Last week, I ran a race that meant a lot on a personal level. It was a hometown race I grew up with, watching elites fly to the finish line. Now, I get to enjoy it with friends and family.
This year also represented a continued shift in mindset to honor my body throughout training. It was not a PR day for me, but rather a continued journey in the years after an injury, surgery, and several months off from running.
So, what’s an athlete to do when you’re out there, training and working hard when WHAM!!!! You find yourself with an injury? Do you keep pushing, trying to out work and outsmart your body’s defenses saying “hey, slow your roll!”?
OR do you reassess injury as opportunity for growth?
While healing from an injury, self-care is so important. Read our blog about self-care for athletes.
How to Deal With a Bone Stress Injury
Injuries suck, we get it. Especially ones that force you to take time off from a sport or activity you love.
It’s okay to honor the suck. Your emotions are valid! Frustration, sadness, and disappointment are all fair game, especially when the injury occurs when you’re in hot pursuit of a goal like a new distance, a PR time or a shiny new PR in the weight room.
Honoring the suck means giving yourself the grace, time, and space to feel the feels. Then, like Ted Lasso says, be a goldfish! Now, it’s time to have a short memory (goldfish have a 10 second memory) for the bummer things and instead step forward and take some ownership & action.
By doing so, you are empowering yourself to make the shifts that can quite simply change the game for injury recovery. While this advice is solid for just about any kind of injury out there, we want to talk to you in this month’s blog specifically about bone stress reactions/injuries.
While it’s always challenging and frustrating to be injured, framing your recovery with these core tenets will give you a focus and a purpose that will help you on the path to getting back out there.
The Nutrition Mindset you Need After Injury
By their very nature, injuries frequently cause a significant decrease in activity. You might feel the pull to “cut back” with nutrition when you’ve experienced an injury due to the decreased training load.
But, we highly advise against big changes. You need A LOT of nutrients to heal. Under-eating is a risk factor for stress fractures.
If you’re suffering from a bone stress injury such as a stress fracture or stress reaction, you may be under-eating to begin with.
Without adequate nutrition, not only are you predisposed to this type of injury in the first place, you can delay healing. In fact, counterintuitive to what you may think, you may have to INCREASE your food to heal.
READ THAT AGAIN! You may need to EAT MORE while training LESS in order to support your body’s physiological needs when it comes to bone stress injuries.
What Should an Athlete Eat During Injury Recovery?
You know we’re all about solid, basic nutrition principles around here! Regardless of the situation, sound nutrition practices will always have your back, but ESPECIALLY when you are injured, we recommend the following to optimize your recovery:
1. First and foremost, eat enough!! It will help promote bone stress injury recovery.
If this doesn’t make sense, re-read the nutrition mindset paragraphs above, friend.
Eating enough is a total power move when you’re looking to recover from injury. Being in an energy deficient state (aka eating too little calories) puts more stress on your body and will interfere with healing. This also ensures plenty of vitamins and minerals we will discuss below that help with bone health.
If you’re an athlete who struggles with meal planning and prepping, this blog is for you: Grocery Shopping For Athletes Made Easy
Pictured here are two interchangeable performance plates that are appropriate for injury or surgical recovery.
2. Make sure you are getting adequate carbohydrates on every plate!
Mentally, we know that the world would have you believe low carb is the best way to go when it comes to avoiding negative outcomes from downtime/decreased training.
The reality is carbohydrates are vital fuel for your brain and for recovery. They shouldn’t be shunned while injured.
We’re talking legit carbs, here, friends- fruits & veggies are not adequate sources of carbohydrates for your recovery plate.
Avoiding carbs is a form of all or nothing thinking that the internet and your friends will try and entice you towards when managing fears of recovery from injury. It’s a trap. Eat your carbs!
3. Eat foods high in vitamins and minerals during injury recovery.
In addition, foods that are high in calcium, magnesium, potassium, silicon, vitamin D, folic acid and vitamin B12 are important for recovery from bone stress injuries. Ensuring that you are consuming adequate amounts of these nutrients is an important component of a nutritional approach to bone injury recovery.
Calcium and vitamin D are important components of bone homeostasis, so it makes sense that these nutrients also play a critical role in post-traumatic bone turnover.
