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If you are in the position of needing planned surgery and are concerned about loss of fitness/muscle/strength/mobility and how you will recover quickly there is  a lot you can do to speed up recovery.


Considerations beyond muscle/tendon/ligament repair and loss of fitness are:

  • The impact of the anaesthetic.
  • The impact of strong painkillers plus any other medication you may be given.
  • The impact of returning to a normal diet after the digestive system has been shut down as well as the quality of the food you may be faced with in hospital.

Here are some strategies and considerations you could think about:


  • Nutrition wise, plan ahead and do a little batch cooking and freeze – simple stews and soups are perfect – nourishing yet easy to digest.
  • If you are in the fortunate position of having 1-2 months notice,  muscle maintenance/improvement should be a focus and maximising muscle mass in the run up is likely to serve you well.  Obviously work within your limits and safely.  If you are not used to doing weights, start slowly and even body weight can be beneficial but do seek advise of a suitably qualified professional to guide you.
  • Mobility – depending on what surgery you are having, mobility and muscle/tendon/ligament tightness can be an issue after surgery.  Be it having been moved around in unnatural positions while asleep on the operating table or carrying yourself differently to compensate for pain etc, can take its toll.  Get a deep-tissue massage, go to yoga, get on the roller (a self-massage tool) – of course again within your limits and what is safe for you. If unsure, get qualified advice.
  • Do not over exercise in the run up to surgery.   This can be quite hard if you’re concerned about losing fitness when on enforced rest. However, exercise is an inflammatory process as is recovering from surgery.  Your body needs its reserves to heal not be working on reducing inflammation from a half-marathon you ran the day before as you wont be able to run again ‘for ages’.  Time will actually go very quickly and you will be up and running sooner if you prepare well 🙂
  • Breathwork for anxiety.   It can be quite an anxious time in the run up to having surgery.  Anxiety puts us in a cortisol-driven state as well as causing physical tension in the body and using appropriate breath-work tools to take your nervous system out of a sympathetic driven state to a para-sympathetic one can be very beneficial. Practise in the week running up to surgery though, dont expect to suddenly be able to use these tools if you’ve haven’t practised.
  • Ensure your vitamin D is in an optimal range to support immune function and promote healing.  The last thing you want recovering from surgery is to come down with a bug!  It’s likely the hospital or your GP wont check this so you will need to arrange this yourself.  If its below optimal, you will need time to get it up so I’d look to do this at least 6-8 weeks in advance if you can.
  • If it’s within your budget arranging some functional bloods before surgery will give you a good measurement index to see the impact of surgery and any hangover when retesting a few months later.

POST SURGERY: key considerations are recovering quickly from physical trauma to tissue to restore you to full normal function, restoring full digestive function post the anaesthetic and other drugs used, reducing scar formation and reducing any post-operative pain.  There are supplements that can support the use of food but due to the personalised nature and risk of drug-nutrient interaction post surgery I cannot discuss these here.  There is a lot you can do with food however.

  • Nutrition – your gut will have slowed down from the impact of the anaesthetic so start slow and eat foods that are easily digestible (home made soups, stews and smoothies with a good quality protein source).  These may also help restore normal bowel movements; soluble fibre sources may help here but consideration needs to be given to the type of surgery you’ve had as to the speed of introduction.
  • PROTEIN – this is key in the weeks and months even following surgery and you will want to be looking at your plate and estimating a quarter of that is your protein source.  Having a supply of hard boiled eggs in the fridge to grab and go alongside your meal if it’s low in protein and you’re on your own can be an easy solution.   If cooking chicken etc, do extra and keep some cold in the fridge to have a snack. It’s likely smaller more regular meals will be easier to start with.
  • Collagen – this is something that some people may supplement with but you can make or buy your own bone broths which are high in collagen.  There are some good bone broths ready made on most health food and some supermarket websites – do buy organic here though as the bones which are boiled down are where toxins are stored and released.
  • Foods high in anti-oxidants to help offset inflammation produced as a natural process of the surgery and subsequent healing.  These are brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, spices in cooking etc.  So snacks of peppers and hummus,  cherry tomatoes with guacamole, shove some roast tomatoes in the oven with garlic (this can be done pre-surgery and frozen), whiz up and stir through other more boring steamed vegetables.
  • B12 is depleted by anaesthetics as nitrous oxide renders B12 inactive – good sources of B12 in food are poultry, eggs, seafood and red meat.
  • Bloating post surgery – this is a common and potentially uncomfortable side effect. It does usually pass after a few days but avoiding foods that may aggravate bloating such as higher FODMAP foods can be useful if you are struggling.
  • Reducing other sources of inflammation– think about inflammation as a total body load.  There is inflammation from the surgery which is natural and wanted as it is part of the healing process but we dont want to divert essential resources to other unnecessary inflammation.  Processed foods are a huge source of inflammation, alcohol will deplete the body of vital nutrients and both provide little or no nourishment.   I strongly advise avoiding   these quick yet unhelpful sources of food.
  • If you have been on antibiotics, adding in foods that contain pre and pro-biotic properties are likely to help support replenishment of the gut microbiome.   Food options are fermented foods (avoid until bloating has subsided) such as kimchi and sauerkraut, garlic, chicory, artichoke, asparagus and leeks.
  • Oily fish – be careful supplementing with fish oil post surgery due to its blood thinning effect and potential interaction with other medications but you could look to ensure you are getting oily fish in your diet at least 2-3x week.  Remember tinned tuna has no beneficial oils in!
  • Finally- this is one to take only under professional guidance, but proteolytic enzymes taken away from food have good evidence behind them to show that they can reduce unwanted scar tissue build up and speed up recovery. They should also not be started for at least 10 days post surgery in case they inhibit initial wanted scar tissue formation.  Please seek qualified advice first before taking them.

If in any doubt if this advise is right for you please contact your surgeon or supporting medical team.

I hope this helps and if you’d like to find out more how Katherine can help support you, please contact her here  and I wish you a speedy recovery.