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Nourishing Your Noggin: Nutrition for Brain Injury or Concussion Recovery

* the opinions expressed are those of the author and not Nutrition Ink.

With the fast- paced, nonstop world we live in today, it is very likely that the majority of individuals within our population have experienced some type of head or brain injury, such as a diagnosed concussion. According to UPMC, “Between 1.7 and 3 million sports- and recreation-related concussions happen each year.” When an injury such as a concussion occurs, it is very critical to follow a strict regime to avoid potential life- threatening complications and optimize your injury recovery. For athletes who are sidelined due to head injuries, the recovery stage is particularly important in order for a quick, full recovery to get them back in the game. Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of brain health, and therefore is one of the most critical components of rehabilitation following a head injury. Following an injury to the brain, it is crucial to be feeding your body the right types of foods to aid in healing, lowering inflammation, and supporting muscle mass and overall brain function. Eating a healthy, balanced diet of whole grains, proteins, fruits, and vegetables is important to feed your brain the nutrients it needs. supporting muscle mass and overall brain function.

Most doctors recommend a brain healthy, high protein diet during concussion recovery. Research has shown that having certain Branch Chain Amino Acids, the building blocks of proteins, following a concussion can improve cognitive deficits created by the injury. Protein also aids in cell and tissue production and repair. Protein consumption is especially important for athletes who are sidelined following a head injury. Additional protein helps to minimize muscle mass loss and maintain weight. Examples of protein sources include meat, fish, nuts, yogurt, and beans. Eating plenty of foods and vegetables Is also important during concussion recovery. Examples include carrots, apples, oranges, and fruits and vegetables full of antioxidants and Vitamin E such as blueberries, spinach, and broccoli. Vitamin E has been proven to help with memory and general neural function. Fruits and vegetables are also examples of food sources that lower inflammation in the body. Another diet recommendation is to consume foods rich in Omega 3s. Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA, have been shown to improve cognition, plasticity, and recovery of neurons after traumatic brain injury. These fatty acids reduce inflammation and promote healthy cell structure. Omega 3 sources include fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans. A fish oil supplement of 1200-1800 mg per day is also recommended. Staying hydrated is also crucial in helping the brain heal following any head injury. More generalized diet guidelines for concussion recovery include eating small meals every 3-4 hours, chewing food thoroughly, balancing small meals with a combination of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates, eating moderately to avoid feeling tired, follow a regular eating schedule, consuming protein sources often throughout the day, and avoiding cooking oils, fried foods, alcohol, caffeine, salty foods, and excessive sweets and candy. Within 24 hours of injury, it is recommended for the individual to consume at least half the amount of calories they would consume on a daily basis, without restrict protein or calories during this time. Below is a chart of recommended needs for an athlete during concussion recovery. Non- athletes would want to consume a bit less protein than shown below to compensate for normal physical activity levels.

Concussed athletes protein needs

  • 100 lbs. 46-68g

  • 150 lbs.68-102g

  • 200 lbs.91-136g

  • 250 lbs114-171g

  • 300 lbs.136-205g

Food has often been referred to as medicine throughout history, and in cases of head injury, nutrition and diet are exactly that. Providing your brain with the proper nutrients and healthy foods plays a crucial role in making a speedy, full recovery. Nourishing your noggin can certainly be beneficial after any head injury!


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