The last thing any athlete wants is to get injured. Despite sometimes being an inevitable consequence of being an athlete, missing out on training or competition is never ideal. If you're training hard but your nutrition isn't where it should be, injury is unavoidable. Consider the following recommendations to help prevent injury:
Whole Foods and Antioxidants
Supplements and processed sports foods can be practical choices when it comes to busy schedules. However, a lot can be said for prioritizing whole foods in the diet.
Whole foods provide optimal amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to meet the body's needs, combat the stress of training and decrease injury risk. There is also the added benefit of a "synergistic effect" of whole foods that scientists in a lab and supplements just can't match.
Aim for whole food options, like fruits, vegetables, fish, lean proteins, legumes, dairy, and nuts and seeds as often as you can. Allow supplements and bars to fill gaps in your diet or provide nutrition during impractical fueling times.
Many whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds are rich in stress-reducing antioxidants. Training is great for competition but it is a source of stress on the body. To reduce your risk of injury, counteract this stress with sources of antioxidants at each meal and/or snack.
If you keep getting injured, you may want to take a look at your pre- and post-training fueling regimen. Carbohydrate intake before, during and/or after training can help optimize the recovery of energy stores, repair muscles and reduce injury risk.
Protein intake after training can also help recover energy stores and limit markers of muscle damage. The combination of both of these nutrients within 30-60 minutes of finishing a workout can decrease fatigue, reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness, limit muscle breakdown and optimize muscle recovery.
No time for a recovery meal? Look for a recovery snack with 3-4 times the amount of carbohydrates (in grams) to protein and at least 5-10 grams of protein. Chocolate milk, energy or protein bars, Greek yogurt and fruit, or trail mix mixed with dry cereal are just a few great options.
When it comes to injury prevention, overall calorie intake is just as important as the quality of your diet. Athletes can eat the healthiest options out there but if they aren't eating enough, they will be prone to injury.
Training and recovery, on top of daily living activities, require adequate intake on a consistent daily basis. A lack of energy (or calorie) intake to compensate for daily needs is termed "Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport" or RED-S, a condition that can occur in both men and women. This mismatch can be a result of intentional restriction for weight loss, disordered eating, high training loads, busy schedules, inadequate meal planning, lack of knowledge, food preferences or medically necessary dietary restrictions.
Inadequate calorie intake, also known as low energy availability, has been linked to poor bone mineral density and reduced neuromuscular function. This condition has been known to inhibit athletic performance and put athletes at higher risk of injury, fatigue and compromised immunity.
Unsure if you are meeting your energy needs? Meet with a Certified Sports Dietitian to determine your needs and come up with a fueling plan for optimal health and performance. The human body is very adaptive and if energy intakes aren't supporting needs, the body will make do in the moment, but performance and health will suffer in the long run.
Healthy fats help promote healthy hormone levels, decrease inflammation and promote muscle recovery, and can therefore help limit the risk of injury. Include a source of fat, like avocados, nuts, seeds, dairy, oils, fatty fish or nut butters, and non-lean protein options, with each meal.
Female athletes should consider about 30-35% of their calories from fat to support healthy hormone levels, and male athletes should aim for about 20-35% of their calories from fat. Omega-3 fatty acids, which come from sources like fatty fish and flaxseeds, are thought to be particularly helpful for avoiding injury. Aim for at least 6 ounces of fatty fish like tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring, etc. per week.
Several studies have pointed out a potential link between low vitamin D status and higher injury occurrence. Vitamin D's role in bone health is undeniable due to its effects on calcium homeostasis and bone metabolism. Whether there is a direct link between vitamin D levels and injury or not, it's safe to say that vitamin D has positive effects on the musculoskeletal system and overall bone health. Be sure to include sources of vitamin D, like milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, egg yolks, cheese and fatty fish, regularly in your diet.
- Better Nutrition Can Help With Injury Recovery
- Can Your Diet Prevent Sports Injuries?
- 3 Ways Your Diet Can Help Injuries Heal Faster