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The Important Role of Nutrition During Recovery

female dietitians, posters reading: "make small changes one meal at a time," broccoli, berry good, perfect, meat journey," cook, share enjoy, more than food: how you eat is important too!"

Stephanie Lemieux, RD, registered dietitian at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Canada


Whether they are getting back to the sport they love after an injury or recovering from a surgery, there are many factors that contribute to an optimal and healthy recovery for a patient. One of these important factors is nutrition.

Stephanie Lemieux, RD, is a registered dietitian at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Canada. She is actively educating our patients and families on nutritional best practices for a healthy recovery. She is also active in the community alongside the sports medicine team to educate active youth and athletes on best nutritional practices to not only heal from injuries, but also to prevent them.

While there are many factors involved in a successful healing journey, making small changes to your diet can go a long way. Here are some tips that Lemieux gives to patients after surgery:

Eating Enough

While a person may be moving less after a surgery, the body is still hard at work trying to heal. In order to do this, it needs energy and nutrients. On top of that, a patient may go through rehabilitation like physiotherapy to regain muscle mass, learn how to walk with crutches, etc. All of these combined activities require a good amount of energy. During this period, it is important to eat plenty of nutritious food and to not skip any meals. It is recommended to maintain three meals a day with added snacks, or simply eating every three to four hours.

The Importance of Protein

Proteins are the building blocks of the body: muscles, bones, skin, hair, hormones and antibodies. It is important to include a source of protein at each meal, especially in the post-operative period. Good sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, soy products and legumes.

Calcium for Strong Bones

For strong and healthy bones, it is important to get three to four servings of calcium-rich food every day. This is especially important for adolescents, as this is a critical period for building maximum bone mass. It is recommended to get calcium through food products instead of supplements, as nutrients are best absorbed from real food. Calcium-rich food includes dairy products, fortified vegetable drinks (soy, oat), tofu, and orange juice with added calcium.

Vitamin D for Bones, Muscles and Immune System

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and supports the function of muscles and the immune system. While the body produces vitamin D naturally when our skin is exposed to sunlight, we can also get it through products like milk, fortified vegetable drinks, egg yolks and fatty fish. Sometimes it can be hard to get adequate Vitamin D naturally, especially in the winter, or if you do not consume enough of these food products mentioned. This could be the right time to take a supplement. You can ask your doctor or your dietitian about it.

A Colorful Diet

Vegetables and fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that all contribute in a positive way to the healing process. It is important to eat them every day. Vitamin C helps heal and rebuild soft tissues such as skin, ligaments and tendons. It can be found in citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis, cantaloupe, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage and potatoes, among others.

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