The Ultimate Simple Guide To Nutrition For Injury Recovery & Prevention

Optimise your sports nutrition for injury prevention and recovery with insights from the experts who work with elite athletes.


dr andy barr
Dr Andy Barr
Founder and CEO at Quantum Performance

What is the purpose of nutrition?

To understand the role of sports nutrition for injury prevention and recovery, it can be helpful to first consider how it fits into the wider picture of our nutrition as a whole.

There are three main reasons why we eat and drink:

  1. Replenish the body’s resources and fuel activity.
  2. Repair the body.
  3. Enjoyment.


Replenishing the body’s resources, and adequately fuelling activity, is essential for everyday living and performing at our best when training and competing.


Following strenuous activity, we need nutrition to help repair the body, and is even more important when recovering from an injury.


And of course, eating and drinking should be enjoyable.


What are the injury risk factors?

The nutrition we consume affects both our physical and mental state. When we’re not at our physical or mental best we are at greater risk of injury. So what are the key risk factors?

Decision making

Decision making is what we are doing a thousand times a day. 

When playing sports it’s all about decision making and, on the highest level, making the right decisions is what makes you a great player or a great athlete or not.

When you are making poor decisions, if you’re fatigued, then those decisions might put you at risk of injury too.


When fatigue sets in, it’s not just physiological fatigue that you experience, it’s the psychological fatigue too. It’s all in one. It’s the brain and the rest of the body that gets tired.

Physiological Fatigue

Physiological fatigue affects both the speed and quality of our body movements, which is also negatively impacted by psychological fatigue.

Psychological Fatigue

Psychological fatigue affects both the speed and quality of our decision making.

So being able to stay fresh is absolutely key and optimal nutrition allows you to support staying fresh. Freshness and fatigue can be impacted by other factors but nutrition is a massive component to helping you avoid that.

It’s like a car – when the car runs out of gas or petrol you can’t drive it. So it’s the same as your body. You need to have optimal fuel to maintain your energy.

Excess weight

As well as optimising our fuel intake to maintain sufficient energy levels to perform at our best, it’s also important to optimise our fuel intake to avoid too much excess for the body to turn into fat.

Additional fat is dead weight athletes have to carry around, and so excessive fat makes them less powerful and causes greater impact on the joints. In turn, this increases risk of injury. 

Therefore, most athletes need a diet that keeps them lean.

Now that we understand the key injury risk factors, next we’ll take a look at how they are impacted by the nutrition we consume…


Nutrition for injury prevention

What nutrition should we be consuming to minimise our risk of injury when training and competing?
Let’s take a look at how the main nutrition food types relate to injury risk factors.


Carbs are really what provides us with the energy. So they’re our fuel and really important in order to avoid fatigue and maintain freshness.

Carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice, starchy foods are generally good carbohydrate sources and they’re really important for supplying energy.

Fruits are also carbohydrates, so they play an important role in providing energy as well.

Healthy Carbs

Aim to consume healthy carbs that are wholefood based, higher in fibre and lower in sugar.

Protein Foods

Protein is found in all sorts of food sources, such as beans, grain, dairy, eggs, tofu meat and meat substitutes.


Proteins are normally what we need for repair. They contain substances that help fuel the cell repair regeneration. They’re really important for the building blocks and for tissue growth and repair.

So for your muscles, your tendons, your joints, you need proteins to help with that recovery so you avoid fatigue.

Protein also provides a longer lasting source of energy than carbs as it takes longer to be broken down by the body.


Fats are an essential part of a healthy balanced diet. They provide a source of essential fatty acids that the body cannot produce itself. 

Fats help with cell function and the absorption of other nutrients into the body, such as vitamins A, D and E.

Often we’re lacking the healthier fats, such as omega threes and sixes, and we want higher quantities of those in our diets.

These healthy fats are famed for their anti-inflammatory properties for the connective tissues of our joints.

Good Fats

Foods high in good fats include olive oil, sunflower oil, soy, nuts and seeds. Avocado and oily fish (e.g. salmon, tuna) are rich in omegas 3 & 6.

Food Sources

Most of us can get all the vitamins and minerals we need from a varied and balanced diet, rich in whole foods, fruit and veg.

