After Knee Surgery: The Role of Protein and other Foods in your Injury Recovery

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Eating clean is something we all strive to do. But once you experience an injury or undergo surgery, eating well isn’t just a good idea- it’s vital to fuel your recovery. 

Depending on the type of injury or surgery you’ve experienced, recovery may take several weeks or even months. But there are certain steps you can take to speed recovery as well as improve strength and energy through the process. One of the most important nutrients your body needs during healing is protein. But why is protein so important? Where should you get it from? In this article, we will discuss strategies to speed your recovery with high-quality protein and nutrient-dense food. 

What Is Knee Replacement Surgery?

Knee replacement surgery (also known as a total knee replacement, or knee arthroplasty) is a procedure where the surgeon resurfaces damaged bones that make up the knee joint. Resurfaced bones may include the knee cap, tibia, and femur. This is generally done for people with a severe knee injury or who have arthritis that has slowly damaged the knee joint.  

The goal of knee surgery is to relieve pain, improve mobility, and resurface areas that have been damaged or weakened by an injury or disease process. It is not a first-line treatment but comes after less invasive options have been exhausted or proven ineffective. 

How Long Does Knee Surgery Recovery Take?

The general recovery period for patients receiving a knee replacement is between 4-6 months. However, most people can care for themselves and resume their basic daily activities after 3-6 weeks. Your physician will give you specific instructions on how long your knee will need to be immobilized, and you will likely work with a skilled physical therapist to help restore movement, flexibility, and strength. 

What Is ACL Reconstruction?

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a ligament that connects your femur (thighbone) and your tibia (shinbone). It plays a big role in the strength and stability of your knee joint. Your ACL is susceptible to sports-related injury and tearing when it’s put under tremendous stress. Injury may occur when you:

  • Change direction suddenly while moving at a fast pace 
  • Pivot with your knee while the foot is firmly planted 
  • Jump and land with poor form
  • Stop suddenly while running
  • Receive a hit or direct blow to the knee

The only treatment for a full ACL tear is a reconstruction surgery. During surgery, the physician will remove the damaged ligament and replace it with a piece of tendon. The tendon will most often be a graft that comes from another part of your body. In the months following the surgery, the ligament will regrow along  the tendon graft.  

ACL Injury Recovery

Full recovery from an ACL reconstruction surgery takes about 9 months. It may be 8-12 months before an athletic individual can return to their sports with full function. 

How To Speed Up Injury Recovery 

When you’re recovering from an injury, you need to focus on strategies to reduce inflammation and fuel optimum repair. Your commitment to healing will make a big impact on the time it takes to regain full function.

Experts agree that the more serious your injury, the more important your diet becomes. If you have surgery, you are going to have higher nutritional needs than if you are recovering from sore muscles or shin splints. 

Get Enough Protein

Protein is crucial to rebuilding damaged muscles and other soft tissues, keeping the immune system functioning optimally, reducing hunger, strengthening collagen, and keeping your lean body stores intact. 

In a study examining nutrition after exercise-induced injury, the authors concluded that it is vital for patients to avoid protein deficiencies. Protein intake as much as 2-2.5 g/kg/day may be necessary, and at the very least patients should consume the same amount of protein as in their pre-injury diet. 

According to an article published in the Journal of Spinal Research Foundation, surgery causes the body to enter a hypermetabolic state (increased metabolism) which stimulates tissue breakdown. Because of this, increased intake of protein is vital to rebuilding tissue, battling an infection, slowing down muscle loss, and reducing inflammation. 

Focus On Nutrient-Dense Foods

Whatever you choose to eat after an injury or surgery, make sure it is nutrient-dense. You are fueling your recovery, and your body requires high-quality vitamins and minerals, protein, antioxidants, whole grains, etc to heal optimally. While an occasional treat to boost morale is perfectly appropriate, make sure the bulk of your diet is full of healing and nutrient-rich foods. 

Make Sure You’re Eating Enough Calories

Since you’re likely on bedrest and not working out every day, you may be tempted to cut way back on your calorie intake. But your body actually needs a good amount of macro and micronutrients to heal and recover properly.

Some research has found that energy metabolism is actually higher than normal after surgery, by about 7%. This means that even if you are resting, your body is still burning more calories than normal. This is due to the energy required for recovery and rebuilding, as well as fighting potential infections and keeping the immune system strong. 

Which Foods Help Injury Recovery? 

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Choosing foods that are nutrient-dense and full of healing nutrients is vital to supporting your body after surgery/injury. Resist the urge to eat empty calories such as chips, fast foods, fried foods, refined grains, sweets, etc. Instead, focus on consuming foods that will fuel your body through recovery, improve your mood, increase your energy, and speed healing. 

