Fuel Your Recovery

Pulls and Tears, Fractures and Breaks …


At one time or another, most people experience some type of physical injury. It may be a minor annoyance that only lasts a few days to something that takes months to recover from. When injury limits your ability to work and exercise, you might find yourself wondering what’s going to happen to your weight.


It is fairly easy to put on a few pounds following an injury that limits or even prevents you from exercise. Remember, calories in … calories out = changes in weight. If you’re not exercising (less calories out), and eat the same total calories and types of food, you’re likely to gain weight.
The trick is to balance getting enough nutrients and calories to fuel your recovery while not over-eating and packing on extra pounds. To the same extent, you don’t want to swing the opposite direction – so fearful of weight gain that you overly restrict your food intake and impair healing by not getting enough healthy nutrients.


So how many calories should you eat during this time?

It may be more than you think.  About two-thirds of our energy needs are just for our resting or basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is not affected by exercise.  To determine your BMR, check out our link in the January posting Body Fuel.

But it is not enough to just cover basic energy needs.  The stress of injury or surgery actually increases your energy needs.  The exact amount will depend on the type and severity of the injury, but a general guideline is to add 20% more calories on top of basic energy needs (Note: for major surgery and serious trauma, energy needs can be much higher). Here’s an example:

 Basal energy needs of 1800 calories per day + 20% (360 calories) = 2160 calories per day.

 It’s a really good idea to track your calorie intake during recovery.  Think of it as a way to speed healing and recover more quickly!  A great free app and website you may want to check out is MyFitnessPal.


Foods that can Speed Injury Recovery

The next question is how to “spend” the calories you consume during recovery.  Injuries often reduce the amount of physical exertion you can engage in and if you already exercise just a limited amount, your carbohydrate needs are not as high as before injury, while protein needs increase for healing. Protein is used to repair tissue in the body.

Focus on getting enough protein first.  A good guideline is to shoot to obtain 20-25% of your total calories from protein.  Since protein contains about 4 calories per gram, here’s how this might translate using the previous example:

20% of 2160 calories = 430 calories / day of protein

430 calories / 4 calories per grams = 108 grams protein per day


The remainder of your calories will be divided between healthy fats and carbohydrates.

For carbohydrates, focus on high quality, nutrient-dense carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and 100% whole grains.  Limit less healthy carbs like sweetened drinks, enriched or processed grains like white rice, crackers, noodles, pastries, and desserts. For healthy fats, focus on fish and plant sources of fat like avocado, olives, nuts, and seeds.  Making the right food choices will not only provide the essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for healing, but provide a sense of fullness without overeating.


Foods for Healing Limit These Foods
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables: at least 5 cups/day
  • Small portions healthy carbs: brown or wild rice, quinoa, whole oats, sweet potato, beans, lentils
  • High protein food at each meal: lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk/yogurt/cheese, legumes
  • Avocado, olives, olive oil, or flax seed daily
  • Nuts and seeds at least once daily.  Consider peanuts, sesame seeds or, walnuts
  • Fish: salmon, mackerel, trout, tuna, sardines (2-3 x/week), shellfish
  • Garlic: 2-4 cloves per day
  • Herbs and Spices: such as chili pepper, ginger, turmeric
  • Sweetened drinks and fruit juices
  • Foods high in added sugar
  • Foods made from “enriched” or refined flours, white rice
  • Highly processed foods
  • Animal fats (high fat red meats, ice cream, sour cream, poultry skin)
  • Trans fat (fried and processed foods)
  • Nitrites (cured meats)
  • Alcohol

For more detailed information, click here.



An ounce of prevention…

Accidents happen, but many injuries are Preventable.  Getting enough sleep, staying physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the number and severity of injuries. An IACP Center for Officer Safety and Wellness found that:

  • Officers who engage in physical activity were less likely to have an OSHA-reportable injury, meaning their injuries are less severe than those who don’t have a regular fitness routine.
  • Officers who are overweight have more severe injuries and miss more work days.
  • Officers at a healthy weight miss half as many work days after an injury than those who are overweight.

So to prevent injury, stay physically active and maintain a healthy weight!



Stay physically active and maintain a healthy weight!

Please contact Department Dietitian Rana Parker (213-252-3090) if you have any questions.