Clinics Library

The Role of Nutrition in Injury Prevention & Rehab

Interested to know how your diet and nutrition can help you prevent and recover from injuries? Caitlin Holmes, a functional sports nutritionist, discusses the importance of nutrition for athletes, nutritional strategies to prevent injuries, how to utilize nutrition as a rehab tool, and why energy deficits increase risk of injury and slow recovery. She also provides recommendations on how to implement these concepts for long-term health and injury prevention.

Intro: Why Should We Care?

  • As athletes, we are continually pushing our limits, which leads to increased injury risk.
  • As we increase our workload, we need to find that sweet spot that will lead to optimal performance.
  • Sometimes we do too much too soon or take extended time off, and that can easily lead to injury.
  • Even when we are at our optimal performance level, there are other factors at play that can still lead to injury:
    • High stress levels
    • Poor sleep
    • Poor nutrition
  • How we fuel is important for how we build and repair muscles, how we produce energy for peak performance, and how we maintain that energy.

The Basics: Nutrition 101

Adequate Daily Energy:

We need calories! The requirements will vary based on gender, height & weight, and the intensity and duration of your activities. 

Macronutrients:

These are major nutrients in our diets we need in large amounts. Typically we are referring to carbs, proteins, and fats. In athletes, macros are vital to support your metabolism, brain health, immunity, muscle growth, hormone balance, and bone health.

Micronutrients:

These are vitamins and minerals: what we need in smaller amounts for proper body functioning and metabolic processes. Micros support general health and performance, like physical activity and growth, energy metabolism, red blood cell metabolism, and antioxidants functionality. Supplements can also help ensure you are getting all the micros you need, such as Gnarly Iron, Gnarly Mg Citrate, and Gnarly D3

For overall health and nutrition, we should start with a strong foundation of energy from calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients. Then, we can build upon that with nutrient timing, and supplements & ergogenic aids to improve peak performance.

THE TRIANGLE OF NUTRITION

For overall health and nutrition, we should start with a strong foundation of energy from calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients. Then, we can build upon that with nutrient timing, and supplements & ergogenic aids to improve peak performance.

Importance of Nutrition for Athletes

Performance, health, and injury prevention and rehab all rely on nutrition. Often, nutrition takes a back seat but it really is the foundation of injury prevention and rehab.

Injury Prevention:

Injury rehab:

  • Incremental training load – introduce more training overtime and build up from there.
  • Stretching – both before and after a workout
  • Sleep – important for recovery and repair
  • Rest days – also important for recovery and repair
  • See a physical therapist or other specialist
  • Slow reintroduction to training
  • Plenty of sleep
  • Ample rest days

Nutritional Strategies to Prevent Injuries

1. eat wholesome meals (consistently)

We need to make sure our caloric needs are met with a balance of macros, and stay consistent and wholesome on training AND rest days so we maintain our muscles and don’t pull from protein in muscle. Consistency will also help stabilize blood sugar. If you try to perform in a fasted state, your blood sugar dips and concentration declines, so you won’t even be able to perform at your best.

2. add variety

It is important to mix up your diet so you can ensure you’re getting all of your necessary micronutrients.

3. make a plan

This doesn’t necessarily mean meal planning as that can cause food fatigue, but a good idea is to make a master list of meals and then pull from that list for groceries each week. This takes out guesswork and stress of trying to figure out what to eat for each meal each day.

4. Nutrient timing

Time your meals to boost performance and increase calories to decrease energy deficiencies. A protein-rich snack or shake before bed is a good idea to prevent muscle degradation overnight and muscle soreness the next day.

5. Limit Alcohol

Alcohol affects your ability to rehydrate, minimizes glycogen synthesis, and impacts hormone function – basically you won’t perform at your best. It can also be dangerous because you may compensate by pushing yourself in ways that could cause injuries. Also, if you’re buzzed while performing, your judgement will be impaired which exposes us and those around us to injury.

 

A healthy recommendation would be to limit consumption to two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women, but still take that with a grain of salt because even small doses of alcohol can have a long-term impact on health.

Nutrition as a Rehab Tool

Sometimes injuries are just unavoidable – here’s how to aid the recovery process:

  • Take in enough energy from calories
    • Avoid calorie restriction and energy deficits – DO NOT RESTRICT CALORIES.
    • When injured nutrition plays a vital role since you actually need more nutrients and calories coming in because your body is scrambling to heal. This requires increased energy metabolism and output.
    • When you reduce calorie intake during an injury, your rate of muscle loss is accelerated because your body is pulling energy from protein. So lack of exercise and reduction in nutrients coming in will increase muscle loss.

