Let me tell you something you already know: Proper nutrition helps you fuel up for your workouts. But what many people — even the most experienced of athletes — seem to forget is the role nutrition plays once your workout ends.
How you eat not only impacts how you train, but it impacts how your body repairs itself post-workout. In fact, by fueling yourself with the right foods, your muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments are better prepared to bounce back after a grueling sweat session.
If you struggle with chronic injuries or find yourself struggling with inflammation for days following a workout, keep reading. As a certified coach in sports and exercise nutrition, I’ll walk you through proper nutrition for tendons and ligaments, and how food plays a critical role in the health of your connective tissue.
What’s the Right Nutrition for Tendons and Ligaments?
Tendon and ligament injuries can cause a great deal of pain and bench you from your workouts. While research surrounding treatment options for ligament and tendon injuries is still growing, science shows that certain nutrients could help. In particular, evidence suggests that amino acids, vitamins C and D, and various minerals could help provide beneficial nutrition for tendons and ligaments.
Science shows that vitamin C supplementation can help heal tendon injuries. In a randomized trial, vitamin C supplements helped improve healing after an Achilles tendon rupture.
So, how does vitamin C help? Vitamin C aids in collagen production and synthesis. Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body and is found in all of your connective tissues. For this reason, adequate vitamin C intake is essential for wound healing, aiding in tissue repair and regeneration.
To get more vitamin C in your diet, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, particularly citrus fruits, tomatoes, and potatoes. Bell peppers, oranges, grapefruits, kiwis, Brussels sprouts, leafy greens, strawberries, and cauliflower all have high amounts of vitamin C as well.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, builds strong bones, and aids in injury recovery. In addition, vitamin D plays a vital role in neuromuscular function, building muscle strength and stability.
Here's why that matters: Your body is a closed system, and weakness in one area can cause a domino effect, leading to injuries in other areas of your body. For example, multiple studies show that weak and unstable glute muscles are directly correlated with increased ACL injuries and Achilles tendonitis. In addition, strengthening certain muscles — such as your hips, hamstrings, and glutes — can help aid in recovery after a ligament reconstruction surgery.
To get more vitamin D in your diet, consume high-quality dairy products, leafy greens, soy, and seafood, such as trout, salmon, and sardines. Try to spend more time outside, where you can absorb vitamin D from the sun or through supplements.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Protein is crucial to recovery, as it helps rebuild your muscles in a process known as protein synthesis.
In addition, studies show that consuming high amounts of BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) can significantly reduce tightness and stiffness in your tendons. Two amino acids in particular, glycine and proline, are found in substantial amounts in your tendons. Research is still growing as to whether supplementing with these two amino acids can help improve the health of your tendons and ligaments.
Foods rich in amino acids come from plant- and animal-based proteins, such as soy, meat, eggs, and dairy products. There are 20 amino acids available, nine of which are essential (i.e., you must get them through food or supplements, as your body doesn't produce them on its own). To include more BCAAs in your diet, consume high-quality whey protein powder, eggs, beans, whole grains, and legumes, such as chickpeas, lima beans, and lentils. Lastly, you can supplement with collagen or gelatin, which is filled with beneficial amino acids.
Magnesium is essential to bone health and could contribute to the healing process of a number of athletic-related injuries. In addition, magnesium contributes to more than 300 enzyme systems in the body, including protein synthesis, energy production, and muscle and nerve function — all of which are essential to your recovery.
Preliminary research shows that supplementing with magnesium could help improve tendon and ligament health. In fact, a personal testimonial within the Chinese Journal of Traumatology claimed that supplementing with 150 mg of magnesium twice daily caused all Achilles tendon pain to disappear. The testimonial was given by an individual who ruptured an Achilles tendon and suffered from Achilles tendinopathy for 10 years.
Most people do not get enough magnesium in their diet. Dietary sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, spinach, cashews, and soy are all excellent sources of magnesium.
Manganese is an essential trace mineral that can be consumed through food or through dietary supplements. Manganese helps with a number of biological processes in the human body, including amino acid and glucose metabolism.
Manganese, like vitamin C, is crucial for collagen synthesis. An increase in collagen synthesis, in turn, is directly correlated with an increase in tendon and ligament health. By improving your collagen metabolism, you are more likely to recover from tendon injuries, such as tendonitis.
Manganese is present in a number of foods, including whole grains, soybeans, legumes, veggies, and even spices. You'll also find high amounts of manganese in seafood, including mussels, clams, oysters, and shrimp.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids is connected to a decrease in pain from athletic-related injuries. In fact, omega-3 fatty acids can help decrease pain and inflammation, increase mobility, and improve overall muscle function.
In one study, omega-3 fatty acid supplements helped athletes recover from rotator cuff injuries. Within the study, omega-3 fatty acids helped reduce joint pain and pain associated with rotator cuff tendons. In addition, since omega-3 fatty acids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, scientists believe that omega-3 fatty acids can help heal a number of tissues in the body.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in plant oils, nuts and seeds, and fish. Specifically, you'll find high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed, soybeans, canola oils, chia seeds, and walnuts, as well salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, trout, and oysters.
Remember: How You Eat Influences How You Train
Eating a well-balanced diet doesn't just help fuel you up for your workouts — it helps you recover and stay injury-free.
If you suffer from chronic tendon and ligament injuries, such as tendonitis or tendinopathy, small changes to your diet could help. Certain nutrients — such as vitamins C and D, amino acids, magnesium, and manganese — have been scientifically shown to help improve the health of your tendons and ligaments. These vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids help reduce inflammation, encourage collagen synthesis, and improve protein synthesis to help aid in recovery.
For more dietary tips and nutrition guides, sign up for the Build Bullet-Proof Health program. With integrated strength, cardio, recovery, and nutrition plans, it helps you power through (and recover from) your workouts. If you have a chronic tendon or ligament injury, I invite you to sign up for my Premium plan, where you get monthly virtual meetings with me. Together, we can develop a nutrition plan to help you recover.
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