Eating for Recovery - Thrive Now Physiotherapy

Eating for Recovery

I have been asked numerous times to give advice on how one should eat for recovery from either an injury or following orthopedic surgery. Physiotherapists are by no means dieticians or nutritionists, but I have a personal and professional interest in nutrition and have researched this topic heavily. Whether you are going in for a knee or hip replacement or are a young athlete who recently sustained a sports injury, nutrition is a crucial part of the rehabilitation process.

The connection between physical rehabilitation and proper nutrition is often overlooked. Sports injuries and conditions like osteoarthritis can put the body into a “catabolic” state, meaning that the tissues are being broken down more than they are being than built up. Proper nutrition can help shift the body to an “anabolic” state, where tissue growth and repair dominates. After trauma occurs (e.g. surgery or injury), the body’s energy needs increase in order to support the healing process and put the body into that anabolic state. {You can read more about the stages of healing here }.

Following a sports injury or minor surgery the body’s basal metabolic rate (the energy needed to support the body while at rest) can increase by 15-20%. Therefore, a sedentary or non-active person may require more calories than their typical diet, but an athlete who is no longer training every day may only require 20% more calories than he would consume if he were not doing any, or minimal, physical activity (not 20% more than while training daily). You can get a rough estimate of your BMR here (, keeping in mind that it is affected by many factors.

BMR basal metabolic rate formula in a notepad.BMR basal metabolic rate formula in a notepad.BMR basal metabolic rate formula in a notepad.BMR basal metabolic rate formula in a notepad.

Next to water, protein is the second most abundant molecule in the human body. Cells are made of proteins, so it seems logical that the body will need to consume more protein in order to heal well. Dietary guidelines suggest that the average adult should consume approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, but that number increases to 1.5-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day during injury or post-surgical recovery. Therefore, a 150 lb person’s daily requirement would jump from 55 grams of protein to 102-136 grams of protein during recovery. To provide some perspective, a 4 oz chicken breast contains approximately 36 grams of protein. There are also several amino acids, or building blocks of proteins, that help speed up the healing process. These include arginine and glutamine, which can be found at health and supplement stores.

Fat has been demonized by the diet industry, but it is absolutely crucial for general health and recovery. Eating the right type of fat is much more important than eating a low fat diet. It is best to consume more unsaturated (liquid at room temperature) than saturated (solid at room temperature) fat, although both are necessary for good health. Of the unsaturated fats, omega-3s tend to be anti-inflammatory and omega-6s tend to be pro-inflammatory. In fact, foods high in omega-3s (fish, fish oil, nuts, seeds, olive oil, etc.) create some of the same effects as ibuprofen in the body. Examples of foods that contain high levels of omega-6 fats include mayonnaise and oils like safflower, sunflower, canola, soy and grapeseed. During recovery one should aim to eat at least equal, if not more omega-3 than omega-6 fats.

Although there aren’t any specific carbohydrate recommendations for the recovery process, it is important to limit processed and refined carbohydrates (e.g. white flour, cookies, cakes, candy). Refined carbohydrates and sugars increase the total inflammation in the body in a way similar to omega-6 fats.

This is a very simplified overview of what to eat and what to avoid for optimal recovery from sports injury or minor surgery, but it is also a good place to start. Stay tuned for my next post on some of the best nutrients and foods that help to fight pain and inflammation.

Written By:


Sarah Klassen

Registered Physiotherapist

Want to learn more about how Sarah can help you? Then click here

Please Share ...
Book Online Now!

Please Select your Clinic...

Cobble Hill