Dietary supplements are widely used to enhance performance and body composition during training programs.
The benefits of using key supplements backed by research are paramount during a body transformation program.
What about when you are injured?
Can you use supplements for injuries? Utilizing supplements while recovering from musculoskeletal injury hasn’t really been investigated. Clinical experience shows that as soon as someone gets injured, they immediately stop taking any form of supplementation(1).
Many people think that the use of these performance enhancing supplements are no longer required until they totally recovered from their injury. Wrong!
I will highlight and discuss the use of two specific supplements – whey protein and creatine – in regard to their promise during rehab after sustaining a musculoskeletal injury. The intent is to highlight the potential to trainers to better advise their clients in the use of supplements during the rehabilitative phase.
Protein supplementation during musculoskeletal rehab
Typically, musculoskeletal injury occurs due to a deficiency of muscles and tendons. As such, rehabilitation focuses on the prescription of exercise to facilitate synthesis and maturation of newly constructed muscle tissue. However, we know the consumption of protein and amino acids enhances muscle protein synthesis and is apparent in both younger and older skeletal muscles(2).
It is obvious that not having enough protein in the rehab phase may delay regeneration of muscle tissue. For example, a muscle injury caused by a strain or tear involves destruction of the extracellular matrix and muscle tissue cells, followed by resynthesis and production of new muscle tissue cells. This results in a negative nitrogen balance(3). Nitrogen balance is a measure of nitrogen input minus nitrogen output. Nitrogen Balance = Nitrogen intake – Nitrogen loss.
Sources of nitrogen intake include meat, dairy, eggs, nuts and legumes, and grains and cereals. Examples of nitrogen losses include urine, faeces, sweat, hair, and skin.
This measurement of nitrogen input and loss is used to study protein metabolism. Therefore, rehabbing an injury should include rest, rehabilitation and nutrition. This ensures muscle protein synthesis is optimized and a positive nitrogen balance occurs, allowing effective tissue repair(4).
What the evidence shows on protein
Research shows that improvements in rehabilitative potential can be facilitated with appropriate protein supplementation during post injury exercise, training with enhanced degrees of muscle synthesis and tensile strength produced(5).
It’s important to note that this research used carbohydrate with the high amount of protein, which likely provides sufficient insulin to modulate the protein synthesis process(6) and is shown to be more effective than protein on its own(7).
Protein supplementation in the elderly following hip fractures also demonstrated enhanced recovery(8).
Proposed intake of 20-25 grams of protein in healthy tissue after training(9)is warranted in the period of rehabilitation post injury to sustain positive net protein balance supportive of rehabilitative exercise.
Creatine supplementation during musculoskeletal rehab
The benefits of creatine supplementation in a healthy population undertaking resistance training is clear. The benefits include improvements in muscle size and strength(10), increases in serum testosterone and reduction in cortisol(11), improvements in physical performance and body composition(12). However there is scant evidence of creatine’s potential during musculoskeletal rehab.
We can substantiate the use of creatine during a period of rest and immobilization to counteract the disuse that occurs during this time and preparing for when active rehabilitation begins. Also, the use of creatine to facilitate greater metabolic efficiency warrants further applied research.
What the evidence shows on Creatine
Evidence shows that a group of immobilized subjects consuming creatine had a 10% increase in a glucose transport protein found primarily in striated muscle (skeletal and cardiac). The group without creatine had a further reduction of 10% in this protein(13). This study concluded that using creatine supplements both increased the level of this protein in muscle tissue during rehab and prevented further reductions.
These results indicated creatine used during rehab post injury can enhance the muscle tissue’s ability to create energy efficiently and may prevent fatigue.
Another study immobilized subjects for two weeks followed by a 10-week exercise rehab program supplemented by either creatine or placebo (maltodextrin)(14). Results showed both groups caused equal detriments to muscle size and strength during immobilization, but the creatine group showed a more rapid recovery in both size and strength during the rehab phase.
Although there isn’t much evidence available in this population; the research that was done indicated potential benefits for commencing or continuing a cycle of creatine consumption during a period of immobility post injury and through the rehab phase.
Take Home Points
The current evidence demonstrates that utilizing protein and creatine supplementation enhances the recovery process during rehab post injury.
A common misconception is people think that because their exercise intensity is not high enough during rehab, they should abstain from supplementation.
It’s clear that the biological state of tissue injury and the effect of immobility will leave them in a deficient state for muscle tissue repair and synthesis.
Preliminary evidence suggests protein and creatine supplementation counteracts these deficits in muscle tissue repair and synthesis.
I recommend the creatine cycling strategy is utilized during a post injury rehab period.
Connect here with WatchFit Expert Dr. Paul Henning
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12. van Loon L OA, Hartgens F, Hesselink M, Snow R, and Wagenmakers A. . Effects of creatine loading and prolonged creatine supplementation on body composition, fuel selection, sprint and endurance performance in humans. Clin Sci (Lond) 2003;104:153-162.
13. Shepherd PR, Kahn BB. Glucose transporters and insulin action–implications for insulin resistance and diabetes mellitus. The New England journal of medicine. Jul 22 1999;341(4):248-257.
14. Hespel P, Op’t Eijnde B, Van Leemputte M, et al. Oral creatine supplementation facilitates the rehabilitation of disuse atrophy and alters the expression of muscle myogenic factors in humans. The Journal of physiology. Oct 15 2001;536(Pt 2):625-633.