Exercise-induced muscle injuries are common in all athletes; from recreational to high-performance. Taking care of your nutrition will help your body take care of itself; potentially with faster recovery.
DO’S AND DON’TS
DO: KEEP A WELL-BALANCED DIET – To avoid deficiencies; be they macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, fat) or micronutrients (e.g. iron, vitamin D). This might sound simple and repetitive, yet it is the foundation on which your dietary quality and chances of recovery lies.
Iron is the most commonly reported deficiency – read more in the previous article. Calcium and vitamin D are vital for skeletal development. Calcium is important for bone growth, and vitamin D helps calcium absorption.
Don’t forget macronutrients - carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Getting sufficient, high-quality amounts of everything will help you recover again, and again. This includes your ‘five-a-day’ (why not aim for more!?), various lean protein sources, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. I could go on forever!
DON’T: RESTRICT YOURSELF – Severe energy restriction slows wound-healing and worsens muscle loss. Maintaining energy balance (i.e., availability) is critical. If you find this difficult - whether you are bed-ridden, have no appetite, or need extra calories to account for tough training - you may feel that carbohydrate and/or protein drinks and fluids come in handy.
Inadequate energy intake can delay growth and maturation, and, for females, cause amenorrhea and decreased bone density (associated with a higher risk of bone fractures!). All this should be done with your energy availability in mind.
Remember: Energy Availability = Energy Intake – Energy Expenditure.
If you’re injured or unwell, and not training or exercising, your energy expenditure will likely be lower and thus your energy intake should match it. This does not mean the quality of your diet should suffer!
DO: EAT ENOUGH PROTEIN –As well as promoting muscle protein synthesis and maximising the training response, protein is vital for adolescents as more is needed to account for growth and development.
Inadequate intake impairs your ability to heal wounds and increases inflammation. Conversely, eating enough protein improves wound-healing and reduces inflammation. Higher intakes (2-2.5 g/kg/body mass) may be beneficial, not forgetting regular intake e.g. 20-40 g every 3-4 hours in adults (Tipton, 2015). Leucine, an amino acid found in lots of animal meats, may be beneficial for this. Try to plan your meals accordingly, with a good source of protein on your plate; always.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, aim for adequate protein from various sources. Seek qualified help if you find this tricky. As there are no adolescent-specific protein guidelines, the best advice would be to follow adult guidelines (as summarised in a previous article).
DON’T: FORGET TO DRINK – Compared to adults, children and adolescents have been shown to have a higher cost of locomotion (they use more energy for movement) and less efficient thermoregulation (Meyer, O’Connor, and Shirreffs, 2007).
This means your body finds it harder to maintain homeostasis and keep a good balance of all the bodily processes that come with stress e.g. heat stress and maintaining body temperature. Familiarise yourself with the hydration guidelines and follow them, even though - again - they focus on adults. When necessary, start exercise euhydrated (sufficiently hydrated), monitor and maintain hydration status throughout, and replace the water and electrolytes (such as sodium – more commonly known as salt), lost through sweat and urine, post-exercise. If possible, weigh yourself before and after exercise to see how much body mass you have lost, partly through dehydration, and drink to suit!
If exercising for over an hour, consider adding a source of carbohydrate and sodium as part of your hydration strategy. This might be a sports drink, or a ‘DIY’ approach with some fruit juice and a pinch of salt, to taste. Minimise the risk of dental erosion and poor dental health by: drinking through a straw or squeeze bottle (Milesovic, 1997), rinsing your mouth with water after consumption, or even having sugar-free chewing gum (Sank, 1999).
As always, this is on an individual basis. Assess the need, assess the risk, and assess the consequences!
Milesovic, A. (1997). Sports drinks hazard to teeth. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 31, 28 – 30.
Sank, L. (1999). Dental nutrition. Nutrition Issues Abstracts, 19, 1–2.
Meyer, F., O'Connor, H., & Shirreffs, S M., (2007). Nutrition for the young athlete, Journal of Sports Sciences, 25:S1, S73-S82, DOI: 10.1080/02640410701607338
Tipton, K. (2015). Nutritional Support for Exercise-Induced Injuries. Sports Medicine, 45 (Supplement 1), 93-104.
Author - Liam Oliver, Performance Nutritionist Student at British Diving.