The Role of Nutrition in Athlete Recovery and Healing
Nutrition plays a pivotal role in the lives of athletes, especially when it comes to healing and recovery from injuries. In this informative article, we will delve into a conversation with *Dr. Nasira Cooley, a renowned expert in the field of nutrition, as she discusses how proper nutrition can significantly impact the healing process for young athletes. We'll also debunk some common myths and provide valuable insights into maintaining a well-balanced diet during recovery.
Welcome to Beyond the StEPS
Nutrition's Impact on Healing:
Dr. Cooley emphasizes that inadequate nutrition intake can hinder or delay the healing process for athletes. When the body doesn't receive the necessary calories, vitamins, minerals, and building blocks to repair damaged tissue, it can lead to prolonged recovery times. Additionally, insufficient calorie intake or a lack of essential fatty acids can exacerbate inflammation, which is common in both acute and chronic injuries. Inadequate nutrition essentially creates a perfect storm for prolonging injuries and interfering with the healing process.
Common Nutrition-Related Myths and Mistakes:
- Reducing Caloric Intake When Injured: One common myth is that athletes should eat less when they're injured and not actively training. Dr. Cooley debunks this by explaining that even when injured, athletes need a similar amount of calories compared to their training phase. While they may require proportionately fewer carbohydrates, they should still consume sufficient carbs, proteins, fats, and calories to support the healing and recovery process.
- Relying on Dietary Supplements: Some athletes believe that taking dietary supplements is essential for preventing or healing injuries. Dr. Cooley clarifies that, if an athlete's diet is well-balanced and meets their nutritional needs, supplements may not be necessary. Supplements should only be considered when there are specific deficiencies, and their usage should be guided by a healthcare professional.
Harmful Nutritional Elements:
Certain dietary elements can hinder the recovery process or even exacerbate injuries. Excessive consumption of sugar, alcohol, and caffeine can all negatively affect the healing process. Alcohol, for instance, reduces the absorption of crucial nutrients needed for recovery, while excessive caffeine intake can dehydrate the body, impacting overall healing.
Nutrition can also play a role in reducing inflammation, which is vital for the healing process. While there's no one-size-fits-all list of foods that increase or decrease inflammation, Dr. Cooley points out that the balance of certain fatty acids and their effect on chemical messengers in the body can influence inflammation. However, individual responses to specific foods can vary widely.
Plant-Based Protein Sources:
For athletes following plant-based diets, there are plenty of high-quality protein sources available. Dr. Cooley recommends soy-based products like tofu, edamame, and soy protein powder, along with other options like legumes, nuts, and seeds. These sources provide the necessary amino acids for muscle repair and growth.
Choosing Safe Supplements:
When it comes to dietary supplements, safety is paramount. Dr. Cooley advises choosing reputable brands with recognized safety certifications, like the USP safety seal or good manufacturing practices (GMP) stamp. Avoid excessive supplement use and be cautious when combining multiple supplements to prevent nutrient overdosing.
Hydration and Electrolytes:
Proper hydration is essential for athletes during both injury recovery and regular training. Dr. Cooley explains that athletes need anywhere from 8.5 to 14 cups of fluids daily, depending on age and body size. It's important to note that this fluid requirement includes all beverages and fluid-containing foods, not just plain water. Athletes should aim for a balanced intake of water, electrolyte-rich beverages, and hydrating foods.
Incorporating proper nutrition into the recovery process is crucial for young athletes. Dr. Nasira Cooley's insights shed light on the importance of calorie intake, debunking myths, and emphasizing the value of a well-balanced diet. By making informed choices, avoiding harmful nutritional elements, and staying hydrated, athletes can significantly enhance their healing and recovery, ensuring they return to peak performance as swiftly and healthily as possible.
*Nasira is a registered dietitian, fitness expert, and nutrition educator. She was drawn to public health and nutrition as a result of her diverse background in science, fine arts, and fitness. Nasira is currently an adjunct faculty member at Chapman University, a private practice registered dietitian, and post-doctoral researcher. She also serves as the Nutrition Educator for Chapman University Department of Dance and the ABT Gillespe School at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. She is a former classical ballet dancer and trained with Pacific Northwest Ballet and the University of Arizona School of Dance and attended summer intensives at the National Ballet of Canada and American Ballet Theater. Upon graduating Summa Cum Laude from the University of Arizona with a B.S. in Nutrition and a B.F.A. in dance, Nasira continued her studies in pursuit of a career as a nutrition professional and obtained a Masters in Public Health from UCLA and a Doctorate in Nutritional Sciences from Loma Linda University. Nasira has been a NASM certified personal trainer since 2008 and is a certified yoga instructor. Her experience in the fitness industry has deepened her knowledge of biomechanics and kinesiology, which has improved her dance technique and understanding of the role of nutrition in dance performance.
Watch the Full Beyond the StEPS Video Below!