The Best Supplements To Speed Up Your Injury Recovery

injury recovery supplements
January 21, 2016
by Shannon Keating

The one unfortunate but inevitable truth about living an active lifestyle is that your risk of injury automatically goes up. You can, of course, implement many safeguards into your exercise regimen that will help substantially with injury prevention such as getting in a solid, full body warm-up, focusing on proper form throughout all movements, and implementing mobility tactics after your workout.

But at some point or another chances are you are going to run into a couple little injury bumps along your path.

If you are anything like me then when an “injury bump” occurs all of a sudden it seems as though the world is going to end. You go through an emotional rollercoaster cycling through waves of aggravation, sadness, and, sometimes, some form of “acceptance”.

However, no matter how you feel in the moments following an injury, the number one question dominating all thoughts is always: when will I be able to workout again?

The other morning I got myself a nice little taste of lower back strain (and let me tell you, the taste was anything but sweet). Automatically I went into full on “get better as fast as possible” mode and began using my knowledge of acute inflammation and muscle growth/recovery to implement some seriously powerful recovery techniques using a combination of nutrition and supplementation.

Now, just three days post-injury, I can — with confidence — say that my back feels 75% better. How’s that for fast recovery.

In this post you’re going to learn some of the best supplementation techniques for injury (or even general exercise) recovery.  However, you need to realize that before you begin throwing supplements at your body you are going to want to seriously dial in your nutrition and get going with an anti-inflammatory, whole foods diet.

Your body will heal a heck of a lot faster if you are avoiding inflammatory foods such as grains (including corn), low-quality dairy, alcohol, processed sugar and artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils (including soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, etc.) and legumes (including soy), and instead are fueling with high-quality animal protein, healthy fats, and tons of fresh vegetables and fruits.

In the case of an injury, supplementing an already healthy diet is a wonderful way to give your body the extra building blocks and nutrients it needs to turn it’s recovery process into full gear.

First Thing’s First

When treating an injury through supplementation the key is to support, but not stop, the inflammatory process.

Post-injury inflammation is simply your body’s innate biological response to damaged tissue and while this inflammatory response is perceived by you as pain, perhaps combined with some redness and swelling, the initial pain is simply a signal from your body to stop doing whatever it is you are doing to prevent any further damage.

If the pain continues several minutes later it is a sign that some tissue damage has occurred and your white blood cells are fast at work to get your body back into tip top shape.

So while your initial instinct may be to immediately pop a pain relieving agent such as ibuprofen and/or ice the injury to relieve pain and reduce swelling, these two strategies can actually be counterproductive to the healing process.

Both NSAIDS and ice will put a halt on the initial (uncomfortable but necessary) stages of inflammation by either preventing the formation of the necessary fatty acid hormone-like molecules, called prostaglandins, which are the key drivers in the normal healing process, or by blocking blood flow (and thus nutrient flow) to the damaged tissue. (For a great easy to follow video explaining how exactly ibuprofen works in the body head here: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-do-pain-relievers-work#review).

Use ibuprofen in moderation if the pain is simply unbearable, otherwise suck it up and stick with the supplementation strategies below that effectively help to support and speed up the natural inflammatory process.

Now, Onto The Supplements…

Bone Broth

If you are an active exerciser then bone broth is going to be the number one supplementation you should incorporate into your regular routine.

Bone broth is made simply by boiling down the bones of healthy animals in order to release their stored vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.

Bone broth is chockfull of magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous as well as amino acids such as proline and glycine. These two amino acids aid in protein synthesis and contribute to muscle growth and repair.

In order to make a batch of bone broth all you need are some high-quality bones (found at health food stores or local farms), a crockpot or large stock pot, and some apple cider vinegar. You will then cover the bones completely with filtered water, add in a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (which lowers the pH of the water and helps to draw the minerals out of the bones), cover the crockpot or stock pot, bring the water to a simmer, and then continue to simmer on low heat for roughly 24 hours. Strain the bones, save the broth, and drink up!

