Food is the fuel that keeps your body running in optimal condition, and can also promote good recovery after surgery or injury. It’s important to understand that surgery is hard on your body, and high-quality food is important to help you bounce back quickly. A high-quality post-surgery diet should be a priority in the days and months following your procedure.
Have you had surgery recently and are wondering what foods will speed recovery? Are you preparing for an upcoming surgery and want to stock your fridge with healing meals?
In this article, we’ve compiled the main evidence-based nutrients that will boost the healing process after surgery. If you fill your diet with these foods you can feel confident you are supporting your body during the healing and recovery process.
What Should I Eat After Surgery?
It is important to follow your physician’s instructions for your post-surgery diet. The type of surgery can play a big role in the foods you’re allowed to eat. If you had any sort of abdominal surgery, for example, the doctor may prescribe a liquid or clear liquid diet for the first several hours following surgery. They may also give you a specific plan for slowly introducing food back into your system.
You should also note that the anesthesia will likely slow down your digestion for many hours following your procedure. You should eat slowly after your surgery so as not to overwhelm your system.
That being said, once you are eating regularly again, there are several important nutrients to include to optimize healing and recovery.
1. High-Quality Protein
Protein is vital to your post-surgery diet for recovery and healing. Amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) will help to rebuild your tissues after surgery and will ensure timely healing.
A 2017 study on post-operative patients found that adequate protein intake in the first 3 days after surgery was associated with a shorter hospital stay; up to 4.4 days. This was achieved by patients who were able to consume greater than 60% of their recommended protein intake every day.
A systematic review in 2018 concluded that:
- Increasing protein intake in older adults can help to reduce lean body mass/function that may otherwise be lost due to extended sedentary time post-surgery
- Essential amino acids increase the body’s capacity to repair muscle tissue
- Optimizing nutritional intake BEFORE surgery is also important in helping the body to manage stress during surgery
- Protein supplements combined with exercise may help to enhance recovery after a procedure
Research also suggests that estimated protein requirements for wound patients are often too low, and special care should be given to ensure adequate protein intake for healing.
Best Sources of Protein After Surgery:
- Collagen protein
- Greek Yogurt
Try to include a source of protein in each of your daily meals. Avoid too many empty fillers in your meals that do not deliver high-quality nutrition.
Almost everyone experiences slower digestion in the first few days following surgery. This is due to the anesthesia and other meds administered during the procedure. Slow digestion is further aggravated by prolonged lying in bed or sitting during the recovery. Your physician may prescribe a stool softener to help move things along. The best thing you can do is to consume lots of dietary fiber, which naturally helps to move things along and promote healthy digestion.
The recommended daily amount of fiber for the average person is 25 grams per day. This may be slightly higher or lower depending on how many calories you normally consume. After surgery, you should aim to get at least 25 grams.
25 grams may not seem like a lot, but according to the FDA, most Americans do not get the recommended amount of daily fiber.
Best Sources of Fiber After Surgery:
- Beans and peas
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
Make sure your post-surgery diet includes plenty of fiber. Choose raw fruits and vegetables if possible.
Avoid refined grains, and aim to get at least ½ of your grain servings from whole grain sources. You can easily add beans and peas to recipes. With a little planning, you can easily get the recommended amount of daily fiber, and help to get your digestion moving and working effectively after surgery. Good digestion is key to absorbing the nutrients you need for healing and recovery.
Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals overwhelm the body and is a common side effect of surgery. Research has found that oxidative stress can make a negative impact in all forms of major surgery, and may slow down or halt the wound healing process. Antioxidants are important for preventing/recovering from oxidative stress because they neutralize free radicals.
Best Sources of Antioxidants After Surgery:
- Goji berries
- Dark chocolate
- Dark leafy greens
- Red beans
- Kidney beans
The great thing about most antioxidant-rich foods is that they are also a source of dietary fiber! Berries are an easy finger food to include in your diet and will provide you with many important vitamins and minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.
4. Vitamin A and C
All vitamins are important for optimum function, but vitamins A and C may have particularly strong benefits for your post-surgery diet.
A 2017 study on vitamin C found that it improved pain outcomes and functional status during the first 3 postoperative months. Vitamin C also helps reduce inflammation and oxidative damage post-surgery. It may also improve organ dysfunction in cardiac surgery patients.
