How do you maintain your calorie intake after an injury?

Here is what I recommend when someone gets injured:

Aim for Maintenance Calories

When you are injured, your muscles are typically used less than usual. It can lead to weight loss, decreasing muscle strength and endurance. Aiming for maintenance calories is the best way to maintain your energy and strength.

Maintaining your weight is important for a multitude of reasons. It can be an important part of your overall health and help you achieve other goals, such as minimising muscle loss and fat gain, where possible.

Balancing your calories can be tricky; here are some of the reasons why:

  1. 1. Maintenance calories will be different to what they were before. According to a study by Harvard's Nutrition Department, maintenance calories will be different to what they previously were. The study states that the baseline formula of Calories in minus Calories out was flawed because it failed to consider numerous variables like weight, age, height and gender.
  2. 2. Sports injuries are a big part of the lives of many people. Depending on the person's perspective, it could be a great or terrible thing. On the one hand, it can mean more time to relax and recover from injury. On the other hand, this could also mean losing mobility and being stuck in a sedentary lifestyle for an extended period. In addition, sports injuries can bring about other mental challenges.
  3. 3. Athletes will often unintentionally overshoot the reduction in calories because they are trying so hard to avoid fat gain during this time. It is not always the best idea because when you cut calories too low, your body will start to think it is starving. It can cause many detrimental side effects such as increased appetite, reduced energy and slower metabolism, leading to fat storage instead of fat burning.

It is my standard advice, but it might be different for you. 

If the rehabilitation is going to be longer than six months, I would suggest doing things differently.

  1. 1. Your main goal is to aim for maintenance calories initially.
  2. 2. Then, once you start ramping up your fitness again and setting goals related to strength and other aspects of performance, you should go into a small surplus. Gaining muscle is easier when you feed your body more than enough to maintain its current weight. It would help achieve these goals while also potentially helping with soft tissue recovery a bit too.
  3. 3. However, to return to your sport/activity, you likely want to be at a similar body fat percentage to what they were pre-injury. It's important to have a calorie deficit at some point to lose body fat.
  4. 4. It is where I would suggest looking at maintenance calories before returning to sport. It's not shown in the images because they are just an illustration. It would certainly help. Please remember to reduce the recovery time. It could help fuel recovery and performance better than a deficit.


Aidan Muir | Dietitian, Nutritionist



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