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Expert Insight: Nutritional Advice for Recovery

With Katie Ullery-Syvarth, RD, LD

girl sitting on a rock

Katie is a Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Sports Coach, and the founder of Nutrition at Play, based in Kentucky, USA.

She works as a Nutritionist and Soccer Coach for High School and College Female Athletes, as well as supporting those with eating disorders.

Katie is currently recovering from an ACL repair and in this piece shares her nutrition tips for others going through the rehabilitation process.

Fearing Body Changes with an Injury

I'm a registered dietitian that works with eating disorders, as well as a soccer coach, and currently recovering from ACL repair - so no topic has really felt so personal and yet so hard at the same time.

As an athlete we know that what we eat fuels our performance - but what do we do when we don’t have a performance to fuel anymore? How do we eat when we are laying on the couch all day, for what seems like forever, and throw into that mix that our activity levels are far lower than normal. Everyone around you tells you that you need to eat because you are healing, but that often doesn’t seem like a legit reason to eat.

You may actually be fearing eating because you think that will cause you to gain weight; you may feel like because your activity is low you don’t deserve food. The truth is, your body needs carbs, protein, fat and produce in order to make new cells for your recovery - in my case for that new ACL to heal! For example with ACL recovery, you want your quad to start activating and getting stronger again, and you want your hamstring (that feels barely alive!) to trigger so that you can walk normally. This is healing and these muscle groups need fuel.

Nutrition Tips for Rehabilitation

So what does this fuel look like? I would start here:

  1. Regular Eating: Make sure you are eating enough during the day. Our bodies typically run out of the energy we eat every 3-5 hours, so consuming 3 meals and 1-2 snacks during recovery is still important. If you find you are hungry sooner than that - eat!

  2. Protein: When you are eating, make sure you are including foods high in protein. My go to’s that take little effort are cheese sticks or slices, glasses of milk (lactose free or soy if you are lactose intolerant), deli meat, peanut butter and greek yogurt. You should be having food high in protein 4-6 times a day. Protein is what repairs our cells, so this is key to regaining your strength!

  3. Carbs: This may seem scary, because carbohydrates get a bad reputation, but the physical therapy you are doing requires energy and healing (just living requires energy!). Try choosing carbs that are high in fiber for better gut health (particularly with any strong drugs or painkillers after surgery). These would include whole wheat bread, bagels, whole wheat pasta, beans, sweet potatoes, and brown rice.

  4. Produce: Produce helps with giving your body important antioxidants which help your body become less inflamed. Any fruit or vegetable will work here, try to "eat the rainbow" of fruits because the more variety the more different nutrients you get!

  5. Omega 3’s: These also help with decreasing inflammation in the body, so try adding in more nuts and seeds, fish, avocado and olive oils to your diet.

Girl with ACL injury brace

Another thing I have learned over the past few months from going through my own recovery is that when it comes to food, it is okay to keep convenience items. With an injury, by dinner time you may be swollen and are often feeling zonked. Standing up to cook a meal, or even having the energy to come up with a meal idea, may be too much. So try having a meal that you can have ready in under 10 minutes that will nourish your body, but still allow you to take it easy. I like stir fry with microwave rice and rotisserie chicken or making pasta w/ chickpeas and microwaving vegetables, topped with olive oil and cheese!

Want help or have questions? Please feel free to reach out to schedule a nutrition session to help you fuel your recovery! Contact me at the details below!

Thank you Katie for this great nutritional advice to support recovery! If you'd like to hear more from Katie or book a nutrition session, you can contact her at or follow her on her Instagram (Nutrition.At.Play).

Want more expert advice for the rehabilitation process? Click here to read "Emotional First Aid for Physical Injury"!

Download the free Brace Community Rehabilitation Mobile App today from our Home Page to empower your recovery journey!

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