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Nutrition for Healing

Advice about food and supplements

You’ve been injured or will be having surgery. Now you must prepare your body for the healing process ahead. Your body needs carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water (called "nutrients") to support the repair process. Here are a few tips to speed your recovery and make things a little easier to handle.

How many calories should I be consuming since I will be inactive?

Now is NOT the time for weight loss! When people are immobilized, they worry about gaining weight. However, you should NOT decrease your calorie intake because you will be inactive. In fact, your calorie needs are now greater than usual because your body requires energy from nutritious foods to fuel the healing process. You will need to consume about 15-20 calories per pound (using your current body weight). If your overall energy and protein needs are not met, body tissues such as muscles and ligaments will begin to break down. This will compromise healing and may prolong your recovery period.

How much water should I be drinking?

Normally, it is important to drink at least 8 cups of water or non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages every day. If you do not drink this much fluid each day, now is the time to get into the habit. Drinking enough fluid is essential for maintaining adequate hydration and allowing your body to heal. You may need more fluid depending on the type of medication you are taking or the extent of your injury. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. By then, you’re already dehydrated! Have a water bottle handy and plan for plenty of refreshing beverages throughout the day to keep your body in fluid balance.

What types of food should I be eating?

Eat well-balanced meals and a wide variety of foods to obtain all the nutrients your body needs for tissue repair. Your body requires more protein and calcium during this time, so take careful note of the daily recommendations and food sources listed below. Compare your diet with the Food Pyramid to see if you’re meeting your daily nutrient requirements (see additional handout). Consider taking a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement if you do not get the recommended balance of foods each day. Cut back on junk food! You want most calories to be packed with nutrition value!

Here are a few essential nutrients that your body will need before and after surgery or injury:

Thumbnail of essential nutrients image
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Are there special recommendations for patients having surgery?

  • Increase your calcium intake to 1,500 mg/day, especially if your surgery or injury involves bone.
  • Do NOT take vitamin E supplements 7-10 days before your surgery.
  • Be sure to meet your daily protein needs (about 6-12 ounces per day). Several factors (ie, weight, activity level and type of injury) affect individual protein requirements, so you may want to consult a nutritionist for more information.
  • Avoid weight loss/crash dieting before and after surgery to ensure adequate nutrients and energy for recovery.
  • Eat well-balanced meals to lower the risk of infection after your surgery. Vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin A are especially important in preventing infections.
  • If you lose your appetite for a day or two after surgery, nutrient-rich drinks/shakes can help you get enough nutrients and calories (Carnation Instant Breakfast, Ensure, Boost and Sustacal are good choices).

Now that I have limited mobility, what can I do to make life a little easier?

If you’re having surgery, plan ahead. If you’ve been injured, ask for help with these suggestions:

  • Make sure you have plenty of water, juice, milk, or other drinks available.
  • Prepare food ahead of time and place in the freezer to be reheated later.
  • Consider stocking up on healthy low preparation foods, such as fruit, pudding, yogurt, low-fat frozen dinners, canned or instant soups, instant cereals, shredded cheese, pull-top tuna or other canned foods.
  • Make sure you have a variety of take-out menus if you plan to have food delivered to your home.
  • If you’re on crutches, realize that carrying food will be hard for you. Small milk cartons, juice boxes, or water bottles may be helpful instead of having to carry a glass.
  • If your arm is or will be in a sling, consider buying precut food or individual servings of food. You may also want to practice daily tasks with your opposite hand before surgery.


Women's Sports Medicine Center,
Hospital for Special Surgery

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