When it comes to sports and athletics, injuries are an unfortunate part of the game.
However, no one likes to be sidelined for longer than necessary.
Fortunately, certain foods and supplements may help reduce the amount of time your body needs to recover from a sports injury.
This article lists 14 foods and supplements you should consider adding to your diet to help recover from an injury more quickly.
1. Protein-Rich Foods
Protein is an important building block for many tissues in your body, including muscle.
After a sports injury, the injured body part is often immobilized. This generally leads to a decline in strength and muscle mass (1, 2, 3).
However, getting enough protein can help minimize this loss. Furthermore, a protein-rich diet may help prevent inflammation from getting too bad and slowing down your recovery (2, 4).
Moreover, slightly increasing your protein intake once you start training the injured body part again helps you rebuild any lost muscle (2, 4).
For all these reasons, make sure to include protein-rich foods like meat, fish, poultry, tofu, beans, peas, nuts or seeds in your daily menu.
How you distribute these foods throughout the day also seems to matter (5, 6).
Research shows that spreading your protein intake equally over four meals may stimulate muscle growth more than an uneven distribution (5).
Experts also suggest that eating a protein-rich snack before bed may help enhance your body’s muscle-building process while you sleep (1).
Bottom Line: Eating protein-rich foods at every meal and snack may help prevent muscle loss following an injury. Protein-rich foods may also help you regain muscle mass faster once you return to training.
2. Fiber-Rich Foods
Recovery from injury often involves immobilization or limited use of the injured body part.
To prevent this from resulting in unwanted body fat, it’s important to compensate by eating slightly less.
One way to reduce your calorie intake is to consume a diet rich in fiber. This, along with consuming the protein-rich foods mentioned above, will help you eat less without feeling hungry (7).
That’s because fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains help promote feelings of fullness after meals (8, 9, 10).
As an added bonus, fiber-rich foods tend to be high in several other nutrients essential for your recovery, including vitamin C, magnesium and zinc (2, 11).
However, note that restricting calories too severely can reduce wound healing and promote muscle loss, both of which negatively affect recovery (2, 12, 13).
Therefore, individuals who were attempting to lose body fat before the injury should consider postponing their weight loss efforts. Instead, focus on maintaining your body weight until recovery is complete.
Bottom Line: Consuming fiber-rich foods while recovering from an injury can be an effective strategy to limit the gain of unwanted body fat.
3. Fruits and Vegetables Rich in Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps your body make collagen, which helps maintain the integrity of your bones, muscles, skin and tendons (2, 14, 15).
Therefore, getting enough vitamin C from your diet is a great way to help your body rebuild tissue after an injury.
Moreover, vitamin C has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help speed up your recovery by preventing excessive levels of inflammation (2, 4).
Luckily, vitamin C is one of the easiest vitamins to get enough of through your diet.
Foods with the highest amounts of it include citrus fruits, red and yellow bell peppers, dark leafy greens, kiwi, broccoli, berries, tomatoes, mango and papaya.
However, it’s currently unclear whether supplements provide any benefits for those already getting enough vitamin C from their diet.
Nevertheless, the small number of people who can’t consume enough vitamin C-rich foods may want to consider taking supplements.
Bottom Line: Vitamin-C rich foods can help your body produce the collagen that’s required to rebuild tissue after an injury. It can also help prevent excessive inflammation from slowing down your recovery.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
After an injury, the first phase of wound healing always involves some inflammation. This inflammatory response is beneficial and needed for proper healing (2).
However, if this inflammation remains too high for too long, it may slow down your recovery (2).
One way to prevent excess inflammation from delaying your recovery is to eat enough omega-3 fats.
These fats, which are found in foods such as fish, algae, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds, are known to have anti-inflammatory properties (16).
You can also prevent excess or prolonged inflammation by limiting omega-6 fats, which are commonly found in corn, canola, cottonseed, soy and sunflower oils.
Consuming too many omega-6 fats is known to promote inflammation, especially if your intake of omega-3 fats is also low (17).
In addition, some studies report that omega-3 supplements may help increase the creation of muscle protein, reduce the loss of muscle during immobilization and promote recovery from concussions (18, 19, 20, 21).
That said, high intakes of omega-3 fats from supplements may reduce your body’s ability to regain muscle mass once you return to training. Therefore, it may be best to increase your omega-3 intake from foods rather than supplements (22).
Bottom Line: Foods rich in omega-3 fats may help speed up your recovery by limiting excessive or prolonged inflammation. Limiting your intake of omega-6 fats can also be helpful.
5. Zinc-Rich Foods
Zinc is a component of many enzymes and proteins, including those needed for wound healing, tissue repair and growth (23, 24).
In fact, studies show that not getting enough zinc from your diet can delay wound healing (23, 25).
Therefore, consuming zinc-rich foods such as meat, fish, shellfish, pulses, seeds, nuts and whole grains may help you recover more effectively from an injury.
