PT on the Net Research

Nutrition and Injury: Is There a Link?


Injuries are a fact of life, and in many individuals, it is a race against time to get fit as soon as possible. Currently, research investigating the link between nutrition and injury is not forthcoming, despite strong logic and theory to support the importance of nutrition in the recovery phase of injury. It is therefore the aim of this article to discuss what we know in both the prevention and recovery from injury with special reference to nutrition. 

The Prevention of Injuries 

There is no evidence to support that nutrition per se will prevent injuries. Injury prevention occurs as a result of ensuring that, as an athlete, you are well conditioned for the sport in which you compete. That way, the risk of injury will be reduced. However, fatigue (both mentally and physically) during sport and exercise does increase the risk of injury.

As a result, conventional sports nutrition strategies, while paramount to preparation for performance, are often overlooked in their importance of reducing the risk of injury. Carbohydrate is the key provider of energy to the muscles and brain, helping to minimize the impact of fatigue, principally by enabling athletes to work harder for longer. In doing so, work rate, correct posture, movement and skill execution will be maintained, which indirectly can reduce the occurrence of injuries that occur in such circumstances.

What happens when you get injured? As we have already stated, injuries are a fact of life and almost inevitable. When injuries do occur, the healing process occurs over time and is generalized into three major phases:

  1. Inflammation: This is the body’s first line of defence to an acute injury, lasting approximately two to five days. This phase is characterized by the removal/elimination of bacteria and the attempt to control cellular damage and blood loss.
  2. Proliferation: This is the phase when the blood vessels in and around the wound are restored, while new connective tissue is formed. This phase can last anywhere between two days to three weeks, depending on the severity of the injury.
  3. Remodelling: This constitutes the long term recovery from an injury lasting anywhere between three weeks and two years. The major process during this time is collagen renewal. 

Role of Nutrition

We do know that nutrition can play an important role during the recovery process from injuries. This is principally because the body utilizes more macro and micro-nutrients from the diet, including protein, vitamin C, zinc, calcium and vitamin D.

A Word on Weight Management 

There are two key problems that can generally occur when individuals are recovery from injury. They include the following:

  1. Athletes continue to eat the same amount of food, even though training is reduced, if not stopped. As a result, the excess energy intake results in weight gain.
  2. Conversely, an athlete may overcompensate for the reduced training load by reducing energy intake too far, potentially contributing to a reduced muscle mass and decreased micronutrient intake, which could affect bodily functions, including the immune system.

In response to these issues, the key recommendations, depending on time spent injured, are as follows: 

Injury is an unfortunate part of sport and exercise and will inevitably affect everyone at some stage of life. While it is understood that nutrition will not prevent injuries, correct nutritional practices in preparation for sport and exercise may help reduce the risk of injury by minimizing the impact of fatigue. Where nutrition can have a more direct effect is during the recovery phase from injuries, and as such, athletes should closely monitor some of the micronutrients within their diet while keeping an eye on their weight!