Disclaimer: I am not a registered dietitian; I received my undergraduate degree in Dietetics but never completed my internship following graduation to become a registered dietitian.
When a runner is faced with an injury that will take them out of the sport for a period of time, there are always fears that immediately take over their mind. The fear of losing fitness. The fear of lost time.
A common fear that many runners, including myself, feel when they are not allowed to run is the fear of gaining weight. That fear of gaining weight then leads to restriction of calories or excessive cross training to make up for not running. Both of these can be detrimental to the healing process and can actually keep you sidelined even longer. The importance of proper nutrition during the time of an injury is critical to the healing process in general.
During an injury, your resting metabolic rate (the amount of calories your body needs to function while resting or without exercise) increases by about 20% because the body is working extra hard to repair the damaged areas. Plus if you are anything like me, you find ways of supplementing your running for cross training which expends a lot of calories as well.
A study by the Medical College of Wisconsin found the average calories burned jogging on a treadmill for one hour was 705 to 866. By comparison, an estimate by Health Status found using an elliptical trainer for one hour will burn approximately 773 calories.
If you deprive your body of calories during an injury, you will lose lean muscle mass which will also slow the recovery process. There is a common myth that muscle will turn to fat if you stop exercising—WRONG. You lose muscle mass when you stop exercising but it does NOT turn to fat.
Here are a few things to remember when planning your meals while you are injured:
You want to prevent the loss of lean muscle mass so you need to slightly increase your protein needs while injured. Increasing your daily protein will also help strengthen areas where the injury occurred and it will also help to regenerate any of the damaged tissues. It is recommended that injured athletes intake about 1.5-2.0 g/kg of protein per day which is increased from the recommended 1.0 g/kg of protein per day for the average athlete. Over the past week, I’ve substituted out my whole grain bread at breakfast for 2 hardboiled eggs and I’ve added a greek yogurt (also good calcium) in my afternoon snack instead of eating a granola bar.
Eating essential fats will help with the recovery process especially if they are anti-inflammatories. Some good examples of food that are anti-inflammatory fats include avocados, fish, olive oil, or mix seeds/nuts. I’ve focused on adding avocado to my dinner at night by mixing it in my salad or using it as a spread. This week I was browsing through the clearance shelves at Kroger and found Healthy Warrior Chia Bars–they caught my attention since they were cheap and they were low in sugar, only 110 calories but they had 1000mg of Omega 3 fatty acids (about equivalent to a 3 oz piece of salmon)!! I struggle to eat fish every week and fish oil supplements are disgusting in my opinion, so these are the perfect substitute…they taste delicious!
I am used to eating a lot of carbohydrates in my normal training–running 120 miles/week wipes out my glycogen stores quite frequently so I eat more carbs than the normal person. During injury and a decrease in athletic activity, I cut back on the carbs and focus on eating whole grains and carbs which are high in fiber. I’ve replaced some of my normal carb snacks with a snack which is higher in protein. Carbohydrates are essential so do not cut them out completely 🙂
Injuries are inevitable but nutrition during the healing process is something that YOU can control.