Vitamins & minerals

Like essential fats, vitamins and minerals help with cell function. 

They enable the body to get the full benefit of the carbs and proteins consumed, by optimising the way that our cells work so we can metabolise and process the carbohydrates and the proteins effectively.

Functions that are particularly important for injury prevention and recovery include converting food into usable energy, supporting immune cell function, bone growth and wound repair. 

Vitamins and minerals are often referred to as micronutrients, since the body only needs very small amounts of them.


Hydration is extremely important to bodily processes and overall wellbeing. If we’re dehydrated then we’re not going to function optimally.

Between six to eight glasses of water a day is a good benchmark for normal activity. You can tell by the colour of your urine essentially. If it’s really dark then you’re dehydrated. So having a clearer urine is a good telltale sign that you are sufficiently hydrated.

We also get hydration from certain food groups, as well as essential electrolytes. If you are a heavy sweater with your exercise, you might need to consider an electrolyte drink that can help replenish the salts that you need to retain the fluid balance within your body.


As little as 2-5% dehydration has been shown to be detrimental to our physical capacities, concentration and injury risk.

Balancing nutrition

To effectively protect us from the injury risk factors, having a balanced diet is really important. The amount we consume should be in alignment with our personal nutritional goals.

We need to consume a healthy balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We also need to make sure that we get enough fruit and vegetables, rich in vitamins and minerals, to help with immune cell function and all the different systems in the body to work optimally.

A well-balanced, whole foods diet provides the foundation of a nutrition strategy to help prevent injury and minimise recovery times, as well as our general good health.

Nutrition supplements

What we need all depends on our environment, goals and what we’re trying to achieve with supplementation.

Vitamin C can help support a healthy immune system.

For those with little sun exposure, vitamin D is worth considering. It’s essential for things such as brain health, mood, tendons, muscles, ligaments, joints, heart and lungs.

Collagen can help with joint and tendon health.

If doing intense exercise and trying to build muscle, supplements like protein shakes can be useful.

Probiotics can help with a healthy gut.

Omega 3 or fish oil can help with joints, and general heart health and bodily function.

It’s in the Name

Supplements should be used to supplement a balanced diet, rather than replace it.

Healthy Treats

Try substituting treats for healthier versions. High cocoa dark chocolate contains minerals and antioxidants with health benefits.


A well balanced, healthy diet offers all manner of delicious options but most of us still find it hard to resist foods that are not so good for us. Cutting them out of our diet completely is unrealistic for most of us.

We’ve got to enjoy things and treats are there to be used as treats. But if that’s the primary focus of a diet, then that becomes a problem.

The 80-20 rule is a pretty good rule to follow. If 80% of the time we’re eating healthy and then 20% of the time we have a cheat day, or the odd food that we know is not so healthy, then that’s generally fine.


Nutrition for injury recovery

What nutrition should we be consuming to minimise our risk of injury when training and competing?
Let’s take a look at how the main nutrition food types relate to injury risk factors.

Building blocks for repair

Nutrition is one of the most important factors when recovering from injury because it’s essentially the building blocks of how you repair and recover.

Simply, you need the optimal resources for your body to allow for the optimal healing to take place. So if you’re eating good food, and you have the right nutrition, you can optimise that repair process and that recovery process.

Once again, it’s about consuming a varied and balanced, whole food based diet. This provides the foundation of a good nutrition strategy.

Eat a Healthy Diet

In general it’s important to have a good diet but even more so if you’re trying to recover from something and you have an injury.

Avoid Processed Foods

Less healthy foods – ‘junk’ foods and processed foods, etc – are going to be more of an inflammatory increaser.

(not) Feeding inflammation

Equally essential when recovering from injury is what we should avoid consuming in our diet.

There are definitely foods that are going to be more proactive with inflammation, which is what we really want to avoid when recovering from injury.

Processed and ultra-processed foods tend to be high in saturated fat, trans fat and added sugar, whilst containing lower levels of fibre and micronutrients.

That just feeds the inflammatory cells and reduces the ability of the body to process the relatively small amounts of good nutrition it does get.

