The Top 5 Supplements for Sports Injury Recovery
“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” – Lao Tzu
Sports injuries can be one of the most heart-breaking, traumatic and frustrating things that an athlete can experience. I had worked with athletes for years before experiencing one of my own. But it was through enduring a sports injury myself that I not only had the opportunity to develop empathy for my clients but was also able to achieve the healthiest nutritional state that I had ever experienced. Reaching your optimum nutrition can make a tremendous difference on how well (and how quickly) an athlete can recover from a sports-related injury. Read my story below to understand HOW!!
I often tell others that I hit the “jack pot” when it comes to my career. Working with athletes in a sports training facility is a job I would hear other nutrition students yearning for during the years of my undergraduate degree. Full transparency here – I never thought I would become a sports dietitian. In fact, I distinctly remember telling my classmates that the only way I would become a sports dietitian would be if I were to somehow end up working for the Denver Nuggets. Well, I was wrong.
Now, it was no surprise that I ended up in this field. Afterall, I am a little bit of a thrill seeker when it comes to physical activity. The Colorado mountains are my JAM, and the more a route gets my adrenaline pumping…the better. While I consider the Manitou Incline my primary training location for the mountains that I climb in season, the boulder field at Blodgett Peak is most certainly once of my top favorite training locations for stability and endurance. This 0.8 mile stretch below has 300 feet of elevation gain and consists completely of instable boulders. I have seen loose and teetering rocks here range from the size of a baseball to the size of a car. Needless to say, as someone who has climbed class 3 and 4 routes, this terrain is one of the most unpredictable trails I have ever climbed.
Monday, June 10th at around 7:45 pm. I had just arrived back into town from work and felt the unsatiating urge to go climb this mountain. Determined to reach the boulder field before sunset, I parked at the trailhead and forged uphill until I reached what I knew to be the turnaround point.
Climbing down a mountain is a completely different challenge from going up – I often call it more of a mental workout. Falling requires careful planning in a matter of a quarter of a second. If you fall, which I inevitably did that evening, everything must go as planned…which it didn’t.
A Grade II-III MCL strain with a possible hairline fracture and patellar contusion was what my PT and ortho doc diagnosed me with…I was devastated. In fact, I have told people that besides family and friend tragedies, this experience was one of the most heart-breaking occurrences of my life. Just weeks before the start of the climbing season, with only a few handfuls of the Colorado 14ers left to finish, I was forced to remain immobile while my climbing companions explored the mouth-watering wilderness.
Now, instead of continuing to wallow in the countless opportunities I missed out on this past summer, allow me to redirect – there was nothing I could do to take back what happened in the boulder field that day, but I knew in the base of my gut that there was something that I could do to make a difference in my outcomes and minimize the time that it would take to heal from this injury…I just needed to give my body ALL of the tools that it needed to do so!
A mistake that many athletes make right after they are injured is attempting to dive into recovery too deep too quick. When we are injured, our bodies undergo an incredible reaction to the physical trauma known as the “acute phase response”. The acute phase response lasts approximately 2-14 days and is responsible for mobilizing our immune system, which is the system that allows us to heal from an injury via white blood cells, growth factors and other repair signaling mechanisms.
Interestingly, in order for these mechanisms to receive the signal that injury has occurred, we must have inflammation present. If an athlete tries to aggressively control the inflammation during this acute phase response using potent nutritional supplements, the healing response can actually become impaired and the athlete may not recover optimally from their injury during this critical healing time.
This does not mean, however, that there is nothing that an athlete can do to help optimize their outcomes during this time. Removing compounds which cause excess inflammation can allow the immune system to direct its healing mechanisms to the places where we need it to be most. Compounds that produce excess inflammation include added sugars, fried foods, vegetable oils and oils with low smoke points, alcohol, excessive caffeine and many others. In addition to removing all of these foods, I highly recommend adding in foods such as the ones shown above – lots of colorful and diverse vegetables to ensure that nutrients such as vitamin K, vitamin C and magnesium are entering your system and replenishing your stores that you rapidly deplete in the recovery process.
Okay, now that we have discussed the foundation of a successful nutritional regimen for recovery we can dive into the good stuff! Which supplements are optimal for injury recovery? Would you believe me if I told you this picture only depicts about HALF of the supplements I was using for my injury?! I essentially became my own in-home laboratory throughout the course of this experiment. Whatever I read about any nutrient that could possibly help me, I was on it. And as I added to my list, I gained a clearer understanding of the metaphor “adding pieces to the puzzle”.
To continue with this metaphor, it was not to say that there weren’t “bigger pieces to the puzzle” than others. For longevity sake, down below I have listed my top 5 supplements for sports injury recovery:
Top 5 supplements for Sports Injury Recovery
1. High Quality Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Once the acute phase response has subsided, now is the time to implement some POTENT anti-inflammatory interventions! We want to control the inflammation that can impair blood flow because inside that blood are all of the vital nutrients that are going to allow that injury to heal! What defines a high quality omega 3 supplement are a few things:
- You want to find an omega 3 that is easily absorbable. This usually means in liquid form. More about absorbability in the next supplement!
