The natural tendency when you’re injured is to cut back on calories. Train less, eat less, right? Not exactly. Food provides the building blocks your body needs to recover, so while you might need to cut overall consumption, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of the right stuff. “You need foods that are high in immune antioxidants, anti-inflammatory factors, and amino acids to help your body get stronger, rebuild collagen and muscle, and heal,” says dietitian Kelli Jennings of Golden, Colorado–based Apex Nutrition. “By feeding your body the nutrients it needs, you can recover faster.” Here are Jennings’s suggestions for kick-starting your recovery.
Packed with omega-3’s, this sustainable catch cuts inflammation from tendinitis and fractures and provides protein for regenerating muscle. A 175-pound athlete needs about 130 grams of protein daily for proper healing, and trout, with its low mercury count, is a good way to load up.
Dosage: Six ounces of trout three times per week.
This root vegetable is an important source of vitamin A, which helps boost the number of infection-fighting white blood cells in the body, especially important if you’re dealing with any sort of road rash or open cut. Sweet potatoes also have loads of vitamin C, which promotes healthy skin growth and aids in collagen production for healing the connective tissues so often strained by athletes.
Dosage: At least one serving every day; for variety, alternate with carrots and spinach.
In addition to being a great source of protein, yogurt provides lots of calcium and vitamin D, which has been shown to help mend bone and repair muscle faster. The healthy bacteria in yogurt also improve the absorption of other nutrients needed for a healthy immune response.
Dosage: Four to eight ounces every day.
Elk and Venison
Yep, game meats are full of protein, but they’re also high in heme iron, the easy-to-absorb kind found in animal products, and zinc. Extra iron is especially important for injury prevention—sports nutritionists often associate low iron levels with overuse injuries and fatigue. Zinc, meanwhile, boosts the immune system and helps heal wounds.
Dosage: Four ounces, or about one small steak, at least three to four times a week during recovery.
Soy protein helps protect and regenerate joints and reduces bone inflammation and arthritis. The beans are also a great source of the amino acid proline, a component of collagen that has been shown to build scar tissue and blood vessels. They also contain genistein, a powerful immune booster and anti-inflammatory.
Dosage: Half a cup every day as an afternoon or pre-dinner snack.