Why are proteins essential to a successful recovery?

Nurses pushing a patient into surgery

A successful recovery following an operation is dependent on many things. It includes your overall health, the type of operation, and the absence of complications during recovery. However, another part of that success is also having a good pre-surgical nutrition status. This means that prior to surgery, the body is not malnourished and has been receiving a steady diet of

  • proteins,
  • minerals,
  • vitamins, and
  • amino acids—all the nutrients the body needs to help itself heal.

1- Proteins help build up scar tissue

Protein is a major component of skin and muscle tissue. In fact, collagen, the substance in the skin responsible for building scar tissue is primarily made from protein strands. In the recovery period, protein will be one of the key drivers in healthy, healing skin.

2- Fueling the body

After surgery, the body goes into a hypermetabolic state. It starts to break down protein and fat tissue to get all the nutrients it needs. In its quest for extra fuel, the body actually breaks down pre-existing stores of protein and fat. It’s essential to have large quantities of these ready and available for the body to use.

3- Poor pre-op nutrition can have negative effects

Poor pre-operative nutrition, which includes a lack of protein, has been linked to an increase in post-operative complications like

  • infections,
  • slow wound healing, and poor surgical outcomes1,2.

In an effort to help combat this, a technique known as pre-loading is sometimes used. Pre-loading is the idea that by boosting or improving your nutrition with

  • vitamins,
  • minerals, and
  • amino acids

before surgery, you can better prepare the body for a swift and uneventful recovery. Because protein comes from easily available sources like

  • meat,
  • poultry, and
  • beans,

it’s fairly easy to consume lots of protein before an operation. However, you don’t have to protein-load the day or so before surgery. Just make sure you have an adequate intake of protein at least a week leading up to the procedure.

4- Proteins and amino acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins because groups of tiny amino acids come together to form a single protein. Proteins cannot form without amino acids.

One amino acid in particular that has received a lot of attention is L-arginine. This amino acid has been shown to actually stimulate wound healing4. In clinical studies, patients given L-arginine after major surgery benefited from fewer infectious complications3.

Protein is the foundation that healthy muscle, skin, and tissue are built on. Due to this, its importance in a swift and successful recovery is paramount. In the post-op period, be sure to get all the nutrients, minerals, and vitamins you need but don’t forget the protein. Your recovery will be negatively affected if you neglect your amino acids and protein.

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1- Burden S, Todd C, Hill J, Lal S. Preoperative nutrition support in patients undergoing gastrointestinal surgery. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012 Nov 14;11:CD008879. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008879.pub2.

2- Meguid MM, Laviano A. Malnutrition, outcome and nutritional support: time to revisit the issues. Ann Thorac Surg 2001;71:766-8.

3- Tepaske R. Immunonutrition. Curr Opin Anaesthesio 1997;10:86-91.

4- Forte white paper.https://forteelements.com/wp-content/themes/x-forte-elements/assets/pdf/forte-pre-and-post-op-nutrition-white-paper.pdf.

5- Dreyer, H. C., Strycker, L. A., Senesac, H. A., Hocker, A. D., Smolkowski, K., Shah, S. N., & Jewett, B. A. (2013). Essential amino acid supplementation in patients following total knee arthroplasty. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 123(11), 4654–4666. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3809795/.

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