Recovery from an injury can be a particularly frustrating time for any athlete, compounded when insufficient advice had been offered to expedite the process. Too often, a “basic” approach is employed, entailing the use of ice, lots of rest and a prescription NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug). While this will fix an injury, it is far from ideal, as structural defects may have occurred in the recovery process.
Many of these injuries could be prevented with a smart approach to building muscle; sadly many people forget to check their ego at the gym door. However, before getting into the most interesting therapies for accelerated healing, you need to understand what’s going on behind the scenes. Following an acute injury, or damage to tissue this is the progression of an injury:
- The Inflammatory Phase: this phase sets in immediately following the trauma, and can last for about 5 days in cases of soft tissue damage (such as muscles, tendons) or up to 3 weeks for bone injuries. The inflammatory phase is important since it initiates removal of injured or dead tissue from the site if impact, improves blood flow locally to the target and prioritizes transfer of proteins and fluid to affected area.
- Proliferative Phase: this phase ensues immediately following the inflammatory phase, and sets into motion rebuilding of the damaged tissue, albeit with a ‘temporary” substitute. Think of it as setting up supports when building concrete pillars for your home. This substitute is in no way equivalent to original tissue, but offers slight structural support at this time. This phase lasts about 3 weeks for soft tissue damage, and up to 12 weeks for bone injuries.
- The Remodeling Phase: this is the final phase of an injury, and the lengthiest. During this phase original quality tissue is rebuilt, slowly to ensure it is up to the task of support. This phase lasts 1 year or more, depending on the exact site of injury.
With the phases now understood, you are better able to address nutrition and supplementation specific strategies to promote healing at each phase.
Optimizing The Inflammatory Cascade
We need inflammation for proper recovery to occur, however, striking a balance between excessive inflammatory processes and just enough can be tough. Luckily, it can be much easier if you incorporate these foods or supplements into your diet:
More Omega-3 Fatty Acids
If you go to a general physician following an injury, you will get run of the mill treatment. Hardly ever will you receive specialized diet and supplementation guidelines to hasten injury recovery, unless you go to a specialist.
Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory when taken at high doses, and may be counterproductive to the inflammatory process. But that’s where it gets interesting. You need to consume a moderate dose (3-9g daily) to elicit optimized inflammatory processes, since more importantly it helps to normalize your ratio of omega 3:6 fats. Omega-6 fats are everywhere, in vegetable seed oils, many animal products and even fortified snacks. Aim to reduce intake of these omega-6 fats awhile increasing your omega-3 intake and you will have optimized inflammatory processes.
Inhibits actions of pro-inflammatory enzymes and macrophage recruitment. You can attempt to get more garlic in your diet, or supplement with 600-1200mg extract per day if you dislike the smell or taste of raw garlic.
An enzyme extracted from pineapple, it is a superb digestive aid but also possessed anti-inflammatory properties. It also provides mild pain relief when supplemented at doses of 500-1000mg per day.
Foods That Boost IGF-1
In case you’ve never heard of, or underestimate the ability of IGF-1, it’s time to take a serious look at this hormone. IGF-1 is made in the liver, under the direction of growth hormone, and is involved in regeneration and reproduction of many cells including soft tissue or even bone, promoting healthy bone density, following injury from strenuous exercise.
In fact, a study showed that persons with chronic inflammation had the lowest levels of IGF-1, adding to the argument that IGF-1 is also anti-inflammatory, in addition to its healing properties.
Consider these foods/supplements to help boost your IGF-1 levels:
- Protein Rich Foods
- Soy Isoflavones & Capsaicin: produce a synergistic effect to boost IGF-1 production in the liver.
- Velvet Antler: a supplement which was used in ancient Chinese culture for its healing and regenerative abilities, but which show mixed results in modern day studies for its IGF-1 boosting effects. However, it is worth consideration since it is claimed to have numerous other growth factors and has shown to accelerate wound healing in rodent studies. We can’t in good faith give you a 100% recommendation for this one, but it may merit a try judging on its thousands of years of effective use in Chinese Medicine.
- Red Meat (especially for its fat content)
Intermittent Hyperthermia And Ice Baths
We all know your doctor will tell you to ice the injury, as is standard practice. Icing is used for acute relief of pain and inflammation, but is not to be used long periods of time, as it can actually delay healing.
On the other hand, a short period of “overheating” the body, such as spending 30 minutes in a sauna can actually be beneficial for healing. When exposed to heat for these short period of time, the body responds by increasing production of heat shock proteins (HSPs), which helps to repair abnormal protein units, as well as boosting muscle growth by a whopping 30%, especially when returning to activity following a period of inactivity.
As if that’s not enough, heat mediates a significant increase in human growth hormone (HGH) levels, which subsequently boost IGF-1 synthesis in the liver. This likely explains the major benefits of utilizing both heat and cold therapy, in short intermittent periods.
The Power Of Mind Over Matter
Frequently the brain perceives pain as much worse than it really is. This in turn results in prolonged recovery, a state of chronic pain and anxiety from using the affected area. This is where meditation can help.
Sometimes a simple exercise of mindfulness meditation, focusing REALISTICALLY on the extent of damage, and your anticipated degree of pain can abate your suffering greatly. Recovery expectations can determine the speed at which your injury resolves, according to findings published by the institute of Work and Health in Canada.
Involves the use of a machine to produce concentrated UV light over a specified area of the body for accelerating healing and recovery. In one study, use of UV phototherapy was shown to be effective in treating nerve injuries, common in the fields of athletics and bodybuilding. Improved nerve function is integral in reclaiming lost function of a muscle if the extent of the injury was severe.
Used in ancient ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years, this plant is frequently used an as analgesic and to treat broken bones, which has now been confirmed thanks to studies carried out on subjects consuming the plant. It was able to increase osteopontin expression, which is an important protein for speedy remodeling of new bone tissue. In addition, there was decreased severity of pain, inflammation and improved mobility in subjects consuming this versatile plant. Quite a strong argument for trying this anytime you experience an injury.
There are virtually dozens more of potential natural aids you can take, or perform to ensure a speedy recovery from injury. However, to save you precious time, here are a few additional ones we think is worth a look:
- Vitamin C: involved in the synthesis of important connective protein collagen
- Magnesium: boosts IGF-1 levels
- Natural HGH boosters: promotes cellular regeneration as well as stimulate production of IGF-1 in the liver.
- Protein: protein intake must be increased during periods of injury, whether it be soft tissue or bone. Study revealed that rehab stint was significantly shorter, IGF-1 levels were higher and less bone loss resulted in subjects consuming at least and additional 20g of protein per day.
Time To Start Optimizing Recovery & Regeneration
When it comes to rapid recovery from injury, traditional medical wisdom may not be enough. At least if you wish to remain functionally fit. The use of prescription NSAIDs and other drugs could significantly slow down healing (via inhibition of important COX enzyme) and result in improper structural arrangements of remodeled tissue. Focus on your major lifts, and you could remain injury free for a very long time, possibly for life. A sports fitness professional should be your primary caregiver; after all, do you trust your accountant to fix your car? I didn’t think so.
About The Author
Alex Eriksson is the founder of Anabolic Health, a men’s health blog dedicated to providing honest and research backed advice for optimal male hormonal health. Anabolic Health aspires to become a trusted resource where men can come and learn how to fix their hormonal problems naturally, without pharmaceuticals.
Check out AnabolicHealth.com to learn more about Alex and his work.