Diets to help you recover after surgery

“We are what we eat”as my good friend and colleague says, Dr. Philip Golya. Philip is a certified nutritionist. Has more than 30 years of experience helping and healing through nutrition.

In fact, he has helped many of my post-operative recovery patients with his unparalleled knowledge of nutrition and performance. When Philip talks to me about the role of food in the healing process, that’s when I get out a pencil and pad (yes, I still use a pencil) and scribble furiously.

If there’s any nutritional “secret” to healing, it’s fat loss and fat retention. Of course, we don’t need extra pounds while recovering from surgery, it’s just common sense. But we shouldn’t starve either. We also don’t choose postoperative recovery as a good time to experiment with a fad diet.

Much of this nutritional strategy is covered long before surgery. The best results come from patients who are as fit and healthy as possible. With that in mind, I pass on Philip’s “4 Keys to Fitness Success”:

  • Train like it matters with the intention of having a full post-op recovery.
  • Fitness and physique are obtained 80% in the kitchen and 20% in the gym.
  • I drink water.
  • You need to focus on performance; achieve what you need to succeed.
  • Achieving your “representative goals” is important. But “80% is in the kitchen.” What you eat should be your main concern. And this is where Dr. Goglia’s professional advice comes in handy.

“What’s your number one rule when it comes to eating?” Philip came up with a 10!

  1. Avoid all foods that have multiple ingredients such as breads, muffins, bagels, pastries, cereals, etc. Basically, stay away from any baked goods that include yeast, sugar, mold, and gluten (even if gluten isn’t a problem).
  2. Avoid any diet food or drink that is labeled “Low or no fat” or “Low or no sugar.” You don’t need chemical sweeteners in your body. Honestly, nobody needs that.
  3. This goes back to number 3 of the 4 Keys to Fitness Success: always hydrate your body. You should drink 1/2 oz to 1 oz of water for every pound you weigh each day, no matter what.
  4. Although everyone’s metabolic body type is different, a generally healthy diet includes high-fat fish, carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, yams), organic poultry, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables.
  5. Try to eliminate as much dairy products from your diet as possible. A little milk in coffee is good! And if you’re really good, get a “cappuccino” at your favorite Starbucks (maximum one per day).
  6. Never trust supplements over real food and exercise. No matter what anyone else may tell you, supplements won’t fix a missed pizza or meal.
  7. Food provides the most protein you eat
  8. Looking for a good breakfast before work? Eat raw nuts, for example 12 almonds with one fruit. This will provide you with a great source of fat for energy. The combination of sugar and fat will be extremely energizing and sustainable for a workout of about 90 minutes.
  9. Avoid sports drinks. Many are high in sodium and sugar. Some contain excessive amounts of caffeine, which will cause digestive upset. The energy you get from sports drinks is “spiky” at best and not sustainable. It will be blocked as soon as the effect wears off.
  10. Generally speaking, “there is no such thing as protein bars.” See note below.

About “protein bars”.

When I asked Philip what protein bars are best to eat, he just smiled. “There’s no such thing as a protein bar!”

He continue. “Does your protein bar taste like salmon, chicken or steak? Doubtful. It probably tastes like chocolate or cookies.” And that’s his big point.

Your favorite “protein” bar probably has more in common with regular candy. In most cases, it’s a packet of sugar with a “fairy dust” of some low-quality protein. At this point, Philip (and now I) warn our patients not to be sucked in by slick marketing. If it’s not fish, chicken, meat, eggs, or nuts, it’s not a protein source, period.

The one exception Philip makes is that if you decide to use a pre-workout bar, make sure it’s one that clearly states it’s a “50/50” food: an even split between sugar and fat. This type of food can be used for sustained training energy.

Some examples are the Bonk Breaker bars, which are Philip’s favorite choice and the choice of cyclists and other multi-sport athletes.

Finally, the most important note of all is Philip’s reminder that portions matter and consistency is vital. Eat what your body needs to meet its nutritional needs. Also, be persistent and stick to the schedule.

For your health!

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