Undergoing surgery, whether it's for a torn ligament, damaged cartilage, joint or hip replacement, can be physically and mentally demanding. Proper post-operative recovery is essential to ensure a successful outcome and a swift return to a healthy and hopefully active lifestyle! One crucial aspect of recovery is nutrition. The right foods, nutrients, and supplements can help support the healing process and aid in a quicker recuperation. In this article, we explore the foods, nutrients, and supplements that are beneficial for recovery post surgery.
Protein: The Building Blocks of Recovery
Protein is the cornerstone of post-operative nutrition. It plays a vital role in tissue repair and muscle regeneration. After surgery, our body needs extra protein to rebuild damaged tissues and support the healing process. Do you know your proteins? Think chicken, beef, turkey, fish, and tempeh, as well as eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and sprouts. The ideal amount for basic functioning is 1 gram per kilo of ideal body weight. This can be bumped up post-op. A palm-sized piece of chicken would be around 20g, so that would cover a third of your basic needs if you weigh 60kg.
Turmeric, Boswellia & Omega-3: Your Anti-Inflammatory Powerhouses
Inflammation is a natural response to surgery, but excessive or chronic inflammation can delay healing. The active ingredient in turmeric is known as curcumin, and it’s what all the anti-inflammatory research is focused on. Using turmeric to down-regulate inflammation can mean less stiffness, fluid retention, and pain. It does this by inhibiting something called arachidonic acid, which promotes healing and prevents damage to surrounding tissues.
Both our Happy Turmeric liquid and Magnesium, Sleep, Pain (MSP) formula contain turmeric. MSP also contains another anti-inflammatory herb called Boswellia, magnesium, and the sleep-supporting amino acid glycine. The better sleep we have after surgery, the better and sooner we recover.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring, chia seed, hemp, and flaxseeds are wonderful foods for their potent anti-inflammatory properties. They can help reduce postoperative swelling and pain, facilitating a quicker recovery. Consider incorporating these foods into your diet every day, or look at a liquid fish oil supplement from a reputable source.
Vitamin A, C, E, and Zinc: Repair Nutrients
All these nutrients are involved in the repair post-op. Vitamin C is essential for collagen production, a crucial component of connective tissues in the body. Foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, and bell peppers, will support wound healing and tissue repair. A diet high in vitamin C can also help strengthen your immune system during the recovery period.
Zinc is key for wound healing and skin health. Incorporate zinc-rich foods like meats, nuts, oysters, seeds, and whole grains every day to support the healing of surgical incisions and reduce the risk of infection.
Vitamins A and E play a role in wound healing, and both are commonly used to improve skin health, fight free radicals, and shorten recovery. Consume plenty of wild seafood, free-range eggs, nuts, and seeds.
Calcium and Vitamin D: Bone Health
Surgeries often involve bone work, so maintaining bone health is paramount. Calcium and optimal vitamin D levels are vital for bone strength and repair. Don’t get caught up in thinking that dairy products are the best source though – try green leafy vegies, tahini, canned salmon bones and fortified plant-based milk instead. But most importantly, aim to build back up to weight-bearing, resistance exercise, which is the most beneficial.
Fiber: Digestive Health
Post-operative pain medications and reduced physical activity can lead to constipation. High-fiber foods such as soaked chia seeds, psyllium husk, ground flaxseed, whole oats, fruits, vegetables (with skins), and legumes help maintain regular bowel movements and prevent digestive discomfort during recovery.
Collagen: Cartilage, Connective Tissue & Bone Remodelling
In clinical research, collagen peptides are proving beneficial for reducing overall inflammation within the skin, bones, and cartilage. However, that’s not the only reason it’s an essential inclusion post-op. It’s also a major component of cartilage and connective tissue, specifically within the knees, hip, lower back, neck, and finger joints.
Happy Collagen is a must-have because it can prevent further issues down the line, thanks to its ability to improve joint pain and protect bones through the retention of calcium and upregulation of bone remodelling. Supplementation can ensure healthy bone and joint fluidity, elasticity and circulation.
You may also want to try this smoothie every day – it’s truly a “food as medicine”.
What about getting back into exercise?
Once you have the all-clear from your doctor, depending on your surgery, you might begin with gentle movements like walks or swimming, tai chi, or clinical (rehabilitative) pilates. These can all encourage blood flow for healing by bringing oxygen and nutrients to the affected area. Then, consider moving into workouts 6-12 weeks post-op.
Be sure to break exercises into short intervals rather than long stretches. Start slowly, monitor your symptoms, and slowly build up to more strenuous exercise. Make sure to stop if exercise becomes uncomfortable or painful. And don’t underestimate the power of seeing an exercise physiologist to tailor workouts to your specific needs, as they will vary greatly depending on what type of operation you’ve undergone. Acupuncture, however, would be good for any scar tissue and can often be applied at a very early stage.
A Final Note
By prioritizing your health in all the ways described above you can enhance your chances of a successful and speedy recovery, allowing you to get back on your feet and to the activities you love. If you need more one-on-one support, book in for a private consultation with our naturopaths in the online Happy Healthy You clinic.