  • Increase protein to 2g per kg of body weight to maintain muscle mass
    • During an injury, your immune system is activated and that causes rapid turnover of those immune cells – many of those are proteins themselves.
    • To offset that cell turnover and nitrogen loss, you should consume more protein, specifically high-quality protein high in leucine.
      • Leucine is an amino acid which is a top stimulator of muscle protein synthesis
      • Foods containing leucine are: eggs, dairy products, soy products, meat.
      • Protein supplements can also help, such as Gnarly Whey or Gnarly Vegan.

  • Continue eating consistent, well-balanced meals, and consume your colors!
    • Both of these will ensure you get your micros and macros.

  • Stay hydrated
    • Fueling with water is necessary so your body can deliver those necessary nutrients and immune system components to the site of the injury to decrease inflammation and start to heal and repair.
    • Staying hydrated will also help flush out lactic acid, and hydrate our tissues so they can function properly.
    • Gnarly Hydrate is a great supplement to add to your diet to help stay hydrated as well.

Dangers of Energy Deficits

Energy deficits come from restricting calories. It can easily lead to:

  • Increased risk of injury
  • Slowed recovery process
  • Malnutrition

 

This is because the body will typically choose to pull protein from muscles for energy first, because we need fat for organ and cell protection. So by restricting calories, we lose muscle mass, strength and power, we are more at risk for musculoskeletal injuries, and all our hard work goes down drain.

 

Other problems that can arise from energy deficits include:

  • Immunity issues
  • More porous and weak bones and stress fractures
  • Menstrual dysfunction
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Metabolism dysfunction
  • Slow wound healing
  • Mental health issues, including depression and decreased mental acuity
  • Gut imbalances

Connecting the Dots

Long term goals:

  •  Meet energy demands
  •  Take in adequate protein
  •  Stay hydrated
  •  Maintain overall health
  •  Maintain weight and body composition
    •  Essentially, make sure you’re not in a deficit for long periods of time so that you can keep doing what you love for years!

Short term goals:

There isn’t any one size fits all plan when it comes to nutrition, but when looking for a plan, take into consideration your health, your history, your background, your eating arrangements (i.e. from a cafeteria, only can access a microwave, etc.), your travel schedule, and the specific bioenergetics of your sport.

Q/a

Intermittent Fasting:

  • For overall health, this can be good for longevity in terms of DNA and mitochondrial health.
  • For athletes, this is generally not recommended.
    • It narrows down window of consumption, minimizing your chance to get all of the nutrients you need.
    • It also limits when you can train as you won’t want to train on an empty stomach.
    • It can also easily trigger past disordered eating.
    • There is also not a ton of research showing that it helps with performance or recovery.

Complex carbs vs. simple carbs:

  • Typically, it is recommended to fuel with carbs within a 1-4 hour time frame before a race or competition.
    • A general rule of thumb is 1g of carbs per kg of body weight one hour before, 2g of carbs per kg of body weight two hours before, etc.
  • Data shows there is not much of a difference between consuming simple or complex carbs – it’s up to how your body processes those carbs so on an individual basis, consume whatever works best for you!

What to consume before early morning workouts:

  • This really depends on the activity – high intensity workouts would require eating more than low intensity workouts.
  • It is generally always recommended to consume some type of carb-rich snack before any workout.
    • Early in the morning, this could just be some toast, a granola bar, yogurt with fruit, an energy tube, etc.
  • An energy drink could also be beneficial to a morning workout if that is something you would like.

Coming back from a big injury, like an ACL tear:

  • When recovering from a big injury, it is important to get back to your basic diet by eating consistently and bumping up the calories you consume from protein.
  • Collagen is also really important because helps with collagen synthesis in the body, so it can help recovery with connective tissue injuries especially.
    • Collagen supplements should be taken only in addition to your consistent and wholesome diet, not in replacement of high-quality foods, however.
    • Try Gnarly Collagen Pro if you’re interested in adding a collagen supplement to your diet.

Post-exercise nutrition:

  • It is important to consume protein within a two-hour window after exercising, especially for women.
  • Consuming protein and replenishing your glycogen stores are crucial parts of post-exercise nutrition, as exercise has an insulin-like effect where you’re essentially priming your body to take in those nutrients.
  • A carb and protein rich snack is recommended to replenish carbs, support muscle growth and recovery, and prevent muscle soreness.
    • Good options would be yogurt with fruit on the bottom, a smoothie with banana, a protein shake (pea protein is great), or even just a PB&J or a turkey sandwich.

ABOUT the nutritionist

Caitlin Holmes

Caitlin is a functional sports nutritionist who specializes in climbing nutrition. She works with climbers to develop effective nutrition plans for long-term health and performance. She believes that nutrition is the missing puzzle piece for athletes that plays a major role in achieving goals, preventing injuries, and supporting the body to continue climbing for years to come!
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