Getting injured in the gym has always been, and still is, one of my biggest fears during every workout. When you push your body to its physiological limits injuries are always lurking nearby. According to the UN there are an estimated 3 to 5 million sports related injuries per year around the world, and on top of that, sport injuries that cause health related complications cost over 1 billion dollars annually. 

We shouldn’t let these numbers stop us from getting jacked or supernaturally strong! The most beneficial thing you can do is first learn how to properly lift and train to avoid injury, but the second best thing you can do is learn how to optimize your recovery and rehab. This way if you do befall an injury you won’t become just a statistic, but you will have the knowledge and efficiency to get back into the gym safer and quicker than most.

How to Eat When Injured

injured nutrition
How to eat when injured

Prioritizing proper nutrition will have a multi dimensional response on your physical health as well as your mental well being. Your rehabilitation and recovery will be severely hindered without a proper and adequate diet. To fight inflammation your body requires sufficient macronutrients, primary to your recovery will be protein, unsaturated fatty acids, and adequate calorie consumption. To fight sarcopenia your energy consumption should be greater than your maintenance requirements, roughly 25-30 kcal/kg bodyweight.

During a period of recovery and rehabilitation it’s important to remember that your top priority, as always, should be adherence to the diet. Adhering to the diet, especially at this time means that the food selection should be both nutritious and palatable. Make sure to set up a plan that you’ll be able to adhere to and follow as perfectly as possible. Our goal during this period should be prioritizing energy balance to sustain our muscle mass. We have to focus on consuming enough protein to ensure amino acids are utilised for muscle protein synthesis and do not become oxidized. 

Training and Nutrition For The Injured

train legs with bad back
You must adapt your training when you’re injured

Since when you’re injured you’re going to be training less often or with less intensity, focusing on proper energy balance should be your first concern because a negative energy balance will be the greatest contributor to muscle loss. If you are prohibited from training due to an injury it may be beneficial to elevate your protein consumption to 2 g/kg per day or even higher, as this may be advantageous in preventing fat free mass loss.

When we get injured or are forced to avoid training and as a result muscle atrophy can strike rapidly. In the initial 6 weeks of an injury-induced hiatus from the gym muscle atrophy can occur at a rate of 0.5% per day, with an addition of up to 50% decline in muscle protein synthesis. That could result in 150-400 g of muscle tissue loss from your legs in the first 1-2 weeks alone.

With the atrophy of the muscle tissue the loss of strength is an unfortunate inevitability. The 150-400 g atrophy of muscle tissue from your quad, about 8% lets say, could result in up to 23% decline of strength also within that first couple of weeks.

How can we utilize proteins for injury rehabilitation and avoiding muscular atrophy?

Our goal is to preserve as much of our muscle mass as possible, and at the same time limit the gain of body fat. Because we won’t be able to train during this period we will have to compensate for the loss of the anabolic benefits of lifting with optimizing an anabolic response to protein consumption. We know that a higher consumption of protein is linked to muscle retention, but another benefit is that excess protein is metabolically difficult to be turned into fat. So consuming more protein will help retain our current muscle tissue and also sustain our appetites with nutrients that won’t be converted to fat as easily as other sources.

Protein will be necessary in keeping our muscle tissue when unable to train, but how much should we eat, how often, what type, and how should we time the intake of the protein? 

Check out our article on how to train legs if you have a bad back.

Studies For The Injured

Boxing – Boxer Kiaran MacDonald during a training session with strength and conditioning coach Andy Coulson at Unit 29 Fitness, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Washington, Britain, June 2, 2020. REUTERS/Lee Smith

According to Reidy and Rasmussen, the type of protein taken is not as important as the quality of the protein. So we should be striving in this time of decreased energy output to be consuming high quality proteins. Part of this means selecting proteins with amino acid profiles as close to our skeletal muscle tissue as possible. Whey protein has a very similar amino acid structure as well as closely proportioned ratio to that of our skeletal muscle. By no means do I suggest that every meal be replaced by a shake, but it is one great option for a meal during your day when every gram of protein can make a difference in keeping muscle tissue.

When we’re healthy and able to train there is no significant difference in muscle gain or strength dependant on what source of protein is consumed, as long as we’re able to consume at least 2g of leucine during the day. However, when we are injured or sick and unable to train a higher dose of protein is recommended to maximize muscle protein synthesis. The accretion window of protein (the process of breaking down and synthesizing protein) is about 2-4 hours, so that is how far apart we should be spacing out meals. Studies show a 25% higher efficiency of muscle protein synthesis when meals have evenly proportioned protein throughout the day. 

Carbohydrate intake will also assist protein accretion and improve recovery. When muscle is not used carbohydrate and protein intake can inhibit muscle atrophy, however carbohydrate intake is controversial within different exercise or rehabilitation settings, compared with findings on protein intake. Protein intake of 1.3–1.8 g/kg body weight for 3-4 meals per day will induce muscle protein synthesis. But I would recommend even higher portions of 1.6–2.5 g/kg for 4-6 meals a day spread apart 3 to 4 hours with a high leucine content for athletes.

We should be focusing on high quality sources of proteins from whole foods but do not discount the benefits of isolated proteins from shakes and utilize them when needed throughout your recovery time. So what can we do to avoid muscle atrophy and strength loss when we’re injured and unable to train?

  • Contact your coach or get a coach to help you prioritize proper nutrient intake
  • Eat plenty of high quality protein
  • Don’t ignore carbs, but use sparingly
  • Supplement Leucine and Hydroxy-methylbutyrate (HMB), Lysine and Pipecolic Acid, Omega-3 Fatty Acids.

England Rugby player Joe Marler reportedly recovered very quickly from an injured leg a lot faster than expected with milk.

Like I stated at the beginning, first understanding how to properly train will be the best defence against an injury and time away from training. While hiring a coach to give you personal instruction will be a great solution, other beneficial instruction can be found here in these programs:

And of course if you haven’t already, get the Bodybuilding Fundamentals course to learn everything about bodybuilding!

Your gains, longevity, and health should always be a top priority! –Blacksmith Bodybuilding

Always practice good form and avoid getting injured.

A video on nutrition for the injured