New Year, New Nutrition!

Role of Nutrition with Physical Therapy

Written by Matthew Ulcak PT DPT

January 14, 2022

Physical therapy is an important part of healing your body and returning to your prior level of function and reaching your goals. While physical therapists are not specifically trained in diet and nutrition, many of us are prepared to assist with general nutrition guidance, and in more complex cases, can assist you in finding a nutritionist to learn more about your health and diet. In general, diet is a very important, and often missed, component of your healing process. How can we expect to heal our bodies if we are not eating the correct fuel needed to heal?

Many patients in physical therapy have other comorbidities including, but not limited to, diabetes, obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, etc. While exercise can assist in helping to control these, diet also plays a huge role. Many patients do not get in the proper amount of calories, whether it is too much or too little. With all of the diet fads out there, it is hard to know what you should be eating, especially when you have one of the above conditions. Below are some general tips that will be important to assist with your healing.

  1. Avoid food items high in sugar
    1. Yes, South Carolina, this includes sweet tea and sodas! Foods high in sugar are usually processed and can impair our body’s natural healing processes. For your sweet fix, try fresh fruits instead.
  2. Make sure you get enough protein in your diet
    1. In general, to build muscle mass, you need at least 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Many times, strength deficits are an issue with injuries and many people do not get enough dietary intake of protein. Supplemental protein may be appropriate.
  3. Weight loss/gain
    1. In order to lose weight, caloric expenditure/output needs to be greater than caloric intake. Physical therapy will help increase caloric expenditure, but make sure you are not consuming too many calories to offset this.
    2. In order the gain weight, the opposite is true; expenditure needs to be less than intake. If you are underweight or are looking at gaining weight for a sporting activity, then make sure you are eating enough of the proper foods.
  4. Are carbs bad?
    1. Carbohydrates, or carbs, tend to get a bad rap, especially with diets like Keto out there, however carbs are your bodies first source of fuel. Carbs are very important in providing our bodies with an energy source to sustain energy throughout the day. If you often feel sluggish or tired throughout the day, you may not be ingesting enough carbs. In general, carbs should make about 45-65% of your diet.

Diet and exercise are complex and can be confusing. If you are attending physical therapy currently, ask your physical therapist for recommendations. They should be able to give you general guidance. If not, they can assist you in finding a nutritionist to help you reach your goals.