Eating for a speedy recovery

Maybe you're sporting some serious road rash from a bike crash. Or you twisted your ankle fighting for that soccer ball. For whatever reason, you're sidelined with an injury -- and it's driving you crazy. Oh yeah, we know the feeling. To jump-start the healing process, make the grocery store your next stop: Research shows that certain nutrients help repair bones, tissue and ligaments more quickly. But some foods are better than others at healing particular injuries. Use this guide to eat right based on your bang-up, and get back in the game ASAP:

1. You've got ... a scrape or cut.

Nutrient Rx: Arginine and glutamine

Found in: Fish, chicken, shellfish, soybeans

Mixed martial arts champ Phillipe Nover chows down chicken or fish after giving -- and receiving -- a beating in the ring. Why is this a smart move? Protein-rich foods helps rebuild torn tissue, allowing gashes to close more quickly, explains Gregory Stewart, M.D., co-director of the Sports Medicine Program at Tulane University's Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Two specific amino acids in protein, arginine and glutamine, provide the extra curing power. According to a review of research from Harvard Medical School, surgery patients who got plenty of glutamine spent four fewer days recovering than those who didn't. Meanwhile, arginine is shown to bump up the production of white blood cells and collagen, a protein found in skin. "It also boosts blood flow -- another key to wound repair," said Laith Jazrawi, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine expert at New York University.

2. You've got ... a sprain or torn ligament

Nutrient Rx: Omega-3s and iron

Find it in: Salmon, flaxseed; spinach, lentils, beef

Has your ankle ballooned to the size of a mango? Blame it on inflammation, which is how your body repairs itself. But while some of that redness and swelling is helpful, too much can interfere with the healing process, according to Jazrawi. To strike the right balance, he recommends steering clear of aspirin (or other anti-inflammatory pills) for the 72 hours following your injury, allowing your body to do its thing. Instead, keep the puffiness in check by loading up on salmon and other foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids.

For an even bigger benefit, pair that fish with a side of iron-rich spinach. Along with ferrying oxygen throughout the body, the mineral also increases the production of red blood cells and blood flow to your ligaments. "A lot of female athletes have low iron levels, or are anemic," said Claudette Lajam, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine expert at NYU Langone Medical Center. And that could keep you from getting back on your feet. So pump some iron onto your plate, but consult your doc before swallowing a supplement: Overdoing the mineral can lead to side effects, such as constipation.

3. You've got ... a monster bruise.

Nutrient Rx: Vitamin K

Find it in: Brussels sprouts, asparagus, green peas, leafy greens

If those basketball games leave you looking like a banged-up banana, consider filling your grocery cart with vitamin K-packed greens. This nutrient regulates your ability to form blood clots, preventing your capillaries from leaking blood into surrounding tissues and forming a bruise. Getting 70 mcg of vitamin K daily can prevent bruises from forming, but it won't heal that purple blotch faster. Consider using a topical cream: Researchers from the University of Miami found that the bruises on people who rubbed on a K cream faded faster.

4. You've got ... a broken bone

Nutrient Rx: Antioxidants, zinc, and calcium

Find it in: Fortified cereal with milk

Super Bowl champ Peyton Manning and countless athletes before him were right: You should eat your Wheaties. It, along with other cereals, is fortified with antioxidants, like vitamins A, C, D and K, which fight off free radicals. These harmful molecules "cause tissue damage, prolonging the healing response," said Jazrawi.

Meanwhile, the milk your pour over those flakes is packed with calcium and vitamin D, two proven bone-builders. Along with loading up on dairy, docs advise swallowing additional supplements. "For anyone with a fracture, I would recommend taking 1,200 mg of calcium per day," Jazarawi said. Look for a brand that also contains vitamin D, or take a separate supplement containing least 1,000 IU.

Just don't wash them down with soda, says Lajam, who advises steering clear of the fizzy stuff until you're out of that cast. "The carbonation sucks calcium from your bones, so cutting back can help you recovery more quickly," she said.

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