If you’re booked for surgery, you’re most likely a little scared and anxious. You’re wondering what will happen, and you’re thinking about how long it will take you to recover. What you’re probably not thinking about is what you’ll be eating a few weeks before the surgery. It’s fair to say that pre-surgical nutrition is low on the list of things people think about before surgery.
But presurgical nutrition matters, and it can make a real difference to your recovery. A quicker, smoother, complication-free recovery is a lot more likely to happen if you have good pre-op nutrition.
With that in mind, if you or a family member/friend are booked for surgery, here are some tips for achieving good pre-surgical nutrition. Don’t let your pre-op nutrition be an afterthought if you want to have a swift recovery.
Surgical Patients Are Special
It’s true. They need a lot more calories to keep their body functioning smoothly before, during, and after surgery.
Surgical procedures put the body under an extraordinary amount of stress. It must deal with fluid loss, tissue damage, fight off infections, and marshal all resources to start the healing process. Additionally, surgery actually puts the body into a special state that ramps up its metabolism – a catabolic state. Without getting too technical, the body is normally in a state of equilibrium where it tries to maintain a happy balance between the energy that it takes in (calories) and the energy that it uses. But when it’s put under acute stress (like surgery), it responds by going into a hyper state. Your body does this to increase its energy sources and meet the increased demand.
The energy that the body uses comes in the form of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. That’s why it’s not surprising that most people experience a mild to moderate amount of weight loss post-surgery. It also highlights the importance of keeping up your energy stores before the operation. This way you’re less likely to experience any post-op weight loss (which is good!) and more likely to have a faster, uneventful recovery.
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Getting Key Nutrients
Getting enough calories before surgery is important. However, it’s important to make sure those calories come from the right place.
It doesn’t matter if you’re having a joint replaced or an appendix removed, the body needs extra nutrients to heal. Focusing on good nutrition can mean the difference between a quick and lengthy recovery.
Key Nutrients in Food to Get Before Surgery To Promote Healing:
The stress of surgery creates increased energy and protein demands. This extra protein comes in the form of amino acids. Essential amino acids play a huge role in recovery, specifically in tissue repair. Since essential amino acids are not stored in the body, you must get them through diet or supplements.
Receiving amino acid supplements before and after surgery has actually been shown to reduce post surgery complications1,2.
Vitamin C is responsible for making connective tissue and acts as a powerful antioxidant. Since surgical trauma causes an increase in the body’s metabolic rate, vitamin C levels are known to drop during an operation. Eating oranges and citrus fruits in the weeks before surgery can help keep your vitamin C levels up3. Vitamin C supplements are also a helpful alternative but check with your doctor before beginning a supplement.
This vitamin is known to speed up the healing of skin incisions and the formation of granulation tissue4. Granulation tissue is tissue that forms around the wound or surgical site.
Several studies indicate that zinc supplements improve the wound healing response5. Unfortunately, the body doesn’t readily store zinc. You need to get it through foods like wheat germ, seeds, meat, and dark chocolate or via a supplement.
Vitamin D and Calcium
These two nutrients go hand-in-hand. Both are necessary for a successful surgery and recovery, especially bone-related surgeries. Poor bone density before surgery can lead to
- instrumentation failure,
- a need for revision surgery, and
- possible adjacent fractures6.
You can get vitamin D from sunlight, and calcium from food. However, your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. And in the case of vitamin D, around 50% of general medicine patients are vitamin D deficient7.
If you aren’t out in the sun often and don’t eat a lot of calcium-rich foods, supplements may be the best route. Again, remember to run it by your doctor.
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Getting plenty of fluids before surgery–either water, fruit juices or other clear—liquids is an important addition to your pre surgery diet. During surgery, the body loses a lot of fluids. Though you will be given fluid before surgery, it’s important to start off the procedure well-hydrated.
Though mentioned earlier, it bears repeating. Protein is needed to maintain your strength before and after surgery. It also plays a pivotal role in building and repairing tissue. Without enough protein, your body simply won’t be ready. Most protein comes from meat, poultry, and beans. And although you don’t need to start pounding down the meat before an operation, you need to prepare your body. Your protein stores will be depleted, so talk to your doctor about how to prepare yourself beforehand.
Before you head off to surgery, keep these tips for good pre-op nutrition in mind. It can speed up wound healing, help your immunity, and cut down recovery time. Obtaining optimal nutrition before surgery can make all the difference. It can:
- prepare your body for the stress of surgery
- support your body’s demands during surgery
- help you leave the hospital faster and healthier
- give you a foundation for a stronger recovery
1) Botella-Carretero JI, et al. Perioperative oral nutritional supplements in normal or mildly undernourished geriatric patients submitted to surgery for hip fracture: a randomized clinical trial. Clinical Nutrition 2010;29(5):574-579.
2) Botella-Carretero JI, et al. Effects of oral nutritional supplements in normally or mildly undernourished geriatric patients after surgery for hip fracture: a randomized clinical trial. J Parenter Enteral Nutr 2008;32:120-128.
3) Fukushima, R., & Yamazaki, E. (2010). Vitamin C requirement in surgical patients. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 13(6), 669-676. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20689415
4) Critical Issues in Surgery. Edited by A.C. Cernaianu, A.J. DelRossi, R.K. Spence. 1995.
5) Growth Factors and Wound Healing: Basic Science and Potential Clinical. Edited by Thomas R. Ziegler, Glenn F. Pierce, David N. Herndon.
6) 17– Patton CM, Powell AP, Patel AA. Vitamin D in orthopedics. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons 2012;20(3):123-129.
7) Holick MF. High prevalence of vitamin D inadequacy and implications for health. Mayo Clin Proce 2006;81:353-373