan with a vitamin C deficiency is a pretty rare thing – so by following a plant-based diet, vitamin C intake should in theory take care of itself. Love it when a plan works out!

4. Lots of leafy greens

Again, I pretty much do this all the time anyway, but now I feel extra good bulking up my meals with kale and spinach!

Recovery meal

This particular easy and quick lunch was mushrooms, kale, fresh peas, with soy chunks, tomato purée, tahini, and paprika – not very photogenic, but surprisingly delicious and full of protein, healthy fats, calcium, iron (though to be honest a lot of that is probably inhibited by the calcium), folate, lycopene, vitamin C… What more could you want?

Again, hopefully it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that a healthy diet, including lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and limiting the caffeine, is the key to a quick recovery. However, I know that I always forget, and I really do believe that one of the silver linings to being injured is both providing a need to cross-train and to find new ways to push yourself and focus on areas you don’t have time to develop alongside your regular training, and giving you an excuse to take a few extra steps to making your plant-based diet burst with extra nutrients, knowing that you are doing yourself a real favour.

Does anybody else use diet to help recover from an injury? I’d love to hear what you do, and how you stay positive when injured – and I’m sure I’m not the only one, so leave a comment and share your wisdom!

4 thoughts on “Feed a fever, starve a cold, nourish an injury

  1. Christine says:

    Thanks for the tip about caffeine inhibiting Vitamin C absorption. I’m nursing an ankle sprain, so this post was timely and appreciated.

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