Some people may be tempted to simply take zinc supplements to ensure they meet their recommendations.
But zinc competes with copper for absorption, so receiving high doses of zinc from supplements may increase the likelihood of copper deficiency (26).
Overall, if your zinc status is good, additional zinc from supplements probably won’t speed up wound healing. However, getting enough from your diet is important.
Bottom Line: Regularly consuming zinc-rich foods can help speed up wound healing and tissue repair and growth.
6. Vitamin D and Calcium-Rich Foods
Calcium is an important component of bones and teeth. It’s also involved in muscle contractions and nerve signaling (27).
That’s why it’s important to ensure you always get enough calcium — not just when you’re recovering from an injury.
Calcium-rich foods include dairy products, leafy greens, sardines, broccoli, okra, almonds, seaweed and calcium-fortified tofu and plant milks.
Vitamin D also serves an equally important function because it helps your body absorb the calcium found in the foods you eat. Together with calcium, it plays an instrumental role in recovering from a bone injury (28, 29).
Also, getting enough vitamin D may increase the chances of a good recovery after surgery. For instance, studies have found a good vitamin D status can enhance strength recovery following an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery (30, 31).
Few foods naturally contain vitamin D, but your body has the ability to make vitamin D from exposure to the sun.
Those living in northern climates or spending a limited amount of time outdoors may require supplements to get enough vitamin D (28).
Bottom Line: Eating enough calcium-rich foods is necessary for proper recovery from fractures. Getting enough vitamin D can also help.
Creatine is a substance naturally found in meat, poultry and fish.
It helps your body produce energy during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise. The human body can also produce about 1 gram of it per day (32).
Creatine has become a popular supplement commonly used to increase muscle mass and improve performance in various sports (33).
Interestingly, it may also help you recover from an injury.
One study reported that creatine supplements enhanced the gain of muscle mass and strength lost during a two-week immobilization period more than a placebo (34).
Another study found that individuals supplementing with creatine lost less muscle in their upper body during a week-long period of immobilization than those given a placebo. However, not all studies found these results (35, 36, 37).
Both of the studies showing positive results provided the creatine supplement in four doses of five grams each day.
It’s important to note that there is currently no consensus about creatine and sports injury recovery. That said, no studies to date have found any negative effects.
Bottom Line: Creatine may boost your recovery by reducing how much muscle you lose immediately after your injury. It may also help you regain muscle more quickly once you go back to training.
Glucosamine is a natural substance found in the fluid that surrounds your joints. It is involved in the creation of tendons, ligaments and cartilage.
Your body naturally produces glucosamine, but you can also increase your levels through supplements. Supplements are generally made either from shellfish shells or fermented corn.
Research in individuals with arthritis shows that glucosamine may be useful in decreasing joint pain (39, 40, 41).
Also, studies in healthy individuals show that supplementing with 1–3 grams of glucosamine per day may help reduce joint deterioration (42, 43, 44).
One recent animal study also showed that taking glucosamine daily after a fracture may speed up bone reformation (45).
Based on these findings, some people take glucosamine supplements to help reduce pain after joint and bone injuries or speed up recovery from fractures. However, more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.
It’s worth noting that glucosamine supplements may pose a risk to those who are allergic or sensitive to shellfish or iodine, pregnant women and those with diabetes, high cholesterol, asthma or high blood pressure (46).
Bottom Line: Glucosamine may help reduce pain and speed up recovery from fractures. However, more research is needed and some people shouldn’t take it.
9–14. Other Foods Beneficial for Bone Fractures
In addition to getting enough calcium and vitamin D, good intakes of the following nutrients can contribute to a speedier recovery from bone fractures (11):
Magnesium: Assures bone strength and firmness. Found in almonds, cashews, peanuts, potato skins, brown rice, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lentils and milk.
Silicon: Plays an important role in the early stages of bone formation. Best sources include whole grains and cereals, carrots and green beans.
Vitamins K1 and K2: Directs calcium toward bones and helps improve bone strength. Best sources include leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, prunes, sauerkraut, natto, miso, organ meats, egg yolks and dairy products from grass-fed cows.
Boron: Promotes bone health by increasing calcium and magnesium retention and enhancing vitamin D’s effect. Prunes are the best dietary source.
Inositol: Helps improve calcium absorption in bones. Found in cantaloupe, grapefruit, oranges and prunes.
Arginine: This amino acid is needed to produce nitric oxide, a compound necessary for fracture healing. The best sources include meat, dairy, poultry, seafood, nuts and oatmeal.
Those recovering from bone fractures should consume foods rich in these nutrients daily.
Bottom Line: The nutrients described above are necessary for the health of your bones. Therefore, making them a large part of your daily diet may help you recover from a fracture more quickly.
Take Home Message
When it comes to recovering from a sports injury, many elements come into play.
While not all of them are under your influence, one factor you can control is the nutrients you provide your body.
Therefore, regularly consuming the foods and supplements mentioned in this article is one way you can speed up your recovery.