As a culture, we Americans tend to put a lot of focus on the external healing of a wound or injury. We bandage, splint, cast. Eventually, maybe, we venture into the realm of physical therapy and/or yoga. But our beautiful, complex bodies are doing so much work on the inside to heal what’s broken that it’s worth taking a look at how that’s done and what we can do to help ourselves help our cells.
First and foremost, keeping up with electrolytes is very important. Humans are living, breathing, electrically charged beings. All of life is, really. And the ions that, when dissolved in water, create that electric charge are called electrolytes. They are what keep us alive and what keep us working properly. This is a very simplistic description, of course, but electrolyte balance is crucial for healing so that your cells can do their wonderful things. There are 7 main electrolytes: sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphate, and bicarbonate, and we need to keep these all in balance. Remember, these are ions that are electrically charged in water, so be sure to be also drinking a ton of water in general and especially while recovering from an injury.
Second, even though you may be hanging out in bed binge-watching Absolutely Fabulous on Netflix while you wait for your new limb to grow, you still need to eat (and, realistically, even if you have a broken bone, your body will heal faster if you are energizing it with activity and moving around however you’re able). While you might be relaxing, your body is working long hours of overtime trying to regenerate what you broke, so make sure it has the fuel it needs to get that done. Plan to eat about 15-20 calories per pound of body weight (if you weigh 150 lbs., you should be consuming close to 3,000 calories a day). But don’t just eat a sleeve of cookies and call it a day; broken bones need vitamins and minerals! And protein! And antioxidant anti-inflammatory nutrients! You might as well double down on your calories and make them count.
Vitamins E and C and omega-3 fatty acids will help fight free radicals that break down bone collagen and cause inflammation, meanwhile Copper helps the formation of bone collagen, so consuming all of these at once is a double whammy for any fracture trying hard to heal. Zinc enhances bone protein production and therefore stimulates fracture healing. Calcium and Phosphorus are the main minerals in bones and regulate the strength and elastic stiffness of bones. In the first stages of healing, your broken bone will leech from your other bones to heal itself as efficiently as possible, so it’s important to make sure you are consuming lots of vitamins so that you can replenish your body and keep your fracture fed with the nutrients it needs to heal. Other vitamins that are essential for healing and recovery are D and K, which help you retain calcium, and B6 which is a general fracture-reducing vitamin that helps fractures heal faster and also keeps them from happening in the first place.
Now that you know the micros of what you need to eat, what foods will give you these nutrients? Multivitamins are great and all, but unless it is a whole foods vitamin and those foods are in your diet naturally, your body will not absorb the vitamin (that’s why your pee is weird when you take a vitamin). Protein powders are packed with nutrition, but who wants to drink 5 protein shakes a day (I’ve been there, it’s not great). Quinoa is often called a superfood, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot if you’re just in the grocery store wondering why you should pay extra for a simple grain. What makes it “super” is that quinoa’s a grain that provides complex carbohydrates and calories, it’s a complete protein, and it’s also a good source of magnesium. Kale, another “superfood,” is a fantastic source of vitamins A, C and K as well as omega 3 fatty acids; meanwhile spinach will provide you with a ton of Iron. Broccoli will also provide loads of Vitamins K and C, as well as B6 and a fair amount of protein. Tempeh is a great source of magnesium, protein, phosphorus, and calcium.
Finally, there are easy additions to your meal that pack a punch in both flavor and nutrients. Turmeric, ginger, garlic, flax meal and chia seeds all provide a ton of nutritional value in addition to making your healthy meal a bit tastier. Flax meal and chia seeds can be used as a binding element in baking and cooking, or tossed in a smoothie, and provide lots of omega-3s. Turmeric, garlic, and ginger are all anti-inflammatories. The salad pictured above fed 6 Dirt Raggers for about $23 and contains a complete nutritional profile of micros and macros. There’s a ton of stuff in there but drop a line if you’d like to know what we’re eating.
The next time you fracture your collarbone, break a rib or, as I did a few weeks ago, chip off a piece of bone from your wrist, drink lots of water, take plenty of naps, and be sure to keep up with your electrolytes, carbohydrates, and micronutrients and you’ll be back on your bike in no time.