Foods that Heal

When you're sidelined by injury your natural reaction should be to cut back on calories until it's time to return to training - and burning energy. But the healing process demands fuel, too.

"It's like fixing a house," says sports dietitian Cynthia Sass. "A crack in the foundation requires raw materials to patch things back together, and in the body those raw materials come from what we eat."

Proteins, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants help heal wounds, relax stressed tendons and mend fractured bones more quickly. So in addition to sound medical advice, choose the right combinations of foods to speed recovery and get back on track. Follow our slideshow to find out where to aim your trolley when you shop.

Picture credit: Sue Tallon

Fruit and Veg

Buy: Carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes and kale for vitamin A; oranges, strawberries, peppers and broccoli for vitamin C

Why?

Vitamin A helps make white blood cells for fighting infection, which can be a risk with injury. Vitamin C has been proven to help skin and flesh wounds heal faster and stronger, making it a valuable ally when caring for road rash, for example.

Vitamin C also helps repair connective tissues and cartilage by contributing to the formation of collagen, an important protein that builds scar tissue, blood vessels and even new bone cells.

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Meat Counter

Buy: Lean meat (poultry, beef, lamb or pork)

Why?

Lean meats are packed with protein, a critical building block for producing new cells.

In a 2008 study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, researchers at the University of Ottawa, Canada, identified a protein that acted like a bridge between damaged tissues, promoting repair.

Because athletes require about 112 grams of protein per day (for a 79kg athlete) eating meat is an excellent way to encourage speedy healing.

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Dairy Section

Buy: Eggs, milk and yoghurt

Why?

All three are good sources of protein; milk and yoghurt also contain calcium, which repairs bone and muscle.

The vitamin D in dairy products improves calcium absorption and helps injured muscle and bone heal: a 2010 study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery reported that boosting levels in patients deficient in the nutrient produced earlier results.

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Cereal Aisle

Buy: Fortified cereals

Why?

They contains zinc, a proven asset to the immune system and for healing wounds. Along with red meat, fortified cereals are the best sources (some deliver 100 per cent of your recommended daily allowance).

By itself, zinc doesn't repair damaged tissue, but it assists the nutrients that do. "Just don't overdo it," says Sass, adding that too much - more than 40 grams a day for an adult - of this potent mineral can lower HDL cholesterol (the good kind) and suppress your immune system.

Cereal supplies moderate zinc doses as well as wholegrain carbohydrates, which fuel your body's healing efforts and keep it from dipping into your protein stores for energy. "Eating enough carbs ensures that your body puts all of its available protein toward repairs," says Sass.

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Seafood

Buy: Salmon, tuna and trout

Why?

In addition to an added protein bonus, fish is packed with omega-3s, potent fatty acids that quench the inflammation that slows recovery from injuries such
as tendonitis, bone fractures and sprained ligaments.


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