Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition for Injury Recovery

Inflammation is a term that is often thrown around in the health space. Why? Well, because it actually does apply to a lot of situations. This could be from a paper cut to chronic back pain to a torn ACL. Inflammation is essentially your body’s process of healing and repairing itself. And guess what? It’s needed and can help increase blood flow and nutrient delivery to an injured area of your body.

anti inflammatory nutrition

That being said, the process can be facilitated through proper nutrition. So whether you’re hitting the pavement prepping for a race and experiencing chronic knee pain, or recovering post-op, you’ll want to listen up. Here’s a few anti-inflammatory nutrition priorities to help relieve pain and make the recovery process just a bit easier. 

Ensure you are eating enough

The amount is situational based on type of injury and duration of the recovery process, but one thing is for sure: if you are recovering from an injury, your basal metabolic rate (calories expended at rest) is increased. To put it simply, our body requires more energy to support tissue repair. For general sports injuries, your BMR at rest increases 10- 15 percent. That is even higher for the major surgeries. Needs are individualized, but start by ensuring you are eating balanced meals with quality protein, carbohydrates, and fat (we need them all) and keep your frequency of eating to at least every 5 hours. 

Embrace the fats

Not all fats are created equal when dealing with inflammation. Some types of fats can significantly help with inflammation and the healing process, while others can hinder it or cause unnecessary inflammation. So, let’s be a little choosy about our fats.

Long term evidence suggests that omega-3’s in particular play a very important role in managing inflammation. All the more reason to incorporate quality fish sources, walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds. Monounsaturated fats, such as avocados and olive oil, are also beneficial anti-inflammatory nutrients in the recovery process.

We do have to be careful about some fats in common Western diets that might exacerbate the inflammation. As I said, inflammation is adaptive and normal in the body, but adding external sources that cause even more inflammation can hinder the recovery process. These include omega-6 fatty acids that are in vegetable oils and trans fats in processed foods.

Prioritize protein

Protein has one main goal in the body—to build and repair. So would you think it has a crucial role in the recovery process? You bet. This results in a recommendation of at least 1.6 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day, but depending on the situation, probably more. Your body is resourceful and is going to get these amino acids to heal any way it can. What does that mean if you aren’t getting enough protein through intake? Muscle loss is probably going to occur.

Pay attention to vitamins and minerals

Essentially, all vitamins and minerals can help with the recovery process in some way, shape or form, but I would like to highlight vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc. Injury can increase your body’s demand for vitamin C, and it does play a vital role in musculoskeletal synthesis and your body’s stress response (and let’s be honest, your body is stressed during injury). All the more reason to consume your bright orange and red produce during recovery.

Vitamin D does play a role in skeletal muscle remodeling and immune function, among other benefits. This is why if you are recovering from an injury, especially a skeletal muscle injury, it might be beneficial to check your vitamin D status. It is encouraged to check it through a blood test, consider supplementation based on results, and prioritize getting some sunlight. Zinc is also crucial for the healing and rebuilding phase. Sources can include oysters, grass-fed beef, legumes, oats, dark chocolate, and quinoa.

Add in the spices and extras

Being intentional about what we add to our foods can not only add flavor, but also help with the inflammatory process. Turmeric is probably one of the longest and most widely studied spices, and for good reason. Substances in turmeric have been shown to reduce oxidative stress, and thus inflammation. You can add this beneficial and anti-inflammatory spice to smoothies, stir-fries, eggs, or golden milk. Garlic is another big addition that can help with oxidative stress and inflammation.

The bottom line

We need nutrients and energy for our bodies to heal. Paying a little more attention to how we eat can speed up the injury recovery process, help reduce pain and inflammation, and prevent muscle breakdown or other potential negative outcomes of the healing process. My official anti-inflammatory nutrition advice? Start with the big stuff like eating enough, quality protein, and quality fat and then shift your focus to the smaller (but beneficial) details. 

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About Chelsea Stegman

Chelsea is the owner and founder of Chelsea Stegman Nutrition, LLC. She is a Chicago based virtual dietitian working with active professionals through energy management, recovery, and adrenal health. She takes a well rounded approach to working with clients, including nutrition to fuel strength, cardio, and recovery based exercise; overall recovery; adrenal testing; habit development; and supplementation. You can catch her hanging with her mini husky, exploring the local restaurants, or running by the lakefront. Find her online at