Calcium: You can get calcium from food sources such as dairy products, Chinese cabbage, kale, broccoli, and fortified fruit juices, drinks, tofu and cereals.
Vitamin D: It’s created in the body when you’re exposed to sunlight. However, safe amounts of sun exposure mean that you won’t be able to get as much vitamin D from the sun as you need. Dietary vitamin D comes in several forms, D2 and D3. But, most foods need to be fortified with vitamin D in order to be beneficial. You can get vitamin D from foods such as mushrooms, fish, cod liver oil, sardines, eggs and fortified cereals.
Magnesium: It contributes to the structure of bones and controls the absorption and metabolism of calcium in bones. It can be found in foods such as broccoli, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, Brazil nuts and almonds nuts.
Potassium: Potassium helps to neutralize acidity that can result in bone breakdown. It can be found in bananas, avocados, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, broccoli, sweet potatoes and beans.
Silicon: Silicon can be found in carrots, peppers, onions, almond nuts, cabbage, oranges and cucumber. It’s a trace mineral that both reduces the breakdown of bone and stimulates new bone formation.
B12 + Folic Acid: They both help to detoxify an amino acid from the bones that results in inflammation. You can find B12 in foods such as salmon, red meat, dairy products and fortified cereals. Folic acid can be found in spinach, broccoli, lentils, asparagus, beans and rice.
Remember, food always comes first. However, supplements can be helpful in some cases. Check out our blog to see if you should be taking a supplement as an athlete.
4. Rest is the key ingredient for recovering from a bone stress injury.
Ok, pals, here’s the hard part …
Optimal recovery from bone stress reactions/injuries such as a stress fracture has one KEY ingredient (aka the part of injury recovery that you’ll hate). What’s the secret to healing from this type of injury, you ask?
When you’re injured, it’s key to not try and solve your injury alone. Working with a QUALITY team of professionals that you trust, and actually honoring their professional recommendations is key to recovery.
If your trusted team of athletic trainers, PT’s, and orthopedic doctors’ recommendation is for you to rest, then REST!
Otherwise, you risk delaying the healing process and/or reinjury. You can also damage those trusting and professional relationships that you’ve built as an athlete with your team, whose only goal is for you to feel, heal and perform your best!
Sometimes rest means complete rest. Other times it means a different type of activity, such as swimming or band work.
So, the best thing you can do is to defer to your care team and maybe use this opportunity to mix in some new methods of moving your body that may help your recovery.
5. Work on your sleep game!
Sleep has some magical healing powers– aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night! While you sleep at night, your cells go to work and help with the healing process.
The science on sleep and bone healing from fracture is quite dense. The pared down version is that the bone remodeling cycle has been shown to be dependent on the circadian rhythm (the 24 hour cycle that regulates human sleep and wakefulness).
Interruptions to this cycle, such as not getting enough rest, cause disruptions in bone metabolism that can result in impaired healing.
Sleep is a time when cellular processes that are vital to healing your bone stress injury occur. Therefore, shorting yourself on sleep really equates to lengthening the time that you are injured.
6. Find the fun outside of sport!
Hell, do this even if you don’t have an injury. Defining yourself as “Sarah the runner” or “Joe the powerlifter” is a dangerous game, especially when you can’t engage in the sport you love (because this WILL happen at some point in life, or at many points!).
Find joy in more people, places and things that fill your cup. You are more than your sport and pigeonholing yourself into these narrow roles will limit your growth as a person.
By branching out into the things you love outside of sport, you’re giving yourself not only the gift of healing but the chance to find and express different facets of yourself.
Healing from a stress injury is multifaceted, and can involve many changes to your routine.
But, if you allow yourself a moment to grieve the injury, and then make some concentrated efforts towards healing through the methods listed above, you may find that on the other side of your injury is a healthier, stronger, more well rounded athlete.
Nutrition For Bone Stress Injuries: The Key Points
At BeFueled, we hope you’re feeling confident about fueling through your injury after reading our article. Here is a quick summary of our key points.
1. Make sure you’re eating enough to support recovery!
2. Add carbohydrates to every plate.
3. Look for foods high in vitamins and minerals.
5. Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
6. Find the fun outside of your sport!
If you’re an athlete who’s recently been injured and you’re feeling like a little nutrition support could be helpful, check out our services to see how we can help. We help athletes feel better about how to use food to support their bodies.