Nutrition for Surgery Recovery

Does anyone have some science / evidence based recommendations to optimise the recovery process immediately after surgery (wrist surgery in my case)? The body will obviously need extra nutrition as it responds and recovers post-operation; the question is how much and what sort of nutrition (i.e. how many more kj’s than my BMR and what sort of macro split)?

As this is my first major injury as an athlete, I’ve no idea on how to calibrate the “optimal effective dose” (and this is clearly not something that I really want to learn by doing or repeated experimentation!). I want to make sure I eat sufficiently and don’t impede any aspect of the recovery process (aiming for maximum healing and full mobility), whilst not over-indulging beyond that which is helpful. I’m not looking to minimise my intake, recovery is absolutely my prime objective, but I’m sure there’s also a point beyond which there is no longer any benefit.

[I’ve searched here and through Google, apologies if I’ve missed something obvious]

The best answer is to ask your surgeon. They have more knowledge than most (if not all) on here. Tell them you’re an athlete and want to get back to training. They should be able to give you an idea of what/how much to do to best recover.


Ask your doctors. FWIW, I had major surgery in 2019 in my stomach and my advice from them was to eat normally rather than as I was expecting a list of do’s and don’ts.

My initial reaction is it doesn’t matter. But I’m no expert so I sent this to a friend of mine who is an expert and a doctor and has worked with pro sports teams in Chicago and now collegiate ones in the northeast. Here is his response:

“In the industrialized world, as long as you have what would be considered a normal diet, you have an overage of calories and protein for healing.

People need to get off the Internet, live their lives, and shut up about things like ‘optimization.’ We are optimized by millions of years of evolution.

God damn.”


Zero doctors have the patience, knowledge, interest, and most importantly time, to entertain this question.

Yup, doctors are generally not going to be much help in the nutrition department. If you are really concerned, seek out a registered dietitian. However, following some general guidelines should allow you to get pretty darn close to optimal healing results. Just make sure you are getting enough protein, omega-3 fatty acids, variety of fruits and vegetables, and overall kcals.


I do tend to agree…sometimes we overthink things. More isnt necessarily better

FWIW Peter Attia is an MD with a deep dive podcast on aging. He recently did a podcast with a researcher discussing a study of mice that indicated intermittent fasting before surgery leads to better outcomes than random, ad hoc eating before surgery. #171 - Steve Austad, Ph.D.: The landscape of longevity science: making sense of caloric restriction, biomarkers of aging, and possible geroprotective molecules - Peter Attia


Doctors may not be the best source of information here. Doctors job is to treat the problem with the minimal effective dose. They aren’t into pushing limits, or trying to hack things to make them bigger or better. I’m sure he’s correct that we get enough protein to heal (period). But that doesn’t mean more protein wouldn’t be better. I’m not saying it is or it isn’t, but I’m not sure his response is the best for someone trying to do more than the minimum.

As someone who has gone through five surgeries on my shoulders including a couple of broken collarbones, I have always found that compliance with a quality rehab protocol was the key to recovery. Nutritious diet couldn’t hurt, of course. By the way, I’ve had to do PT on my wrists as well. Don’t rush it. It’s a technical part of the body and takes a while to rehabilitate.

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Personally I would increase protein intake for a while, since I don’t eat a lot of meat, but really up to the OP to critically self-assess or involve a nutritionist (which is probably overkill).

This is a massive generalisation. Different people clearly have different interpretations of what’s “normal”. Sure most people in the USA are getting more than enough calories, but are they getting close to good nutrition?

How recently in evolutionary terms did we stop hunting food, and drive in cars to get our highly processed food? I won’t bang on about the prevalence of gluten since I’m very partial to a home made pizza. Are we optimised for any of that though?

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sleep is going to count for much more healing than a few calories here or there. if pain is keeping you awake, stay on top of your pain meds (they gave them to you for a reason). Sleep is when the major repairs happen. shoot for 8-10 hours quality sleep


From having a number of surgeries…the real challenge doesnt tend to be nutrition. The challenge is the patience to let it heal properly and to take your time not rushing things.

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Many thanks for the insights from those who’ve been there, done that - much appreciated! We do tend to take things to ridiculous levels at times, so I can at least laugh at myself in this way, whilst also trying to do the best in my particular circumstances with what’s in my control (especially the rehab … patiently of course!).

Late to the conversation, but want to add some broader resources from Kelly Starrett (Supple Leopard, Crossfit guru, etc). He has both a video series on surgery as well as two blog posts on pre-post surgery.

This stuff came out after my knee replacement a year ago, but I may be heading toward the OR again for my second knee and this will be go-to stuff for me. I was fortunate enough to have several conversations with Kelly a few weeks ago at the CrossFit Games in Madison, WI (I was a spectator, not participant! :grin:. He is an incredible generous, thoughtful and really smart guy.

Presurgery Checklist
Postsurgery Checklist
Surgery Series on YouTube

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I’m didn’t pick up on your surgery being skeletal, muscle, whatever else. Just dropping this here for further research on your part: My wife broke a bunch of bones in her foot and was recommended by the doc to take vitamin K2 with D3 as it may help with bone regeneration.

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