Vitamin A is vital to proper wound healing, and a deficiency has been linked to repairing retardation. Vitamin A is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system (preventing infection), replacement of lost skin cells, and maintaining the integrity of bodily tissues.
Best Sources of Vitamin A and C After Surgery:
- Brussel sprouts
- Green and red peppers
- Dark leafy greens
- Cod liver oil
- Orange and yellow vegetables and fruits
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables will ensure an adequate intake of needed vitamins and minerals. Different colored produce contains different nutrients, so “eat the rainbow” by choosing produce with a wide range of colors.
Some form of blood loss is common during most surgeries, and a resulting complication can cause anemia. Anemia is when you don’t have enough functional red blood cells to carry oxygen to all the cells in your body.
To improve your red blood cell production, iron is essential. Boost your natural supply of iron by eating foods rich in this mineral.
Best Sources of Iron After Surgery:
- Dark chocolate
- Pumpkin seeds
- Navy beans
- Liver/organ meats
- Red meat
Including enough iron in your post-surgery diet will help to restore what was lost during the surgery process or in post-surgery bleeding. The recommended daily amount of iron varies depending on age, but for the average adult is about 18-20 grams.
Which Foods Should I Avoid After Surgery?
Along with knowing what foods to include in your post-surgery diet, it is important to consider which foods may be counterproductive to healing and recovery.
Low Nutrient Foods/Empty Calories
After surgery, you want to fill your belly with high-quality, nutrient-dense foods that will support all your bodily functions. These will ensure you have the best support for recovery and also a strong immune system, energy, good mental health, etc.
If you choose foods void of nutrients, you are going to be missing out on all this support. You will also be too full from the empty calories to fill up on nutrient-dense foods when they are available.
Some examples of foods low in nutrient-density include:
- Refined grains
- Fast foods
- Fried foods
Foods Causing Constipation
As discussed above, optimizing digestion is a high priority after surgery. For this reason, you should avoid or limit foods that are known to induce constipation.
- Fatty, fast foods
- Processed/refined grains
- Red meat
- Unripe bananas
- White rice
- Large quantities of dairy
- Frozen dinners
It is important to note that only white rice causes constipation. Other types of unrefined rice like brown or wild rice are high in fiber and will help digestion.
Why Collagen Protein Is Useful After Surgery
We mentioned how important it is to include protein for recovery in your post-surgery diet. While appetite may be low after surgery, there are some easy ways to get the recommended amount of high-quality protein that doesn’t include downing a pound of meat.
Liquid collagen protein is a great source of restorative protein that is designed to support muscle and tissue repair. Collagen is the most abundant type of protein in the human body and helps to provide strong structural tissues like tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones. While it is difficult to find in regular animal products, it is abundant in the connective tissues of animals and can be consumed in bone broth or hydrolyzed collagen supplements.
Surgery is hard on your body. Providing your cells with high-quality food will ensure they have the fuel needed for optimal healing and recovery. If you are going to be down for a while after surgery, ask for help in preparing good meals or have lots of nutrient-dense foods readily available.
And keep your ProT within arm's reach. One of our customers did just that and found themselves back in the gym faster than they - or their doctor thought possible after surgery.
"...The doctors told me I would not be able to undertake anything physical for at least 4-6 months. After taking the product for just a few weeks I could feel and see a big improvement. The swelling was considerably reduced and the tissue was noticeably healthier looking. After 4 weeks I had my first check-up. The Doctor appeared somewhat confused and asked what prescriptions I was taking. I showed him a packet of Prot Gold I had in my pocket and explained to him I did not take anything the hospital prescribed to me. He appeared very surprised at how quickly I was healing and told me that it was not normal for someone my age to heal so fast. He was also very surprised to hear that I was already running and working out at the gym. On leaving the hospital the Doctor asked me If he could take a picture of the packet so he can share it with others. At 6 weeks, I was running and working out with no limitations."
Our ProT Gold Liquid Protein, contains all the essential amino acids to support post-surgery recovery and is safe for diabetics, dialysis patients, and persons with allergies. It's a safe addition to your post-surgery diet and may help you get back on your feet faster than you ever thought possible.
Of course, if you have specific questions, you can always reach out to our team or ask your physician before altering your diet.