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If you’ve had anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery, you know that the recovery process can feel long and daunting. However, the right approach during recovery can actually get you back to your sport stronger than you were before your injury. By making smart choices about how you’re feeding and moving your body, you can more quickly and safely get back in the game.
Eating for ACL surgery recovery.
Many athletes know that nutrition is important for optimal performance, but it’s also just as critical post-surgery. If a tornado rips off part of your house and you don’t have building supplies to repair it, you have to live with a broken house. Likewise, if you have an injury and you don’t consume the right vitamins and minerals that are necessary for bone density, nerve tissue, and muscle development, you will recover more poorly. Focusing on eating varied and quality foods is key to ensuring your body has the building supplies it needs to heal your ACL injury and get you back in action safely.
Eating the right nutrients is essential to rebuilding muscle after an ACL injury. Read the #MedStarHealthBlog to learn more about how to optimize ACL recovery post-surgery: https://bit.ly/3mZI90V.Click to Tweet
Tip #1: Consume nutrient-dense foods from various food groups.
You may not have as big of an appetite as you did before your ACL injury since you aren’t moving as much. However, it’s important to fuel muscle growth during recovery by eating quality foods from various food groups. A balanced diet should consist of protein, carbohydrates, fruit, and vegetables, as well as omega-3 fats from nuts, seeds, and oils.
Protein is especially important in helping to rebuild muscle after surgery. However, you don’t need to eat it in excess, as this can lead to consuming less of other nutrients that your body needs or exceeding an appropriate caloric intake altogether. Aim to consume 1.2 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight spread out in several meals throughout the day. Try eating protein from a variety of sources, such as eggs, pork loin, chicken breasts, soy products, beans, legumes, and fish.
Tip #2: Monitor your caloric intake.
The amount of calories you should be consuming will vary based on your individual needs. That’s why talking to a licensed dietitian after surgery is important to understanding your personal nutritional needs. An athlete who is underfueling won’t be able to sustain higher levels of exertion in physical therapy, which can delay progress. In addition, micromanaging your food intake can take a mental toll on your body, especially if you’re used to seeing yourself in top shape.
In contrast, a mindset that you can eat whatever you want because you’re an athlete won’t lead to the best results. It’s important to have a balanced diet and be mindful of consuming nutrient dense foods rather than food that may not support the demands your body needs to regain strength throughout rehabilitation.
Tip #3: Stay hydrated.
Water is critical to helping your body function at its best. While athletes are used to consuming a lot of fluid during practices or games, hydration may fall to the wayside during recovery when they aren’t as active. A good starting point is to consume half of your body weight in ounces of water, but more is almost always better.
Getting back in the game after ACL surgery.
Knee injuries of any kind can be tricky but rehabilitation after ACL surgery especially requires a careful approach to return to your sport. Physical therapy (PT) and time are both necessary ingredients to reducing pain and swelling and restoring strength and stability in your knee after surgery.
Tip #4: Become familiar with expectations (and exercises) before surgery.
Before you undergo surgery, pre-habilitation or “prehab” is beneficial for several reasons. Knowing what to expect beforehand can help to eliminate or reduce some shock about what your body can and cannot do after surgery. Your physical therapist can introduce exercises that will be part of your rehabilitation early so you’ll have some familiarity when you go into your first PT sessions following surgery.
Tip #5: Stay accountable for your recovery journey.
You’ll most likely see your physical therapist two to three times per week after surgery, but in the grand scheme of things, most of your recovery will require you to be accountable and continue exercises at home as directed by your PT. As a result, your recovery is really up to you. If you are compliant with your home exercises and work towards independently making progress under the direction and supervision of your physical therapist, you can expect better results.
Related: Listen to the Let's Get Physical (Therapy) Podcast hosted by MedStar Health Physical Therapy.
Recovery after ACL surgery can feel like a long, slow process. But rushing back to intense exercise too quickly, having poor mechanics or muscle weakness, or neglecting to fuel your body for muscle building can only delay recovery further or set you up for additional injuries. Instead, take the time to work with rehabilitation experts who will help you regain muscular strength, stability, and stamina while fueling your body with what it needs to make the most of the time off the field. It will only make you that much stronger when your body is ready to return to your sport.