Recovering From Injury? Avoid These 4 Diet Pitfalls

July 6, 2021

The bad news: “There’s so much about the healing process that dancers don’t have control over,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Tiffany Mendell. One notable exception? How dancers fuel and nourish their injured bodies. To help your body recover, avoid these four common nutritional mistakes.

DON’T Eat Too Little

In an effort to avoid gaining weight, many dancers cut back on calorie intake while benched. But registered dietitian nutritionist Monika Saigal says, “Underfueling while injured will increase muscle loss, slow down the healing process, and may prolong or prevent full recovery.”

Listen to your body’s natural hunger cues. Saigal notes that some dancers may need to eat more during recovery than they had pre-injury. If you’re uncertain about how much food your recovering body needs, Saigal recommends seeking guidance from a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with dancers.

DON’T Miss Out on Key Nutrients

Now is not the time to neglect your favorite health-boosting foods. “Vitamins C and A are essential for regrowing damaged tendon and ligament cells,” says Mendell. “If you’ve got a bone fracture, make sure you’re getting calcium, vitamin D and vitamin A. And no matter the type of injury, protein and fiber are essential to recovery.”

Mendell says to include the following in your diet: citrus, strawberries, bell peppers, brussels sprouts, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, avocado, olive oil, chia seeds, nuts, spinach, kale, carrots, salmon, egg yolks and high-quality dairy like yogurt, kefir and cheese. She adds that an anti-inflammatory diet (think fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant-based fats like nuts and seeds) can counteract injury-induced bodily inflammation. Vitamin D is not found in many foods, so Mendell also prescribes a few minutes of direct sunlight each day to injured dancers.

DON’T Forget About Hydration

Without your normal class/rehearsal/performance routine, remembering to drink up can be challenging. But Mendell still recommends at least 64 ounces of fluids (mostly water) a day—not least because many pain medications can cause constipation, and water (along with fiber) helps keep your GI tract running smoothly. Saigal adds: “Fluids are needed to bring nutrients to the injured area and repair damaged tissues.”

Saigal recommends setting reminders to drink water throughout the day and making a point of drinking liberally during meals and snacks. Dancers may also benefit from choosing foods with high water content, like soup, veggies, smoothies and fruit.

DON’T Let Food Become Your Coping Mechanism

Injury can be extremely stressful—and feeling overwhelmed or uncertain about the future can cause dancers to seek control through food. That might mean turning to fad diets; becoming increasingly rigid with food choices, portions, or meal timing; or increased emotional eating. “These may lead to nutrient deficiencies, increased stress, and may cause or worsen patterns of disordered eating,” Saigal says.

If you’re looking for a moderate, healthy food blueprint to follow while recovering from injury, Mendell says to consider the Mediterranean diet: “It’s based on minimally processed foods and is high in antioxidants, fiber and other key nutrients.” Find yourself thinking about food more often, or with more emotional intensity, than you used to? Reach out to a therapist and/or licensed nutrition professional.