How athletes can change their diet when injured and why

Posted on December 15, 2020 by

Being an injured athlete is never fun. Time off can compromise your ability to either maintain or improve training adaptations, or simply inhibit your ability to participate in the sport you love.

When injured it makes sense to go and see the physio, but it’s also important to consider the impact your diet has on your injury and how it may assist your recovery and rehab to fast track your return to sport.

Here’s why it’s worth considering your nutrition if injured, and how to do it:


1. Minimise losses of muscle mass

Regular protein intake 4-6 times per day has been proven to assist in preserving muscle tissue. Maintaining muscle mass is beneficial to keep as much strength as possible so returning to training can be supported and there won’t be as much catching up to return to where you were.

Protein foods include animal products such as:

  • Chicken
  • Red meat
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products

Or plant based products such as:

  • Tofu/tempeh
  • Lentils
  • Legumes

A meal or snack including one of these sources should typically occur about every 3-4 hours with lower activity levels.


2. Maximise repair and regeneration of damaged tissue

Beyond your muscles, it’s important that your tendons, ligaments, or bones are adequately healed to prevent further damage, re-injury or new injuries.

In addition to maintaining muscle mass, the proteins listed above can also assist with the rebuilding of collagen. Foods high in vitamin C also support this process so consuming foods such as red capsicum, citrus, strawberries, broccoli, acai, guava, and brussel sprouts will help. Collagen is the main structural protein found in your body’s connective tissue.

A diet high in plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, spices and herbs can contribute many chemical compounds that naturally reduce inflammation to help with healing. Omega-3 fatty acids predominantly found in oily fish such as:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Rainbow trout
  • Bream
  • Sardines
  • Kingfish


3. Minimise physique changes that may impact performance

When you are injured, training volume or intensity may be changed, meaning there won’t be as much of a high energy demands as full training. As training is reduced the body should naturally adjust your hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin to drop your appetite. However, appetite can sometimes take time to adjust so eating the same way as you do in full training can lead to a positive energy balance which may not be desired.

Tailoring your total energy intake from your macronutrients proteins, carbohydrates and fats can support a stable weight and recovery.


Injuries come in all unique forms and can be acute or chronic due to overuse. They can also vary from soft tissue to nerve or bone. For this reason, individualised nutrition can have a also huge impact and dynamic nature throughout all stages of recovery. The collaboration between physio, athlete and dietitian is also crucial to support this process.

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