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Achieving R & R, One Meal at a Time

With summer past and winter looming, active people have earned a season of R&R—recovery and rejuvenation. Whether you spent your weekends competing in triathlons or worked long hours keeping clients in shape for summer adventures, your bodies have taken a beating over the past few months.

Now is the time to concentrate on healing. It won’t be enough to rest up by the fire: you need a healing diet to get your body into full R&R mode. If you and your clients are consuming a diet brimming with inflammation-fighting whole grains, fats, fruits and vegetables, you may need only a few diet tweaks to improve muscle recovery and encourage whole-body rejuvenation.

To help with your meal planning, I have divided healing nutrients into three health categories: bones, immune system and muscles. Read on to learn what you need to achieve optimal R&R.

Better Bones

You should be aware of the value of calcium and vitamin D, but don’t overlook other vital nutrients such as vitamin C and potassium. For better bone health, consider the following:

Vitamin D

Required for adequate calcium absorption and promotion of bone health, vitamin D has also been linked to decreased risk for bone fractures (HHS & USDA 2010).

Who Needs More? Athletes with limited sun exposure, anyone with poor diet quality and people who have difficulty absorbing vitamin D (Rodriguez, DiMarco & Langley 2009).

How Much? The conservative supplementation (assuming adequate sun exposure) that can be safely recommended in compliance with the Dietary Reference Intake level is 600 International Units (IU) (15 micrograms [mcg]) per day for children and most adults and 800 IU (20 mcg) per day for adults older than 70. Note that as intake increases above 4,000 IU (100 mcg) per day, the risk of adverse effects increases (HHS & USDA 2010).

Vitamin C

A potent antioxidant, vitamin C helps in the maintenance of collagen formation and bone structure and is therefore vital for bone health.

How Much? Recommended dietary intake for teens and adults ranges from 65 milligrams (mg) to 90 mg per day, with an extra 35 mg required for those who smoke, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.


Decreased bone loss is one of the benefits of consuming a diet high in potassium, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (HHS & USDA 2010). (Another benefit is that potassium helps address high blood pressure.)

How Much? Adequate Intake of potassium for adults is 4,700 mg per day (HHS & USDA 2010).


Protein intake appears to benefit bone status, particularly in older adults (Tucker 2009). The Recommended Dietary Allowance for adults is 0.8 grams (g) per kilogram (kg) of body weight per day (HHS & USDA 2010).

Enhanced Immunity

Micronutrients play a key role in energy production, hemoglobin synthesis and maintenance of bone and digestive health. Vitamins and minerals assist with recovery from injury, promote adequate immune function and protect the body against oxidative damage, according to the Position Statement of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine in a report titled “Nutrition and Athletic Performance” (Rodriguez, DiMarco & Langley 2009).

Vital Antioxidants

Vitamins C and E, beta carotene and even selenium play important roles in protecting cell membranes from oxidative damage.

Whether exercise substantially increases the need for antioxidant nutrients remains controversial (Thompson & Clarkson 2000). Nevertheless, athletes and active people who consume a low-quality, nutrient-deficient diet may be at risk of consuming too few vital antioxidants.


Athletes and active individuals, especially women, should be certain to consume a diet rich in iron. Iron is essential for immune health, being required for the formation of hemoglobin and myoglobin; the oxygen-carrying capacity of these blood proteins is indispensable for immune system function (Rodriquez, DiMarco & Langley 2009).

Iron depletion is common among athletes who consume vegetarian diets with poor iron availability and among those who restrict overall caloric intake. Endurance athletes need approximately 70% more iron than normal (Rodriquez, DiMarco & Langley 2009).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Athletes and active people looking to thwart inflammation should consider boosting their intake of omega-3 fatty acids—including alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic (DHA)—which are important for many aspects of health (Kris-Etherton & Innis 2007).

Sources? Omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained via the diet. They are often found in fish oil or flaxseed oil supplements.

How Much? Scientific estimates of the most beneficial level of omega-3 intake are still evolving. Currently, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming about 8 ounces per week of a variety of seafood, providing an average consumption of 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA (HHS & USDA 2010).

Mighty Muscles

I can hardly mention muscle health and recovery without discussing the power of protein, yet compelling research suggests a multitude of micronutrients play a role in maintaining muscle health. Here are key nutrients to consider when looking to accrue some R&R:


Dietary protein recommendations have traditionally aimed to prevent deficiency rather than promote optimal health (Rodriguez & Garlick 2008). The most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey shows that women aged 20 and older consume about 67 g of protein daily and men aged 20 and older consume about 98 g daily (USDA 2010), but that might not be enough for all active people. Other research suggests that higher protein intake may be beneficial for a range of health outcomes, including the maintenance of muscle mass (Rodriguez & Garlick 2008, Fulgoni 2008).

How Much? Endurance athletes should aim for an intake of 1.2–1.4 g/kg of body weight per day (0.55–0.6 g per pound [lb] of body weight per day), while strength athletes should aim for 1.2–1.7 g/kg per day (0.55–0.8 g/lb per day) (Rodriguez, DiMarco & Langley 2009).

Sources? Nutrient-dense, high-quality protein sources include lean meats, fish, legumes and even complete plant sources (quinoa and soy come to mind).

Several intact, high-quality proteins such as whey, casein and soy are effective for the repair, maintenance and synthesis of skeletal muscle proteins in response to training (Rodriguez, DiMarco & Langley 2009).


Athletes in training and those seeking R&R should be sure to consume enough micronutrients. Research continues to suggest that micronutrients—including such minerals as calcium, selenium, potassium and zinc, and antioxidants such as vitamin C, D, E and beta carotene—promote muscle health by assisting with synthesis or even repair of muscle tissue during recovery from exercise and injury (Rodriguez, DiMarco & Langley 2009).

A few studies suggest vitamin E may play an active role in reducing inflammation and muscle soreness, but more research is needed.

Certain B vitamins (such as B12 and folate) are required for the production of red blood cells and also for protein synthesis.

How Much? For exact recommendations on micronutrient intake, see Appendix 5: Nutritional Goals for Age-Gender Groups, Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations, available at www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/PolicyDoc/PolicyDoc.pdf (HHS & USDA 2010).

Equipped for R&R

Arm yourself to fight off inflammation, build better bones or even fight off injury and fatigue with these tips. I hope you’ll use them to make simple tweaks to your diet and set yourself on the path to enjoy plenty of R&R.

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