- You want an omega 3 dose that is significant. Personally, I recommend anywhere from 4-7 GRAMS of omega 3s per day for 1-3 weeks depending on the injury. If you are unsure of when an how long to employ this kind of intervention for your individual circumstance, it is important that you reach out to a qualified health care professional and discuss this with them!
Man, this supplement was one of the things that made a tremendous impact on my recovery…and I felt it! If you have been injured and underwent recovery with a healthcare professional such as an orthopedic surgeon or physical therapist, you may have heard them say that protein plays a vital role in your recovery. Well, they are absolutely right!
The problem is, when we experience a traumatic injury, our bodies react in many ways to this stressful situation. One of the most important places that it reacts is in our GUT! Research shows that independent of cause or location, inflammation has clear effects on gastrointestinal structure and function. When the body is stressed, nutrient (including protein) absorption is significantly impaired. If we can’t get one of the most vital nutrients for recovery into our system to repair our injuries, we end up malabsorbing the building blocks that we need to put the pieces back in to place!
Wobenzyme is wonderful for this reason: it consists of high amounts of proteolytic enzymes. Proteolytic enzymes are found in fruits including pineapple and papaya. These enzymes have been traditionally used to tenderize meats for cooking because they break down the complex structures of protein (and also make a delicious marinade). And when someone who has a compromised gut consumes a wobenzyme prior to eating protein, this can absorb this healing nutrient more effectively!
3. Move Matrix Joint Hydrator
With the significant body of evidence around hyaluronic acid, glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health, this combination supplement has too many good things to say no to. I think what sold me on this product was the type II collagen protein. There are many different types of collagen but type II is specifically beneficial for joint health.
While I am a huge advocate for this product, I will say that the dosage of hyaluronic acid, glucosamine and chondroitin are not optimal for significant joint repair as evidenced by the current literature – actually it contains about half of what I would recommend in dosage for each of these compounds. The serving size for Move Matrix is 5 capsules per day, so for the first week or so I took 5 capsules in the morning and 5 in the evening (double the daily dose) and then maintained with the standard serving of 5 capsules per day.
4. Tumeric (Curcumin)
Oh my goodness what a great compound! A compound found in turmeric root know as curcumin has recently been boasted as a potent natural anti-inflammatory, which is why it has been extracted and made into capsules, tinctures and creams. My new favorite turmeric brand is HerbPharm, which can now be found at Sprouts! This alcohol-based, steam distilled tincture packs more than 600 mg of curcuminoids per serving! Research I have read indicates that significant anti-inflammatory effects can be seen with turmeric in as little as 400 mg per day. So this is a great product with the right amount of healing punch!
With this all being said, I do want to note that curcuminoids tend to be metabolized rapidly by the liver, so there are compounds out there that can increase the buildup and create a more potent anti-inflammatory effect. Please reach out to me via email or phone if you would like to know more about how to biohack this mechanism!
5. High Quality Probiotic
Finally, lets circle back to the gut. Because after all, about 70% of our immune system resides in the gut! If the gut is impaired from injury, we have to make sure our microbiome consists of the best bacterial composition possible. There are many different probiotic products out there, and I am firm-believer in an individualized approach for our microbiome because the composition from one gut to the next differs as much as we do by our fingerprints. While I will not make a particular brand recommendation, here are a few important things to look for in a high quality probiotic:
- You want a probiotic that has a wide diversity in different cultures. Look for at least 10-12 different species per capsule!
- You want a probiotic that has a high concentration of bugs. Ideally, at least 40 billion colony forming units (or CFUs) per serving. I have seen products that contain over 130 species per capsule and contain only 5 different species and 20 billion CFUs with 14 different species. Realistically, you get what you pay for with these supplements so trying to find the “best bargain” on a probiotic may not deliver the results you are looking for with your gut health!
- (UPDATE 4/15/2020) Based on the most current research that I have read, I am adding to this list that I highly recommend finding a “spore-based” probiotic. Spore-based probiotics have been shown to survive both the transit time of shipping and storage as well as the acidity of the stomach.
Different bacteria means different effects, so talk with your healthcare professional to find which product is best for you!
Wednesday, July 24th 3:30 pm – 6 weeks post-incident. With a little muscle activation therapy under my belt, I was able to slowly and humbly walk up the Manitou Incline with minimal pain and maximal gratitude for the process. I distinctly remember my PT saying “I can’t believe how well you are recovering from this.” and I fully attribute it to the incredible help I had in my PT clinic, as well as the factors that I could control in my diet, my supplements, and my patience to stay off my feat as I whole-heartedly trusted this process.
I hope you have found this information informative and helpful in your pursuits to heal from your injury. Remember, this information does not replace the quality advice you will obtain from a licensed or registered health care professional, so please consult them before consuming any of these products. They see the big picture of you and can discuss any potential reactions you may have to any of these supplements.