Nutrition for Healing

Nutrition for Healing

Getting ready for surgery? Here’s why your nutrition matters.

The body goes through a lot during surgery. And in order for it to recover, it takes nutrients from other parts of the body to heal any soft issues, tendons, ligaments, and bones affected by the procedure. For example, the body will pull calcium—an essential part of healing after orthopaedic surgery—from bones if needed. 

The more nutrients the body has stored, the easier the healing process will be. Therefore, the best gift a patient can give their body as they prepare for surgery is enhancing their perioperative nutrition.

What is perioperative nutrition?

The word ‘perioperative’ literally means “around the time of surgery,” and therefore refers to what is put into the body before, during, and after surgery. During this time, patients can boost their nutrition through healthy eating (eg. darky leafy greens and antioxidant rich food) and/or through a clinical nutritional program (eg. specialty protein drinks). 

Why is perioperative nutrition important?

Nutrition plays a huge role in the success of both the surgery and healing process of a patient. Good nutrition is tied to good outcomes, and patients who have proper nutrition tend to experience optimal results both during and after surgery. On the other hand, patients with poor nutrition have a much higher risk of poor surgical outcomes. According to a recent study, malnourished patients are three times more likely to have a complication during surgery. Plus, malnutrition leads to longer hospital stays and overall recovery times, as well as a higher chance of being readmitted to the hospital. All of this information leads us to the same conclusion: following a perioperative nutrition program is important for surgical success.

How does perioperative nutrition work?

Starting at least two weeks before surgery, it’s important for patients to boost their nutrition so that their body will have enough nutrients to draw on throughout the stress of surgery. Good perioperative nutrition provides the body with the building blocks it needs to repair any damage to tissues or bones during surgery. This can be done by:

  • Increasing protein intake
  • Increasing calcium and phosphorous levels
  • Minimizing alcohol and caffeine consumption
  • Eating appropriate portion sizes and selecting from all food groups (e.g., grains, dairy, vegetables, fruit and meats or fish.)

Surprisingly, many Americans are overfed and undernourished, meaning they are not at optimal nutritional status to prevent complications after surgery. Admittedly, it can be difficult to ensure that the body gets all of the nutrients needed in the weeks leading up to surgery, so patients may benefit from taking nutritional supplements. Other helpful perioperative activities include eliminating smoking, daily exercise, and making sure you’re getting adequate sleep. 

“Good nutrition is tied to good outcomes, and patients who have proper nutrition tend to experience optimal results both during and after surgery.”

What are the benefits?

Patients with adequate nutrition levels at the time of surgery report:

  • Reduced pain. Nutrition directly affects the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems—which all impact how the body experiences pain.
  • Reduced complications. Adequate nutrition is linked to fewer postoperative complications since the body has the needed building blocks for recovery.
  • Reduced risk of infection. Perioperative nutrition boosts the immune system and ensures that the body is in an optimal position to fight off infections.
  • Reduced recovery time. Equipped with all of the needed nutrients, the body can focus its energy on healing as quickly as possible, leading to shorter hospital stays and reduced hospital costs.
  • Reduced risk of post-surgical depression and chronic fatigue. Proper nutrition supports good gut function, which is associated with a reduced risk of depression, chronic fatigue, and anxiety. Good mental health is a valuable component to a successful surgery.  

Who benefits the most?

Everyone benefits from good nutrition, but it is especially important for anyone undergoing surgery. Dr. Romeo encourages all of his patients to pay attention to their nutrition prior to and after surgery, but he is especially concerned for patients who are:

  • Elderly
  • Frail
  • Obese
  • Over 50 (particularly women as they are at an increased risk of osteoporosis or poor bone health).
  • Diabetic

Also, some surgeries are especially demanding. For example, of all the surgeries that Dr. Romeo performs, shoulder replacement, shoulder fractures, and rotator cuff surgery are some of the most stressful on the body and therefore require the most nutritional support for a strong recovery.

As the medical profession continues to learn more about how the body responds to surgery, it becomes ever more clear that nutrition plays a huge role in recovery. A patient that is nutritionally optimized pre- and post-op improves their chance to heal better and faster and achieve their personal goals for a full recovery after surgery. 

“The best gift a patient can give their body as they prepare for surgery is enhancing their perioperative nutrition.”

What nutrition programs are available?

Dr. Romeo strives to support all his patients so they can have the best recovery possible from surgery. He encourages patients to consider either a nutritional coach or a self-directed program, or both. Here’s what to know:

1. Nutrition Coaching

Our patients can connect with All Access Dieticians, who offer a 12-week perioperative nutrition coaching program. This team of clinically-trained registered dietitians are also health coaches skilled in habit-building and behavior change. This program is delivered remotely, so there is no need for travel. (Of note, if you are a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois policyholder, your program fee will likely be 100% covered.)

To learn more and enroll, go to or call 312-664-3456.

2. Self-Directed: Ortho Nutrition Bundle

Our office has partnered with Enhanced Medical Nutrition to provide our patients with clinical nutrition to optimize recovery from surgery. The Ortho Nutrition Bundle program contains clinically tested supplements designed to help orthopedic patients get optimized for surgery. The supplements are taken two weeks before and two weeks after surgery to reduce muscle loss associated with a procedure and help patients bounce back faster.

To learn more or place an order, go to or call 1-800-619-0783.

For more information on preparing for a shoulder or elbow surgery, please request an appointment with experienced Chicago orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Anthony Romeo. Call our office today to schedule your visit.

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