If you cannot handle making bone broth quite yet then there are quite a few companies out there that make high-quality bone broth to ship around the US. You can also try out a high-quality collagen protein powder instead.

Although it will not have all the beneficial components of bone broth, you will still be getting the amino acids glycine and profile. Good brands to check out: Great Lakes or Vital Proteins.

For general health and recovery purposes drink at least a cup of bone broth a day, in the case of injury drink 3-4x that amount throughout the day.

Proteolytic Enzymes

Proteolytic enzymes can be taken in capsule form and include pancreatin, papain, bromelain, trypsin and chymotrypsin, among a few others.

When taken with food these enzymes help to break down the protein you eat into their amino acid components, however when taken on an empty stomach, these enzymes have a fascinating role in improving the healing of an injury.

Proteolytic enzymes work by lessening the production of inflammatory proteins and chemicals, cleaning up residual damaged tissue cells, and reducing the thickness of extracellular fluid to ensure proper flow of nutrient transport and waste removal.

When taking proteolytic enzymes the key is to take them at least two hours away from meals three times a day and before bed at night. A product to look for is Wobenzym.

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids are the precursors to the hormone-like molecules called prostaglandins which are your body’s key regulators during the process of inflammation.

Certain types of prostaglandins are known as “inflammatory” prostaglandins, and certain types of prostaglandins are known as “anti-inflammatory” prostaglandins.

The “inflammatory” prostaglandins are derived from Omega-6 fatty acids, while the “anti-inflammatory” prostaglandins are derived from Omega-3 fatty acids. During acute inflammation (such as a sudden sports injury) you need both in approximately a 2:1 ratio (2 omega-6: 1 omega-3).

Fun fact: NSAIDS interfere with the production of both the inflammatory AND anti-inflammatory prostaglandins!

Vegetable oils are high in omega-6 oils and since the use of vegetable oils in today’s food system is unfortunately so widespread, it is easy to get enough omega-6 fatty acids.

The reason most suggest supplementing with fish oil is because fish oil is a wonderful source of omega-3 fatty acids and can bring your essential fatty acids back into that ideal 2:1 balance.

If you are eating a healthy diet and eliminating the usage of all vegetable oils then I suggest taking a full-spectrum essential fatty acid supplement containing a variety of omega-6, omega-9,and omega-3 oils.

If you are unsure then taking a high-quality omega-3 fish oil (look for brands that are cold-pressed!) can only help. In the case of an injury, take double the dosage on the bottle split up between two meals throughout your day. Chew the pills to release the oils before swallowing.

Magnesium

Magnesium is going to be your go to mineral for muscle repair because it works to relax muscles and draws inflammation out of muscles and tendons.

When your muscle is injured it will contract and tighten in order to protect itself. This will lead to decreased mobility and increased pain during normal movement. In order to get the muscle to fully relax again so that it can begin healing and you can eventually gain back its function you need to have proper magnesium levels.

Magnesium can be obtained a number of ways. The most effective supplement strategies for sports injuries are going to be using a transdermal magnesium oil sprayed directly on the skin laying on top of the injury and/or by taking an epsom salt bath. Ancient Minerals is a great brand of magnesium oil widely available online.

Adaptogenic Herbs

Adaptogenic herbs have been used for thousands of years in ancient healing practices to help the body respond to and control stressful situations while simultaneously improving strength and resiliency.

Any type of injury, no matter how small, is perceived by your body as an additional stress. This stress will cause an increased output of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine and will thus dial up inflammation, leading to a delayed recovery time.

Adaptogenic herbs work by turning off the production of the genes responsible for inflammation, thus helping your body “adapt” to stressful situations.

Holy Basil, Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Ginseng, and Eleuthero are incredibly potent adaptogens that can be used as a tool during stressful situations such as injury. Take two capsules in between meals throughout the day. Take one individual adaptogen for no more than 2-3 weeks, and rotate them to ensure they remain effective.

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