Mar 26, 2018

Olympic nutritionist: what to eat after orthopaedic surgery

Healthy meals can help you heal and regain strength after your operation

Nutrition is a vital part of the process of recovering after orthopaedic surgery. Your muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bones need energy and nutrients to heal. Eating a nutritious diet with a good balance of protein, vegetables, fruit, good carbs and healthy fats can help you recover faster.

Mike Naylor, Head of Nutrition for the English Institute of Sport (EIS), said: “Often after an injury or operation people think they should eat less because they are not so mobile but actually energy and nutrients are essential to recovery so it’s important to make sure you’re eating enough.”

The EIS is UK Sport’s science, medicine and technology arm and provides specialist expertise to Olympic and Paralympic sports.

Mr Naylor, who led nutrition support for Team GB at the Rio Olympic Games, added: “When you are recovering from an injury or operation, you need good quality protein. You can get this from meat or dairy or vegetarian sources, such as quinoa and chia seeds. Build in some carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes. Wholemeal options, such as wholemeal bread and pasta, will also provide fibre and aid digestion.

“A good mix of green vegetables and bright berries can support inflammation management and there is some evidence that cherry juice can be particularly helpful for inflammation. Oily fish, such as salmon and tuna, provide healthy fats that help with both inflammation and general health. And if collagen production is one of the aims, which it often is after surgery, you could consider a collagen supplement or bone broths to increase collagen. Vitamin C can also help with this.”

Orthopaedic surgeon and practice lead Mr Simon Moyes added: “Along with rest and good wound care, nutrition is a key part of recovery. The right foods can aid healing, reduce the risk of infection, minimise antibiotic-related digestive problems and help restore you to full strength. We therefore encourage our patients to plan healthy meals for the days and weeks after surgery.”

Light Meals

Anaesthesia, antibiotics and painkillers can upset your digestive system so light and comforting meals are best immediately after surgery. Broth with crackers can be a good choice with plenty of water to stay hydrated and aid digestion.


Fibre-rich foods, such as wholemeal bread, beans, brown rice, bran, dried fruit and nuts, can help ease any post-surgical constipation.


In the days and weeks after surgery, protein is an important part of bone and tissue healing. Good sources of protein include fish, poultry, eggs, soy products, quinoa, chia seeds, spinach, lentils, nuts and beans.

Vitamin D and Calcium

Vitamin D and calcium work together to look after your bones. Foods rich in Vitamin D include fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel and tuna, cheese, beef liver and egg yolks. Good sources of calcium include milk, cheese, yoghurt, seeds, beans, lentils and almonds.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C boosts your immunity reducing the risk of infection after surgery. It also fights inflammation and stimulates the growth of collagen, which helps repair tendons, ligaments and bones. High vitamin C foods include oranges, bell peppers, guavas, kiwifruit, strawberries, papayas, broccoli and tomatoes.


Zinc boosts collagen production helping bones heal. Good sources of zinc include oysters, beef, lamb, spinach, pumpkin seeds, nuts, dark chocolate and mushrooms.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A helps repair tissue and increases resistance to infection. Foods high in vitamin A include beef liver, carrots, sweet potato, kale, spinach, broccoli, apricots and eggs.


Post-surgical antibiotics destroy the bacteria that can cause infection but unfortunately they also kill the good bacteria in your gut potentially leading to digestive problems. Probiotic foods, such as yoghurt with active cultures, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha tea, pickles, dark chocolate and miso soup, can aid digestion.

Omega 3

Omega 3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and strengthen bones. Good sources include salmon, mackerel, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds and soybeans.

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