Participating in sports is a great way to stay physically active and fit. It helps you build strength and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. They are also a fun activity to do in the middle of our busy lives, improving mood and relieving stress. But sports is not without its risks.
In the United States alone, 3.5 million children and teenagers sustain a sports injury every year. That’s more than 10,000 injuries a day. One of the most under-appreciated factors that play a vital role in injury prevention is nutrition.
How Does Injury Happen?
Injuries occur in our body when tissues are damaged. However, not all instances of tissue damage can be classified as injury. Our muscle tissues break every time we do a physically demanding task, causing micro-tears. The body triggers an inflammatory response, repairing and rebuilding the muscles to handle the same task effortlessly in the future. That’s how we attain strength and grow our muscles.
Tissue damage that is beyond the self-repairing capacity of our body can be classified as injury. While we perform sports, the structural elements of our body- bones, tendons, muscles, ligaments, etc. experience stress.
If this stress exceeds their capacity, they tend to tear, sprain, fracture, or dislocate. However, a good nutrition strategy can significantly reduce the chances of injury by providing the right fuel for the optimum function of our body.
While you perform a physical activity, your body needs energy. It is obtained primarily from the glycogen reserves in your muscles. Not enough glycogen reserves can lead to muscle fatigue. This can interfere with your technique and make you prone to injury. Eating enough carbohydrates is important for maintaining your glycogen reserves.
Without enough glycogen, the body tends to break down the muscle tissue for glucose. This can compromise your strength and put stress on your bones and connective tissues. Carbs are also necessary for the recovery of muscles by replenishing the glycogen stores a physical activity.
Slow recovery also can lead to injury. Starchy and wholemeal foods like multigrain bread, wholegrain rice, and whole wheat pasta are excellent sources of carbohydrates.
Our muscles are responsible for generating the force necessary for body movement. This force is transferred from muscles to bones via the connective tissues called tendons. Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle tissue. Protein is a direct source of amino acids. Including a diet rich in protein is necessary for repairing and building muscle mass, which will reduce the stress on joints and tendons- two tissues that are more susceptible to injury.
Having enough amino acids floating around in your bloodstream can also reduce muscle breakdown during physical activity. Protein is also necessary for the recovery of muscle tissues after sessions of high-intensity performance. Lean meat including chicken, fish, turkey, pork, eggs, dairy products, legumes, nuts, and seeds are great sources of protein.
Micronutrients: Calcium And Vitamin D
Calcium is a mineral that is essential for maintaining bone strength. This can reduce the risk of stress injuries during intense physical activity. Strong bones also improve muscle function and protect tendons and ligaments from injury. Our body needs Vitamin D to absorb calcium from the food we eat. Inflammation can weaken the bones and muscles, which in turn can make them more susceptible to injury.
Calcium and vitamin D can reduce inflammation in our body. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy vegetables, and fortified foods. Fatty fish and eggs are good sources of Vitamin D.
Macronutrient: Essential Fats
Fat is probably the most demonized macronutrient of modern times owing to the bad reputation of saturated fat and cholesterol. But there are good fats too that are essential for the proper function of our body. Essential fats are the fats that are not produced by our body and need to be solely obtained from the food we eat. There are mainly two types- Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids.
Essential fats improve muscle function, help muscle recovery, lubricate the joints, and reduce inflammation throughout the body. They are vital for preventing injury during sports and other demanding physical activity. Fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, etc. are excellent sources of essential fats.
Micronutrients: Vitamin C And Vitamin E
Vitamin C and Vitamin E are antioxidants that can prevent damage to our body caused by free radicals. They protect our bones and joints from inflammation and oxidative stress. Vitamins C and E improve muscle function and reduce muscle soreness due to inflammation.
Their anti-inflammatory properties also help prevent injuries in other tissues of our body. Fresh fruits including citrus fruits and berries, avocados, leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are good sources of these antioxidants.
Eating right alone cannot guarantee you an injury-free day at your favorite sport. But if you are following the correct technique and pushing yourself to the right limits, a well-structured dieting strategy will help you steer clear of injuries.
This is equally important if you are a pro athlete training for peak performance or an executive playing sports for the fun of it.