Anything in moderation is fine but large quantities of that is not. It is not advised in general, but especially when you’re recovering from injury. That’s because it feeds the inflammatory cells and prolongs that phase of injury which we’re trying to facilitate and let it run its natural timeframe.

Feeding the immune system

In contrast to inflammatory promoting food, having a more balanced diet is really beneficial.

Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and things that are rich in nutrients and vitamins, help with immune system recovery and healing.

And then having the right balance of protein and carbohydrates, and just generally more natural healthy food options, are better choices for when you’re trying to recover and just lead a general healthier lifestyle.

Balanced Diet

A well balanced diet feeds the immune system


Probiotic foods, like yoghurt, contain live microorganisms that help support the ‘good’ bacteria in our gut.

Metabolising the good stuff

As we discussed with injury prevention, for injury recovery it’s extremely important to help the body metabolise the good nutrition that we consume.

Good gut health is super important for both the immune system and metabolising our food. It’s where your food is processed – broken down and the nutrients absorbed into the body.

So plenty of fruit and vegetables to provide the essential vitamins and minerals, and probiotics.

The more effectively the body can absorb and process the good nutrition, the easier it is to heal in the shortest timeframe, rather than prolong it. 


Sleep, along with nutrition and hydration, is the most important part of recovery from injury, but also recovery from sports performance to allow for you to avoid fatigue and stay fresh.

So eating foods that help facilitate a better sleep process can be really beneficial too and something to consider when trying to recover post-game or session.


Certain foods are higher in melatonin, a naturally produced hormone in the body that helps initiate sleep. Research suggests that foods such as milk, tart cherry, kiwi fruit, fatty fish and nuts can help promote sleep.

turkey sandwich rich in tryptophan

Tryptophan is a precursor to melatonin production. Foods such as bananas and turkey are relatively high in tryptophan. So a turkey sandwich or bananas are a good type of meal to promote relaxing the body and help with improving sleep quality.

sleep supplement with water

Many supplements are available that are designed to boost levels of tryptophan and melatonin, as well as other nutrients thought to aid sleep health. Sleep supplements can offer a convenient way to explore potential benefits of increasing specific nutrients.


Sports injury nutrition checklist

Here’s a checklist that summarises some ways to utilise sport nutrition to help prevent injury and recover from injury.

The 3 Pillars

A healthy, well-balanced diet should provide the foundation of any sports nutrition strategy for injury prevention and recovery. This, together with adequate hydration and sleep, has a huge impact on both mental and physical health.

Balanced Healthy Diet

Aim for a varied, whole food, minimally processed diet, with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. For optimal health the body needs carbohydrate, protein, healthy fat, vitamins and minerals.


Between six to eight glasses of water a day is a good benchmark for normal activity. Drink to your thirst - you may need more with hot weather, intensive exercise or heavy sweating.


Good quality sleep is key for injury recovery, and sports performance recovery to avoid fatigue and subsequent injury. Sleep is when many essential repair processes take place in the body.

Maintain Energy Levels

Maintaining optimal fuel levels is essential for avoiding physiological and psychological fatigue, a major injury risk factor.

Maintain Healthy Weight

Most athletes need a diet that keeps them lean. Excessive fat makes them less powerful and causes greater impact on the joints.

Feed the Immune System

Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and things that are rich in nutrients and vitamins, help with immune system recovery and healing.

Starve Inflammation

Try to avoid processed and ultra-processed foods. They tend to be high in saturated fat, trans fat and added sugar, whilst containing lower levels of fibre and micronutrients.


Sports nutrition supplements can play a useful role in our diet. What we need all depends on our environment, goals and what we’re trying to achieve with supplementation.


What now?

So you’ve made it to the end of this sports nutrition guide. What now?

You should now have a good understanding of how nutrition affects the body and sports activity. We hope this empowers you to make some positive changes to your own nutrition routine.

If you’re not sure where to start, try focusing on just one point that resonates with your own experience and experiment to see how individual changes make you feel.

Find more expert insights on getting started with sports nutrition, see our Ultimate Simple Guide to Sports Nutrition. You can also find more of Andy Barr’s invaluable expertise in our Ultimate Simple Guide to Sports Injuries.

You can also reach out to our expert contributor, Dr Andy Barr. See Dr Andy Barr’s profile page for details.