Rehabilitation Nutrition for Injury Recovery of Athletes: The Role of Macronutrient Intake

Nutrients. 2020 Aug 14;12(8):2449. doi: 10.3390/nu12082449.


An adequate and balanced diet is of utmost importance in recovery and rehabilitation. "Rehabilitation nutrition" for injury recovery of athletes is similar to sports nutrition, except for the differences that concern the prevention of the risk or presence of sarcopenia, malnutrition, or dysphagia. Rehabilitation nutrition also aims, combined with training, to an adequate long-term nutritional status of the athlete and also in physical condition improvement, in terms of endurance and resistance. The aim of this paper is to define the proper nutrition for athletes in order to hasten their return to the sports after surgery or injury. Energy intake should be higher than the energy target in order to fight sarcopenia-that is 25-30 kcal/kg of body weight. Macro- and micro-nutrients play an important role in metabolism, energy production, hemoglobin synthesis, lean mass and bone mass maintenance, immunity, health, and protection against oxidative damage. Nutritional strategies, such as supplementation of suboptimal protein intake with leucine are feasible and effective in offsetting anabolic resistance. Thus, maintaining muscle mass, without gaining fat, becomes challenging for the injured athlete. A dietary strategy should be tailored to the athlete's needs, considering amounts, frequency, type and, most of all, protein quality. During rehabilitation, simultaneous carbohydrates and protein intake can inhibit muscle breakdown and muscle atrophy. The long-term intake of omega-3 fatty acids enhances anabolic sensitivity to amino acids; thus, it may be beneficial to the injured athlete. Adequate intakes of macronutrients can play a major role supporting athletes' anabolism.

Keywords: energy requirements; injury; recovery; reduced muscle mass; sarcopenia; sport nutrition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Athletic Injuries / complications
  • Athletic Injuries / metabolism*
  • Athletic Injuries / physiopathology
  • Athletic Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Deglutition Disorders / etiology
  • Deglutition Disorders / prevention & control
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Energy Intake
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Leucine / administration & dosage
  • Malnutrition / etiology
  • Malnutrition / prevention & control
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Recovery of Function
  • Risk
  • Sarcopenia / etiology
  • Sarcopenia / prevention & control
  • Sports Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*


  • Dietary Proteins
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Leucine