If your athlete has torn, ruptured, or otherwise injured a muscle, tendon, or ligament, they’re dealing with a soft tissue injury. These injuries can be frustrating, since the area that’s injured can look perfectly normal, but on the inside, the body is hard at work trying to heal. While your athlete is on the bench, it’s important to make sure that their nutrition is supporting the healing that their body is doing.
Here, TrueSport Expert Kristen Ziesmer, a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, is sharing her best tips for helping an athlete navigate this trying time.
Eat enough protein
Make sure that your athlete is consuming adequate protein to maintain muscle mass and help boost recovery, says Ziesmer. For most athletes, you can assess how many grams of protein per day are needed by multiplying their weight in kilograms by 1.6-2.5.
Protein is made up of amino acids, and one of the most important for healing is leucine. “Leucine is an amino acid that stimulates muscle protein synthesis, which reduces breakdown of muscles and soft tissues,” explains Ziesmer. “You can find leucine in dairy products like milk and yogurt, or egg whites.” If your athlete is vegan, you’ll need to make sure they’re using multiple protein sources to get the full range of amino acids, including leucine. Soybeans and legumes are also good sources.
Ziesmer advises athletes to drink at least half their body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water per day at minimum. “Water is going to carry nutrients around to your body, which helps with healing and repairing,” she explains.
Eat fewer ultra-processed foods
Ultra-processed foods and drinks (like candy, soda, and chips) might taste good in the moment, but they can be inflammatory and slow down the healing process, says Ziesmer. It’s tempting to indulge your athlete when they’re in the midst of recovering from an injury, and while a treat or two is fine in moderation, overdoing it can impede recovery. Not only are ultra-processed foods high in inflammatory compounds, but they also take away healthy eating opportunities. It’s harder for your athlete to eat a big salad with grilled chicken for lunch after eating a bag of chips.