There are – literally – thousands of ways you can injure yourself in sport. And the most appropriate treatment for any injury obviously depends on its nature. But one thing is almost always true: your recovery phase should start with a period of rest. This rest however, can lead to problems.
Why? Well, it’s to do with the way muscles grow. In a normal (uninjured) state, muscles grow essentially by absorbing protein – a process usually triggered by intense physical activity. But during an extended period of rest, muscles tend to develop a condition technically known as anabolic resistance, which essentially means that muscles lose their ability to absorb protein and, as a result, begin to atrophy (lose mass). The biggest loss of muscle tends to be in the first two weeks following injury.
The 3T approach
One obvious solution to this is to eat more protein to compensate for the slower rate of absorbing it. The trouble is that eating more when you’re physically inactive can easily result in a gain in fat. This is something most athletes will clearly want to avoid. Fortunately, though, it doesn’t have to be this way. Studies have shown that it is possible to restrict any loss of muscle mass and strength during the recovery phase, while minimising fat gain, by focusing on the amount, type and timing of your food intake. In the world of sports nutrition, it’s sometimes known as the ‘3T strategy’. The 3Ts are Total, Timing and Type.
How does it work?
Let’s look a bit more closely that’s how you can use the 3Ts to aid recovery from injury.
In the 3T strategy, this can be a number of things, such as carbohydrates or supplements. In this case it’s protein.
Try to aim for approximately 200g – 240g of protein per day. It may sound a lot, but to help offset some of the effects of anabolic resistance in the muscle, you need to significantly increase your intake of protein. Make sure that your protein source is high in leucine (an amino acid that stimulates protein synthesis and assists with muscle building) – foods rich in leucine include poultry, eggs, beef, fish, dairy and whey protein.
Many athletes consume their protein unevenly throughout the day. They will typically have a small serving of protein at breakfast, a slightly larger one with lunch, and the greatest intake at dinner. However, a more effective approach to help with recovery from injury is to spread your protein intake evenly across the day, in 5 or 6 x 40g servings.
Nutrition Example – Daily protein intake
Breakfast: 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg whites made into an omelette, with mushrooms and spinach
Mid-morning snack: 2 scoops whey (40g protein) and a banana
Lunch: 1 large chicken breast with side salad
Mid-afternoon snack: 150g low fat yoghurt with mixed berries
Dinner: 200g salmon fillet, jacket potato, mixed green vegetables
Pre-bed snack: 500ml milk or 40g casein protein
The inspiration for this post was kindly provided by Kristian Weaver, a specialist in sports injury treatment and nutrition. You can find out more about Kristian’s services at kristianweaver.com. We would also like to thank sports nutritionist, Stephen Smith, for the facts and figures used within this article. Stephen can be found at racefaster.co.uk.