31 March 2015 Calorie and Protein Requirements for Healing After Orthopedic Surgery

Leading a life filled with playing sports and being active offers many mental and physical rewards. Yet, the reality remains that sometimes an active lifestyle results in a physical injury. My own recovery from an orthopedic surgery got me thinking about diet and healing. Read on for some nutrition tips to improve your odds of a speedy recovery.

Calorie Needs: Now is not the time for weight loss!

A sudden switch from an active lifestyle to being immobilized may cause you to worry about gaining weight. In fact, the human body actually increases its calorie requirements following surgery. Additional calories are needed to assist in rebuilding tissue, repairing ligaments and muscles and rebuilding bone. Your specific calorie needs of course will depend on the type of procedure you had performed. Besides the physical healing that is taking place, getting around on crutches increases calorie demands as it is an abnormal process for the human body.

Immediately after your surgery, it may be challenging to meet these additional calorie needs. Appetite and taste changes as well as nausea and fatigue may be barriers to eating. Try starting with soft and moist foods.Think yogurt, pudding and soups vs. dry chicken and peanut butter on toast or raw veggies and hummus. These items will return to your diet soon enough. If you are struggling to finish your meals, you may have an easier time switching to small frequent meals. Some people find that liquid nutrition is the way to go during the first few days after surgery. I suggest having some ready to drink nutritional drinks on hand such as Boost of Ensure. If you have help in the kitchen, you can make a list before you go into surgery, of your favorite smoothie recipes. When you return home from the hospital, refer your kitchen chefs to this list of ideas. My favorite smoothie ingredients are: a small amount of greens, frozen berries, natural whey protein powder, chia seeds and almond milk.

Protein needs: Adequate protein intake may decrease healing time.

Protein is critical for healing, repair of tissues and re-growth. The website MyNetDiary calculates individual calorie and protein recommendations. The website is easy to use to track your food intake, so you know where you stand compared to recommendations. Strive to include a lean protein at each meal. If you can’t fit in enough protein at a meal, strive to include protein rich snacks between meals. Consider tofu in a soup or ground meats in a lasagna. For snacks try cottage cheese and grapes or protein bars. Soft and moist foods may be the easiest foods to tolerate. The first few days after surgery, you may find you are focused on things other than meeting your protein goals. I found it helpful to set realistic expectations during this period. Cheese and crackers and yogurt were the only foods that sounded appealing. I was relieved when I started craving specific foods again. It felt like a turning point in my healing process.

Mental states: Stay Positive!

We are all familiar with the idea of positive thinking and yet putting it into practice can be a challenge. Intentional positive thinking helped me manage pain, allay my fears and focus on healing my body. I found that I felt my best when I practiced positive affirmations and guided imagery on a daily basis. I really connected with Belleruth Naparsteck’s Affirmations for healing after surgery: Anything you can do to maintain a positive attitude can only help your recovery.


Meeting your calorie and protein needs can be a struggle after any surgery. If you are not sure how many calories or grams of protein your body needs for recovery and healing consider using www.mynetdiary.com . The program is easy to use and the food database is reliable. Once you create your profile and begin entering in your foods, the website provides instant feedback around your calorie, protein, fat and carbohydrate intake. Best of luck using these tools to recover quickly you’re your surgery. Soon you will be back to your active lifestyle!

Joanna Kriehn

MS RD is a Dietitian in Denver, Colorado

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


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