Recovering from an injury takes time and patience (lots and lots of patience), along with probably reworking your gym routine and diet plan. But the good news is you can come back strong with a little rest, recovery, and the right kind of foods that can help speed the process along and make sure you don't gain weight during downtime.
It's totally normal to have a little anxiety about gaining weight or losing strength and stamina when you're less active, but you're likely burning more calories than you think. And don't even think about drastically cutting down on calories. That could backfire in two ways: by sending your body into "starvation" mode, which will make hang on to every bite you eat, and also by impairing your healing process.
That being said, recovery is a good time to minimize empty calories from added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol. Prioritize nutrient-rich foods that give your body the fuel it needs to get back in action. So here are some foods you'll want to put on your plate to help you heal fast!
Protein provides the amino acids that your body uses to repair itself. The amount of protein you'll need varies depending on your age, sex, height, weight, activity level, and whether you have any underlying medical issues. Athletes tend to require more protein than non-active or moderately active people. A smart strategy during recovery would be to spread out your protein intake throughout the day with 20 to 30 grams in each meal and about 10 to 15 grams in each snack.
You can find protein in meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, but don't overlook vegetarian options like beans, peas, lentils, or other plant-based sources like tofu, tempeh, seitan, seeds, nuts, or nutritional yeast. You can also get protein from dairy products like cheese and yogurt, especially the strained Greek and Icelandic varieties, which have almost double the amount of protein compared to regular yogurt. Lastly, protein powders are also helpful if you need a boost. Whey and pea proteins have a nice texture and taste, but you'll also find powders made from egg whites, brown rice, hemp seeds, and more. Just steer clear of sugar-sweetened options.
Calcium is key for muscle and nerve function, cell signaling, and bone health, so it's especially important for healing bone injuries. Aim for 1000 to 1200 milligrams per day from foods such as yogurt and cheese—milk products are the best-known sources of calcium. Or if you're lactose-intolerant or on a dairy-free diet, try tofu, salmon, dark, leafy greens, almonds, and white beans. (There are lots of dairy-free sources of calcium and vitamin D.) Calcium-fortified products like nondairy milk and grain products are also available. You may want to take a calcium supplement to fill in the gaps, but consult your doctor first.
Vitamin D and calcium go hand in hand because the "sunshine" vitamin actually aids in the absorption of calcium. The U.S. dietary guidelines recommend 600 IU per day of vitamin D, but you may want to up it to 1000 or even 2000 IU while you're healing. You can find vitamin D in fatty fish like salmon and sardines as well as in eggs, mushrooms, and fortified products like nondairy milk and grain products. (Get even more vitamin D with these healthy foods to add to your diet.) Though it's true that sun exposure can help your body synthesize vitamin D, excessive sun exposure is not worth the skin-cancer risk. Consider a supplement to help you cover your bases, and as always consult your doctor.
Being less mobile can slow down digestion, leading to constipation and bloating. But adequate fiber will alleviate this. Great sources of fiber include vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and seeds. (Plus, have you heard about pulses? Try these fiber-rich pulses.) Another bonus: Prioritizing high-fiber foods can help you feel satisfied and keep overall calorie intake in check. For example, popcorn has 4 grams of fiber per 100-calorie serving, so popcorn will fill you up more than any hundred-calorie pack of cookies, which would only have about 1 gram per serving.
While you're recovering, aim for 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day, and drink plenty of water to keep everything moving through your system. Spreading your fiber intake throughout the day makes that number less intimidating, but you'd be surprised what a little sprinkle of chia seeds or ground flaxseed can do for your fiber count—start added them to everything (try these healthy desserts made with chia seeds). Probiotic supplements can also help, as pain meds or antibiotics could mess with your regularity while you're less active.
Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory herb (perfect for when you need swelling to go down) that's been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of ailments, from arthritis to cancer to stomach problems and more. Its bright orange color lends a pop to grain dishes, omelets, soups, and smoothies. (Here's everything you need to know about curcumin and turmeric.) You can also boil a teaspoon of turmeric in water to make into a tea with ginger (another powerful anti-inflammatory herb) and black pepper.
Studies have also shown that compounds in tart cherry juice, which has anti-inflammatory properties, could be helpful during recovery. (Jump on that bandwagon with these healthy cherry recipes for summer.) Beet juice has also been studied for its potential role in aiding recovery by enhancing oxygen delivery to muscles. While it likely won't cause any harm to put these foods on the menu, check in with your doctor about using concentrated supplements.