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Sports injury? What you eat has never been so important

“Mummy,” said Chloe, with as much gravity as a five-year-old can muster, “I know babies come OUT of the birth canal, but how do they get IN?” Ah, I said, and having promised myself that I would never be an ask-your-father kind of mother, I told her that it was an excellent question for Uncle Richard.

Given that we usually meet up in La Trattoria I am not sure it was all that sensible, but for now the topic has been forgotten. In fact, within seconds she was off deconstructing the sofa and building a volcano with her sister. The new concern of the day is how to avoid stepping in hot lava.

Fortunately, the other questions I’ve been asked today have been simple. With tons of people training for May 24, or participating in our “Beat the Couch” 5K training programme, there are a few frustrating injuries cropping up. No matter how carefully you train, there will be the inevitable setbacks for some. Whether it’s tripping on a curbside or pushing yourself a fraction too far, these things happen.

The problem with injuries aside from the pain is the massive interruption in momentum. For many, it’s taken a huge amount to get you going and having to pause in the pursuit of a goal when you have already worked so hard, can be demotivating and depressing. The thought of losing any ground gained is upsetting. It’s tempting in fact to get right back on the couch and stay there.

But this is where you need a critical switch in thinking. You may have to ease off, or you may not be able to train at all, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep going. The old adage, “you are what you eat”, is always important, but especially so if you have been injured. You need to pay attention to your nutrition now more than ever.

During the inflammatory phase of an injury (which can last a couple of days), immune cells travel to the area of damage to clean up. Whilst this process is essential, reducing the inflammation in your body through your diet can help to limit the extent of both the pain and the inflammation. Then, for a few weeks afterwards, secretory cells (such as fibroblasts) help to repair and replace the damaged tissue with new collagen. From this point, in what’s known as the ‘remodelling” phase, the new tissue strengthens and gains stability.

Collagen is a type of protein found in connective tissues (skin, ligaments, tendons and bones). It’s made up from several amino acids but requires enough vitamin C to take it from food source to collagen state. This means that getting plenty of vitamin C is important too as well as the co-factors that support the specific type of collagen synthesis you are after. For example, if you are trying to heal bone, more vitamin D would be useful (supplements are often helpful) as well as vitamin K from green leafy vegetables.

When it comes to the remodelling phase, your focus should be on quality, quality, quality. This means whole, real, natural food packed with vitamins, minerals and good fats. If you have diet sodas or junk in your life, it’s time for it to leave the building! Here’s the detail on what you should be including:

Tips for maximising recovery:

Eat good fatsNot all fat is bad, but you don’t see elite athletes sitting around eating fried chicken. Along with the junk, they’ll also be avoiding poor quality red meat/dairy and avoiding some omega-6 fats such as processed corn and sunflower oils. Instead, they’re eating plenty of nuts, seeds, fish/fish oils, coconut oil and avocado. These are rich in the good fats that are actively anti-inflammatory and help to rebalance the omega 6: omega 3 ratio in the body.

Include phytochemicalsIf you’ve heard that turmeric, ginger, garlic, bromelain and flavonoids are anti-inflammatory, then you’re onto a winner too. You can get some of these in supplement form (for example curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric) but they are also easily included in your diet. Add turmeric to curries and casseroles, put ginger in stirfrys and smoothies and add garlic to everything (ok maybe not your smoothie….). Pineapple is a rich source of bromelain and great as a dessert, in smoothies, or even in a curry or stirfry. Green tea, dark chocolate and red wine are also all good sources of flavonoids so your recovery phase doesn’t have to be entirely treat-free! Just go easy on the chocolate and alcohol as of course there comes a point where excess outweighs the benefits. An extra note here, because natural supplements can be very powerful when it comes to inflammation, if you have a medical condition or are taking medication, you should check with your doctor first.

Support collagen synthesisGet lots of vitamin C not just through oranges, but other surprisingly more potent sources such as yellow peppers, broccoli and kiwi. Remember to add some leafy green veg for bone health and also sulphur-rich food (onions, leeks, cabbage, eggs, broccoli) if you need to repair cartilage. If you have a muscle injury, then providing more branch chain amino acids through quality protein sources (organic meat/dairy/eggs, organic protein powders or shelled hemp seed and the Linwoods ground seed mixes) is also recommended.

Stay hydratedOne of the most basic but critical steps when it comes to your overall health and recovery. Perhaps we should change “you are what you eat” to “you are what you eat AND drink”. The water content of your muscles, cartilage and bones would surprise you and it’s critical for transferring nutrients in and toxins out of your cells. If you are looking for electrolytes, try seeing if unsweetened coconut water (Zico, Coco Libre or C20 Miles/Down to Earth/ABC store) does the trick. Pouring a bright blue Gatorade down your throat is not a smart move.

Choose food that nourishes youAbove all, when you are recovering from injury, choose food that nourishes you. What you eat and drink literally provides you with the resources you need to repair your body. Healthy food will build you up. Unhealthy food will knock you down. It really is that simple. If you have to take some time off your training and the loss of momentum is disheartening, switch your focus to your nutrition instead. Getting back on track will be faster and easier and you will perform all the better for it!

The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns.

Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is the managing director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a registered dietitian. For details, visit www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifitandnaturalnutritionbermuda

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Published April 12, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated April 11, 2013 at 8:54 pm)

Sports injury? What you eat has never been so important

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