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  • Writer's pictureJon Duellman PT

Top 3 Nutrition Keys for Rehab Success

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

When we are injured, we are tired, in pain, having difficulty doing the things we love. It can be a frustrating time. We want to get back to normal and not have to wait. At least for my own injuries, my first thought is not to eat a healthy meal or cut the junk food. Our culture and sense of preservation tells us to rest, avoid the pain, and make ourselves feel better. Unfortunately, if we seek poor food choices, they could be less than ideal to our recovery.

Today, I wanted to share nutrition tips for patients and anyone else out there to optimize their recovery.

#1 Protein Needs

My go-to recommendation for my patients in therapy is to focus on improving their protein in their diet focusing on achieving at the very least 0.8 g/kg body weight. However, I typically recommend patients to aim for 1.5 g/kg body weight of protein intake daily especially if prescribing exercise and resistance training as part of their program.

Why 1.5 g/kg?

The recommended value of daily protein for people participating in resistance training or running/cycling is between 1.2 to 1.7 g/kg (American College of Sports Medicine). For individuals with injuries that involve tissue healing (sprains, tears, bone injuries, etc.), protein is being used to replace and remodel to return physical strength of the tissue. This means the combination of healing and exercise require an increase in protein intake.

#2 Quit the Junk Food

Added sugar and candy are not good for us most of the time. Why would it be different for injuries?

I'll admit it. When I have had extra stress, I'll get urges to go back to past habits of pizza and beer to ease my sorrows. Pain and injuries are no different; they're just another stressor in our lives. While a small increase in calories may not hurt during the recovery process, this is not the way to achieve that goal. We are better off with supplementing with fruits or veggies on this end. Foods that provide us more than just calories are often the best answer.

#3 Calorie Needs Increase

As I mentioned earlier, injuries and recovery from activity need more fuel. Just like running an extra mile burns more calories. We need to refuel our body for what recovery entails. Our body, which was in a a normal state, now has to spend extra energy on rebuilding the injured tissue.

While many are looking to lose weight, if you aren't careful, you may work against and slow your natural healing process. At the very least, do not take out the protein that is essential to the healing process.

EXTRA TIP: Immobilization and Atrophy

If you had an injury that required extensive rest, a cast, a walking boot, brace, or otherwise couldn't use significantly, you are at greater risk of atrophy with emphasis on loss of muscle mass and strength. Luckily for us, if we can increase our protein, we can decrease the muscle loss while we are unable to move. Dr. Kevin Tipton, a PhD in exercise science, provides a good summary of recommendations for exercise-induced injuries. In his review, he discusses that 2.0-2.5 g/kg has a preventative effect on the muscle atrophy from lack of activity. This is an aggressive increase in protein which may not be right for everyone. Consulting a dietitian is best to determine if this will be the right choice for you.


Overall, the best recommendation as far as nutrition is to eat a well-balanced diet with primarily whole foods with limited processed foods. If you are in physical therapy, it is best to consider increasing protein intake, decreasing junk food, and making sure calorie intake is sufficient for healing. If all else fails, a registered dietitian can help you optimize your diet during any point in your life.




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