Protein

Eating high-quality protein for recovery will ensure your body has the building blocks (amino acids) it needs for creating new muscle and tissue. There are many good sources of protein to choose from. Here are some of our favorites: 

  • Collagen protein - hydrolyzed collagen protein comes from animal skin and connective tissues. Because the human body is built largely from collagen (think bones, tendons, ligaments, skin, etc) supplementing with high-quality collagen can help the body to rebuild once damaged. Collagen has also been found to reduce joint pain after an injury. You can find our recommended collagen supplement to support injury and surgery recovery.
  • Chicken - 4 ounces of chicken contains an average of 35 grams of protein and is easy to add to soups, salads, sandwiches, or eat grilled with vegetables and grains. 
  • Salmon -  4 ounces of salmon contains around 26 grams of protein. Not only is it a good protein source, but it also contains potent anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Be sure to choose wild salmon when possible.  Try eating grilled or baked salmon with a side of quinoa and asparagus. 
  • Cottage Cheese - ½ cup of cottage cheese contains 16 grams of protein and is low in fat. You can add sliced bananas, berries, peaches, or apples and cinnamon for a protein and fiber-filled snack. 
  • Tofu - if you are not a meat-eater, tofu is a good source of complete protein and can be flavored in a variety of ways. Tofu contains around 17 grams of protein per 4 ounces. While tofu was once believed to negatively impact estrogen levels, this has since been debunked. Tofu is now known to be a safe, nutrient-dense, beneficial protein source that can be eaten several times a week with no negative health effects. 

Produce 

You should be eating around 8-10 servings of produce every single day. This is going to ensure you are getting adequate amounts of fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and vitamins.

Generally speaking, any fruits and veggies are good, but here are some of the top antioxidant-containing ones you should reach for:

  • Goji berries
  • Wild blueberries
  • Artichoke
  • Elderberries
  • Cranberries
  • Blackberries
  • Cilantro
  • Oregano
  • Turmeric
  • Raspberries
  • Basil
  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Cabbage 
  • Broccoli

There are many ways to increase your vegetable and fruit intake. Smoothies, salads, pureed veggies, stir-fry, soup, raw veggies, and dips, etc.

Be creative, enjoy the flavor and try to add 1-2 servings of produce every time you have a meal or snack. 

Healthy Fats

Maintaining a good balance of fats is important for supporting a healthy inflammatory response in the body. Moderate levels of inflammation are important for preventing infection and drawing healing cells to an injury site. However, too much inflammation or chronic inflammation will lead to tissue breakdown and excessive pain. Omega-6 fatty acids and saturated fats are pro-inflammatory, while monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fats are anti-inflammatory. 

You can support injury healing and collagen deposition by eating healthy amounts of fatty acids. Try to focus on the following foods to ensure an adequate balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids: 

  • Olive oil
  • Mixed nuts
  • Avocado
  • Flax Oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Fish oil 
  • Salmon
  • Whole eggs
  • Cheese
  • Dark chocolate 
  • Yogurt
  • Coconuts/coconut oil 

Remember not to overdo it on the fats. The recommended amount of daily fat for adults is between 53-93 grams per day depending on your total caloric intake. Aim to eat no more than 30% of your calories from fat. 

How to Maximize Healing and Restore Optimum Function After Surgery/Injury

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The human body has an incredible capacity for healing and wellness. When you choose to be an active participant in the recovery process, you can speed your recovery and also improve self-awareness and respect. 

The strategies for post-injury/surgery recovery are simple. Tune into your body’s nutritional needs, ensure adequate protein consumption, eat nutrient-dense foods, drink enough water, rest according to your physician’s instructions, and place yourself in a supportive/healing environment.

Getting your protein from a high-quality source is also important. Our recommended protein for recovery from knee surgery is ProT Gold Liquid Collagen Protein. It absorbs quickly, is premade and ready to consume as-is, is made from the highest quality hydrolyzed collagen protein, and is formulated to improve recovery. Plus, it just works!

One of our customers bought our collagen protein for her son after his second ACL surgery. Here's what she had to say:

"My 22-year-old son has been taking 4 - 1oz shots of ProT Gold daily since his knee surgery to repair his ACL, cartilage and meniscus. This is his second ACL surgery (first one was 7 years ago) and I think he is recuperating faster. At his 6 week checkup, the nurse thought he was 3 months post-op."

That's a powerful testament to how your diet and supplements can help your knee injury recovery. Get yours today and see for yourself!