The Importance of Protein for Recovery

Aubrey Lee – Thursday, August 4, 2021


Knowing how, what, and when to properly fuel your body can be confusing and convoluted when navigating the internet. With countless fad diets, body types, and workouts cycling in and out of popularity, it is hard to maintain a balanced diet and a healthy body. One thing that continues to ring true through all the conflicted health and wellness messaging is you are what you eat. Although health looks different on everyone, it is critical to fuel your body with whole foods that are rich in nutrients. This means focusing on protein, healthy fats, fiber, and leafy greens.


Of the three major macro-nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, individuals who have undergone surgery need to focus on increasing protein intake. When you hear the word “protein”, your mind may wander to mental images of the stereotypical bulky individuals who hit the gym for hours on end. No matter who you are, protein is essential for a healthy body. Protein is considered the building blocks for our muscles, bones, cartilage, skin, and blood, and should not be overlooked.



Increase Protein Intake


Not only is protein important daily, but it is even more critical after a surgical procedure. Recent studies suggest that for up to one month post-operatively there may be a reduction in muscle strength. This is due to a reduction in insulin facilitation of glucose. What this means is that since insulin is the most potent inhibitor of protein breakdown, the protein balance becomes negative, resulting in a loss of muscle protein and a reduction in lean body mass (PubMed).


Increasing protein after surgery helps to repair damaged body tissues and form antibodies to fight infection and produce collagen which is essential for scar formation.


The National Academy of Medicine recommends adults get a minimum of 0.8 g of protein/kg/day, or about 7 grams of protein for every 20 lbs. of body weight.


Post-operatively, it is recommended that adults get 1.5 g – 2 g of protein/kg/day, or about 14-19 g of protein for every 20lbs of body weight.


While it is important to increase protein intake, the quality of the protein being consumed is also critical. Focusing on lean proteins that are high in antioxidants, rich in minerals, low in saturated fat, are a good source of dietary fiber, have no cholesterol, and are complete proteins is important. Of the 20 amino acids that are required for protein synthesis in human beings, only 9 amino acid strains are essential and considered a complete protein. Complete protein sources allow for muscle growth and nitrogen balance. These 9 essential amino acids include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine (NCBI).


Good healthy sources of protein include: Lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, oats, quinoa, seafood, poultry, lean meat, kale, spinach, and broccoli.


If you are having trouble incorporating more protein into your daily routine, try supplementing with a whey protein shake or vegan protein powder!



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