As a competitive soccer player, I’ve struggled with my fair share of injuries. Hip surgery sidelined me at age 21 and recent events have made it hard to stay active. After straining some muscle or connective tissue during a Brazilian jiujitsu take down, I waited a month in recovery mode. Shortly before visiting a highly regarded physical therapist in Austin, Texas, I managed to severely tear many ligaments in my ankle.
When people say “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” my experience says they aren’t discussing the physical injury; the mental challenge may become easier to handle. The injuries will most likely stay with you forever, but there are some ways to mitigate the long-term effects and recuperate quicker.
Using some of these lifestyle hacks, you can improve your injury recovery process and hopefully prevent long-term stiffness that keeps you from being active. First, I’ll explain a few basic principles and lifestyle improvements that are for beginners; towards the end I’ll delve into more interesting biohacking methods.
Improving Recovery and Removing Obstacles
Your body always needs a healthy dose of micronutrients, but that could not be more true than when you are struggling with an injury. Vitamins and minerals are needed for every repair function and you might be deficient in many necessary ones. My micronutrient experiment showed a propensity for vitamin D deficiency (important for bone health) among many others.
Look up the nutrients involved with your particular injury / part of the body and see whether you can add more into your diet, include in green juice, or find a bioavailable supplement that can help to boost your levels in time of need.
Anyone who has read my ebook Brain Hacking 101 knows that sugar is overdone in modern society. It isn’t inherently a bad thing, but economic abundance has made it easy to consume too much. The Loma Linda University study reviewing neutrophils is often cited as evidence that sugar depresses the immune system. At the very least, sugar will promote inflammation in doses considered relatively low by modern standards. The immune system benefits of cold showers do not
I’m not a proponent of cutting out all fruit or sugar, but ensuring less consumption during recovery phase will allow your immune system to focus on the injury at hand. There is no reason to add to your body’s burden through added sugar. Given how easy it would be for people (including me) to emotionally eat sweats when injured, it is imperative to keep this one in check!
The general term “protein” refers to a set of essential and non-essential amino acids that are used by the body for a multitude of purposes. One of the main purposes is to rebuild and repair; with an injury, this is a key component of getting healthy. Consuming enough protein is of paramount importance when injured so that your body has the raw materials to use for the quickest recovery possible.
Unless you are a body builder, you probably are not getting as much protein as you can get away with. At 175 lbs and mostly muscle, I can consume 130 – 150 grams of protein per day for optimal results. That is a whole lot of fish, chicken, bison, and eggs. Typically I use My Fitness Pal to track consumption, but it is even more important when injured.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but when injured it is probably a good idea to start consuming more food rather than less. Obviously you want to consume the right kind of food (healthy meat, fats, and lots of vegetables), but having a higher caloric intake is going to make you more anabolic (ie: building up) and hopefully speed up recovery.
You may be hesitant to increase your caloric intake as soon as you can’t exercise, but consider it a method of getting healed quicker and preventing muscle degradation as much as possible while you are in recovery mode.
Unless you are taking a supplement of collagen (which can be hard to find and expensive), bone broth is a simple and easy way to get collagen and other nutrients.
If you have an injury that includes ligaments or tendons, their recovery will require collagen support. These biomolecules include glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) like glucosamine. The chondroitin is especially important for joint health as indicated by numerous studies on osteoarthritis.
Just buy a number of bones (chicken, beef etc.) from a local super market or farmer’s market that feeds their livestock grass (rather than corn / grains). You can use any number of online recipes to make something that tastes delicious. Alternatively, you can buy Upgraded collagen protein, which can be used to speed up recovery and repair soft tissue (or Vital Proteins, a cheaper option of the same quality).
Also known as “hyperthermic conditioning”, saunas can be a fantastic way of improving human growth hormone (hGH) and thus improving recovery. Hyperthermic conditioning increases growth hormone, which is mediated primarily by IGF-1 that can increase protein synthesis (via mTOR pathway) and decrease protein degradation (via FOXO pathway).
According to one study, 2 x 1 hour sauna sessions per day (176 degrees F) for 7 days was shown to improve hGH by 16-fold on day three. The effects last for a few hours and obviously linger for days in smaller amounts. While this is an unreasonable length of time, your local gym sauna might be useful enough to increase growth hormone production. Dr. Rhonda Patrick (a future podcast guest) has a great piece on Tim Ferriss’ blog that is far more expansive.
My sauna of choice is a native American Lakota / Sioux sweat lodge ceremony for 1.5 – 2 hours. Typically it consists of extreme heat with short bouts of rest (opening the lodge). Unfortunately, I only do this one a month at best so it’s time to get creative.
(By the way, another method I use for improved human growth hormone is intermittent fasting. Check out this intermittent fasting guide.)
Cranial electrotherapy stimulation
While the CES is still new to me, there are methods of using technology for profound recovery improvements. A knowledgeable acquaintance named Jason Hooper told me that using the device can improve human growth hormone release; simply put the CES on the delta setting, which helps the body to produce its own growth hormone as an alternative to steroids.
Research is scarce, but it seems the CES was most analyzed in the 1960s by Soviets for their space program. Check out a few studies here and here. The device can be purchased relatively cheaply; just ensure to run on the delta setting and read the instruction manual.
Patience and Recovery
No matter how many of the tips you use from above, nothing matters more than patience. You can ruin all your hard work and effort by trying to get too aggressive with exercise after your injury. Take the necessary time for your body to restore itself. It may never be perfect or even back to where it was initially, but with time you can get better much quicker.