Most athletes want to know how best to fuel themselves for training, games and gym sessions while also focusing on how best to recover. You can find out more about suggested fueling strategies here and can read up on nutrition for recovery here and here. While fueling for performance is obviously important, we often tend to neglect optimal nutrition when recovering from an injury.
Injuries occur to a variety of body parts and can be due to a number of factors (discussing these is outside the scope of this piece). All injuries will, however, impact on performance in games, training, and often, day to day life. Continuing with nutrition practices that are suited to full training and work schedules is not ideal and can lead to negative consequences when returning to play. Below we will outline the three main aspects to consider nutritionally when injured and how best to approach them.
Nutritional Considerations When Injured:
- Aiding recovery on injured area
- Adjusting to change in energy demands
- Psychological impact of injury
Daily protein requirements, and how to meet them, will be discussed in more detail in the future but meeting these requirements is a key element of optimising recovery. General recommendations for protein intake range from 0.8g to 1.2g per kg of body weight. This suggests an 80kg athlete would need 80g of protein a day which roughly equates to 1 chicken fillet, a pint of milk and a ham omelette (with 3 eggs). Athletes involved in resistance training are recommended to consume considerably more, aiming for 1.6g to 2.2g per kg of body weight. An 80kg athlete should then be aiming for 150g to 170g of protein per day which is evenly spaced throughout. Trying to have a palm-sized portion of protein at each meal is the best way to meet these requirements. Aim for at least 4 different servings of the following options per day with 5 being optimal.
Examples of a palm-sized portion would be:
- 1 chicken fillet
- 3 eggs
- Fillet of steak
- 1 salmon darne
- 2 pork chops
- 2 slices of ham
- 1-2 turkey burgers
- Large glass of milk
- Scoop of whey protein
Foods higher in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as salmon, may help to reduce inflammation while these can also come in supplement form.
Vitamin D is another potential supplement to consider as it helps us absorb many nutrients from our food.
More information from Close et al here.
Change In Energy Demands
When training and working hard we can burn a large number of calories. A typical player’s schedule can include 1 match, 2 collective pitch trainings and 2 solo gym sessions a week. Combine this with a busy job or generally active lifestyle and a lot of food will be required to fuel everything. Larger players, who play around the middle third in hurling and football can easily expect to burn upwards of 3,000 calories a day, and even more on days of particularly hard games or long trainings (O’Brien et al reported that gaelic footballers burned 3,700 calories a day during a typical pre-season week). Most players have no need to track exact calorie intake but will intuitively eat close to the right amount based on hunger and appetite (although under-eating can be a major contributor to injuries). Major changes in training load (such as the first few weeks of pre-season) will often lead to increases in hunger and a need for larger portions or an extra meal/snack per day. While often unaware, players set portion sizes and meal amounts based on their individual calorie demands for a busy playing schedule. These habits can be difficult to break when there is a major change in activity levels such as injury or the season-ending. Injury is a particularly difficult time to manage as it comes on suddenly, allows no time for planning and will generally lead to entirely different energy demands than the majority of other players.
Players tend to either continue eating as normal when injured – which leads to excess weight gain (predominantly fat) or majorly cut calories which leads to a drop in weight and slows the healing process. Trying to find the mid-range between these two options is key to optimising recovery and being in decent shape when returning to play. The most straightforward way to find this mid-range is either to cut your carbohydrate portions in half or eliminate carbohydrate from 1-2 meals per day and replacing it with extra vegetables. If you usually have a cup of rice with dinner then drop to half a cup. Drop from 2 large potatoes at dinner to 1. Have half a bowl of porridge instead of a full bowl and add some fruit or a boiled egg. Try have a salad bowl with a small bread roll at lunchtime if you normally have a large filled roll. Adding extra vegetables or salad to your meals will help fill your stomach and plate so you still feel like you’re eating the same as before.
While not directly connected, our brains and stomachs certainly have an impact on each other. An injury can change a lot of our normal behaviours such as activity levels, going training, meeting teammates, playing matches, etc., When feeling a bit down or with a lot of unexpected free time on our hands we can crave foods that are both high in calories and low in nutrients. Binging on comfort food or “mindless eating” are major contributors to unwanted weight gain and can make a return to competition even more difficult than it needs to be. We can take a few proactive steps to try and prevent these from happening.
Preparing some meals in advance that are high in protein and contain a lot of vegetables will lessen the chances of you grabbing high-calorie convenience foods when hunger strikes. It may also be a good time to learn, or improve on, a new skill, such as cooking, to fill your newly found free time.
Trying to get in some form of activity is also a help in filling free time and creating an extra calorie demand. Doing any rehab exercises at collective squad sessions can help stay integrated with the rest of the team and show management you’re eager to return. Going for walks or any other type of training will also help when returning to play and make room for some “treat foods’.
Bonus Tip – Never Waste An Injury!
What we mean by never “wasting” an injury is using the time away from traditional training to focus on a weakness that’s not affected by the injured area.
If you’ve injured an ankle, then you can still focus on upper body strength.
A broken thumb/wrist can still allow you to increase aerobic capacity through running or on an exercise bike.
Injured shoulder muscles may still allow you to build up lagging leg muscles.
A pulled hamstring may still allow you to spend a few weeks bringing up a lagging ‘core’.
Other injured areas will generally still allow some form of training to be done. This can help to increase some aspects of performance for when you return, allow you to do some form of training (which can be completed at the same time as the rest of your squad), and allow for some extra calories to be consumed.
If you have any specific questions on nutrition around injuries or would like another issue addressed then contact me at email@example.com