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Injuries may seem inevitable in a sport like volleyball, but nutrition can be a force field to help prevent them. The food athletes choose to put in their bodies can lower their injury risk and also help heal injuries.

Certain nutrients ensure that an athlete has the building blocks to fuel and repair tissues like tendon, ligaments, muscles, bones and cartilage.

Benefits of Protein

Protein is a critical nutrient because it provides amino acids needed to repair and build tissues that are stressed on the court and in the gym. Without adequate protein, tissues struggle to adapt and are less likely to sustain the loads from training.

How much, when and what proteins should an athlete consume?

  • 10-30 grams at each snack and meal.
  • Every 3-4 hours throughout the day.
  • Variety of plant and animal sources (lean meats, low-fat Greek yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, low-fat milk, beans and legumes, soy)

Benefits of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel source for muscle contraction. They allow athletes to perform at a high intensity repeatedly during practice, matches or gym sessions. This nutrient needs to be replenished after training and at each meal and snack throughout the day because the body’s ability to store it is limited. The amount needed varies significantly based on the intensity of your workout and your activity level for the day. It should be adjusted to support easier and harder training days.

Certain dietary fat sources are thought to be anti-inflammatory in the body and provide an important fuel source between high intensity repetitions on the court and in the gym. Beneficial sources of dietary fat include avocado, nuts and seeds, nut butters, oily fish, extra virgin olive oil and ground flax seeds.

Poor eating habits and an inadequate intake of key nutrients can slow your recovery process and keep you off the court longer than needed. Obviously, nutrition isn’t the
only component that will keep an athlete injury-free and aid in healing, but it’s a piece of the puzzle.

Beyond basic macronutrients like carbohydrate, protein and fat, there are several nutrients contained that may enhance injury prevent and the repair process.

These nutrients may support collagen synthesis, decrease muscle soreness and inflammation, combat oxidative stress and, therefore, speed up the adaptive processes that take place during day-to-day training or during recovery from an injury. See the chart below for examples.

Healing Nutrients

Nutrient Food Sources Benefit
Omega 3 fatty acids Salmon, tuna, sardines, ground flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil Aids in repair of muscle
Leucine Chicken, fish, beef, dairy, eggs, soy, whey protein, pork Stimulates muscle building and prevents breakdown
Tart cherries Concentrate or juice that provides 40-80 tart cherries per day Decrease muscle soreness and inflammation
Gelatin Gelatin packets (10g per day) Promotes collagen production

Author Shawn Hueglin, PhD, RD, CSSD is asport dietitian with the United States Olympic Committee.