Contact your local county Extension office through our County Office List.

Close Icon
Providing trusted, practical education to help you solve problems, develop skills, and build a better future.
Established 1908

Nutrition News – Nutrition is important when recovering from surgery or injury   arrow

By Melissa Wdowik
Food Science and Human Nutrition Professor
July 28, 2015


After a recent hip replacement, it seems everyone I talk to has a story about a surgery or injury that has them anxious to get back to their favorite activities. My own research into optimal nutrition for healing provided me the inspiration to share tips so you, too, can be as healthy as ever.

The first part of your diet to pay attention to for healing and recovery is calories. While this is not the time to cut back on calories to lose weight, it is also not the time to fill up on “empty calories,” or foods that provide little vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Make all your choices count, and plan ahead to make sure you have wholesome foods on hand to provide you with at least three meals and one to two snacks throughout the day. Think fruits, vegetables, yogurt, lean proteins and whole grains rather than chips, cookies, and box dinners.

Next, be sure to include adequate protein at each meal and snack. Protein provides the building blocks for muscle repair, tissue mending, and collagen formation, in addition to being a key tool for fighting infection and maintaining fluid balance. Good protein sources include meat, poultry, eggs, dairy (or fortified nondairy substitutes such as soy, coconut and almond milk), beans, lentils, soy, and fish.

Speaking of fish, fish oils are especially important for recovery from brain injuries, such as concussions. Eating two to three servings of fish each week is recommended to get the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA your central nervous system needs.

Also be sure to drink enough fluids. It is not unusual for patients to feel fatigued after surgery or injury due to dehydration. Water is your best option, while sports drinks, coffee, tea, milk and juice can contribute towards your daily goal of eight or more cups of fluids.

Other important nutrients for recuperation include:

  • Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables
  • Zinc from meat, poultry, seafood, beans, and nuts
  • Vitamin A from fortified dairy/nondairy products and breakfast cereals
  • Beta-carotene (which your body makes into vitamin A as needed) from dark green leafy vegetables and deep orange fruit and vegetables
  • Vitamin D from fish, mushrooms, and fortified products such as dairy or dairy substitutes, orange juice and breakfast cereals
  • Copper from nuts, beans, shellfish and whole grains
  • B vitamins from whole grains, lean meat, fruits, and vegetables

Lastly, you may be wondering if there are foods you should avoid during this recovery period. Limit refined sugars, as they cause inflammation in your tissues (while you are aiming for anti-inflammatories) and often cause fatigue due to ups and downs in blood sugar levels. Refined sugars are found in many packaged foods and especially prevalent in soda, juice drinks, and energy drinks; remember that water is a better choice than these beverages.

While I wish there were a supplement that worked magically on healing our joints, tissues and scars, there is really no better option than a well-balanced diet with attention to the nutrients and foods listed above. Best of luck in your recovery!

Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Anderson Nutrition Center.