It’s been found that over 50% of running injuries are related to overuse, including the knee, hamstring, tibia, ankle, or plantar fascia. If untreated, injuries can lead to stress reactions or full-blown stress fractures which can put you on the side lines, not running, longer than you expected.
Preventing running injuries is the goal for most runners, by incorporating more strength training, focusing on your running form, and progressing your mileage slowly, but most of you don’t realize that your diet could increase your risk of injuries. Proper eating can be just as effective in preventing injuries, as well as getting enough recovery time and avoiding over-training.
Eating Habits to Reduce Injury Risk
1. Eat Enough Food. Eating too few calories throughout the day leads to poor muscle recovery and can cause them to break down instead. This is called catabolism. Catabolism impairs your body’s ability to repair and rebuild muscle damage caused by training, slowing down recovery, and increasing your risk of injuries. This can occur not only in the muscles but tendons and bones as well.
Weight loss is not always a sign that you are not eating enough. Feeling more fatigued or unable to complete your workouts is a possible sign that your body is not fueling enough to support your training. You may be losing muscle, not fat in this case, leading to poor sports performance. Seek out professional advice from a sports dietitian if you need more help in determining how much you need to eat during training.
2. Increase calcium and vitamin D. Stress reactions and stress fractures can occur if you are not eating enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet, especially if you are already at risk for low bone density. Calcium including other vitamins to support healthy bones, is key to avoid a calcium deficiency and to reduce bone injuries or low bone density. Most athletes require 1,000-1,300 mg calcium daily, which means you would have to consume at least 3-4 servings of calcium-rich foods daily. Most adults don’t meet these recommendations and may have to resort to supplements instead.
If you are getting enough calcium but lack vitamin D, your body is only absorbing 10-15% calcium and 60% phosphorus which can impact bone health and muscle contraction. It’s suggested for adults to consume 1000-2000 IU of vitamin D daily (25-50 mcg) which is very difficult to get through diet. You would have to drink up to 6-8 cups of milk daily to reach that goal. Vitamin D supplement taken with a meal is key to maintain bone health including to support a healthy immune system and cardiovascular health.
3. Sleep, Eat, Train, Eat, Repeat. You may of heard of this mantra, but an extra “eat” was added to the list of tasks to remember to not train fasted and to refuel after training. As stated above, under fueling can lead to early fatigue and possible injuries. If you exercise fasted, especially on hard workout days or long runs, this not only increases the stress hormone cortisol, but it can also result in greater post-exercise immune stress and inflammation leading to an increase in muscle damage and breakdown. This can be seen in women more than men, but when exercising fasted, your training performance may suffer as well due to lower glycogen levels, especially when training at moderate-to-high intensities. This applies to also intermittent fasting. According to Dr. Stacy Simms, athletes manipulating their diets by intermittent fasting, can lead to insulin resistance, increase our appetites, and potentially leading to storing more body fat.
During training, muscle and joint damage has occurred and needs to repair and rebuild before your next workout. Eating a recovery meal within 1-2 hours after exercise is key to help with muscle recovery and prevent injuries. Protein is one nutrient that restores muscle damage but combining protein with a carbohydrate is even better to stimulate muscle protein building as well as refill muscle glycogen stores. Constant training on low muscle glycogen stores can lead to low blood glucose, decreased immune function, and poor sports performance. So after training, think about when is your next meal or snack and restock your muscles with a healthy protein plus carb option like a glass of low-fat chocolate milk, turkey wrap with fruit, or Greek yogurt parfait.
4. Eat more antioxidant-rich foods and healthy fats. We’ve all been told to eat our fruits and vegetables, but not only are these foods great for our heart but also contain antioxidants to fight inflammation. Getting antioxidants from foods is preferred than taking a supplement since supplements may actually increase your risk of certain cancers and interfere with your body’s ability to adapt from training. Eating healthy fats including avocado, nuts, nut and peanut butter, olive, avocado and/or canola oils to help reduce inflammation as well. It’s important to also boost your intake of omega-3 essential fats by eating more fatty fish like wild salmon, tuna, sardines, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts. Omega-3 supplements can also be taken to meet your goal of 1000-2000 mg daily.
Injuries happen when running but can be prevented if you train smart, recover well, and focus on nutrition. It’s key to make sure you are eating enough and right types of foods to support a healthy body to keep you running and to help you reach your goals!