Unfortunately, young athletes may find themselves on the sidelines for days, weeks, or even full seasons after concussions. These injuries can be frustrating since there’s no simple rehabilitation timeline, and as the brain heals, the body might feel ready for sport when the brain is not. As a parent or coach, you can help your athlete by ensuring that they focus on the things that they can control in the healing process, like their nutrition.
Here, TrueSport Expert Kristen Ziesmer, a registered dietitian and the owner of Elite Nutrition and Performance, along with Michele LaBotz, TrueSport Expert and sports medicine physician, provide some basic guidelines to follow as your athlete recovers from a concussion. But make no mistake: While helpful, nutrition is not a replacement for rest and following a doctor’s return to play guidelines.
There’s no way to supplement away a concussion
While you may have seen advertisements or spotted a tweet or Instagram post touting a certain powder, pill, or other supplement as ‘brain food’ or a way to speed up healing from a concussion, the truth of the matter is that we simply don’t have enough information about concussions to safely recommend any one supplement. As Ziesmer points out, the bulk of the studies being referenced by supplement companies are being done on rats and mice. And when a supplement has been studied in humans, it’s almost always prior to the concussion, not after. So adding a supplement following a concussion is not recommended, and in general, it’s good to be cautious of supplements.
Eating enough is important
Many young athletes struggle post-concussion to eat enough. The brain is an energy-hungry organ, requiring plenty of calories. But when your athlete is suddenly on the bench, their appetite may drop significantly to match their now-sedentary state. In addition to that, some athletes who are in sports that value low body weight—cross-country, running, or gymnastics, for example—might be tempted to start restricting calories in order to maintain weight while they’re unable to train. If your athlete has a history of disordered eating or body image issues, LaBotz notes, this is extremely important to watch for. While a bit of fluctuation in appetite is normal, your athlete does need regular meals and snacks to help their brain to heal.