Can the right diet reduce your injury recovery time?

Any professional sportsman will experience injury at some point in his career. It's an occupational hazard that's almost impossible to avoid and it forces every athlete to manage his or her body differently while on the sidelines.

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Over the past few seasons rugby has come under scrutiny for its elevated injury risk at the top level. High-profile injuries on the international stage during the latest World Cup were mostly blamed on unrelenting schedules for those representing their countries. Much has been made of the the seeming increase in size and speed of the modern rugby player, leading to collisions and forces previously unseen in the sport.

On average, a quarter of Premiership squads are out through injury and the number of players sustaining concussions has been increasing year on year. Having picked up several concussions in the past, I’ve found that managing your body properly during these periods on the sideline can make a big difference when returning to play.

One of the main difficulties for athletes suffering from concussion is the sudden and sometimes prolonged decrease in activity. Protocol stipulates that until you are asymptomatic for a certain period of time, you are not to physically exert yourself, which can quickly lead to deconditioning.

This places a large emphasis on diet with can help to control body composition and manage weight during inactivity. I have a tendency to lose weight when not training as my calorie intake decreases significantly, while for athletes with other body types, periods out of the game can result in amassing excess weight. Neither situation is conducive to a speedy recovery. Proper management of your diet and an informed nutritional plan can result in less of a drop-off in fitness levels that will have to be made up before returning to matches.

The more injuries you experience the more informed you become as to how your body reacts to a sudden change of programme and shifts in training. Drawing on this experience and the results to my DNAfit test I could make more precise changes to my usual diet in order to keep my body composition in check.

Given my high sensitivity to carbs, I chose to avoid the refined versions altogether and found vegetable replacements where possible. Because I wasn’t doing the volume of exercise I usually would, I relied on my fats and protein for energy. Cauliflower rice, courgette pasta and parsnip & carrot rostis are just few examples of how I substituted refined carbs for less starchy alternatives. They might be on-trend, but they’re not fads when used for good reason!

By increasing my protein intake – adding a further shake each day – along with small portions of complex carbs I managed to keep myself from losing too much weight and gave myself the best possible chance of getting back to my fighting weight as quickly as possible once I could train.

Keeping on top of my body composition when I couldn’t do much else saved me a lot of time during the rehab process. Once your injury has recovered, you don’t want to be out for longer making up the deficit in conditioning. Proper diet management during injury can shave days, even weeks off an injury and help you get back to your best in no time.

Sam Jones (@SF_Jones)

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