Concussion foods play a significant part of concussion recovery.
Because what we take in, determines what we get out.
Don’t know where to start?
I got you.
In this short guide, you’ll learn the absolute and necessary basics to increase your concussion recovery capacity right now.
And at the end, I’ll pass you a brain foods swipe file.
Why is concussion food important?
When you have a concussion, your brain is injured and healing at the same time.
In a way, you can compare this healing process with a paper cut.
A small cut starts to heal automatically.
But if we keep on moving the finger, we keep on tearing open the cut.
This way, we’re working against our bodies.
The same goes for concussions.
If we feed our broken brains too little food, bad food or none of the real brain foods, we work against them.
They try to repare and regenerate, and we knock them down while we want them to recover!
An injured brain needs help healing
An injured brain starts an automatic restoration process, but it needs help.
As Professor Siddhartan Chandran, a neurologist at the University of Edinburgh says:
The brain can repair itself, but it just doesn’t do it well enough.
We can support the automatic restoration process.
And one major factor of influence on our recovery capacities is what we eat – and drink.
What happens when you get a concussion?
It will help to have a quick look at what happens when you get a concussion.
This explains why it’s so important to focus on your diet after sustaining a concussion.
The moment you get a concussion, multiple damaging processes occur within the brain.
At the moment of impact, your brain was bounced and possibly also twisted around inside your skull.
This depends on the movement your head and entire body made during the incident.
Elements of your brain might be bruised.
Your brain cells and the connections in between are stretched.
This causes them to be damaged.
Physical and chemical trauma effects
The tearing inside your brain brings about different effects.
On the one hand, these are physical.
For example, if your brain center for processing language is damaged, you’ll notice trouble with this skill.
On the other hand, the effects are chemical.
Your brain controls your hormonal balance, which is often disturbed after a concussion.
Concussion healing: support your brain
So your body automatically starts to heal your concussion.
However, the brain doesn’t repair itself well enough on its own.
This is especially so if you have post-concussion syndrome.
So, what we want to do, is stimulate damage recovery and support the brain to be the best fueled brain ever.
Food contains vital elements that we need to kickstart recovery and support the brain to function normally.
This also means that if we take the wrong foods or deprive ourselves of calories, we decrease our recovery capacity and cause our brain to function subpar.
So, let’s have a look at 3 easy quick wins you can execute right away to make a huge impact on your recovery in the weeks to come.
#1: Balance your calories
To restore and regenerate, your brain needs an optimal amount of fuel.
So if you ever wanted to diet: as long as you have an injured brain, it’s not the time.
On the other hand, overeating will give your body even more stress to deal with.
Let’s have a look at what factors to balance.
Move more if you gain weight
During my recovery process, I gained weight and something had to change.
Instead of cutting my calories, I decided to go on some extra walks every day – albeit inside the house on a bad day.
I went to yoga class and the gym, to do my therapeutic exercises.
Mind that moving more is not about pressure, intensive training or ambition.
It’s all about moving in a way that feels light.
Because putting extra stress on your body is not what you need right now.
Overeating isn’t good for concussion recovery either
When we overeat, our bodies produce free radicals.
These aren’t supportive of our brains’ recovery processes.
Also, if your body has to process food, energy goes toward your digestive system.
This leaves fewer energy available to your brain, meaning you have less energy to spend on your recovery efforts.
The Japanese have this interesting concept “hara hachi bu”, which means as much as “belly 80% full”.
This standard has always helped me, although it wasn’t easy to practice, since eating was my dominant coping mechanism.
But still, the idea helped.
Maybe, it can help you, too, if you need it.
The concussion diet is about balance
So the idea is to give your brain what it needs without harming it by either dieting or overeating.
It’s not like you have to strictly monitor your calories: it’s about awareness of the balance.
What has always helped me create this balance is making cooking something joyful.
For me, this meant carving out time to prepare the food and savor it when it was ready.
Since cooking was one of the few things I could still do for a while, I really had the time to spend on preparing healthy meals.
Whatever you can do to enjoy your brain foods in a balanced way: it will support your recovery.
#2: The right balance of carbs, protein and fats
A recovering brain needs a well-balanced distribution between carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
A general balance you could aim for is 45-65% carbs, 10-35% protein and 20-35% (healthy!) fats.
From there, see what works for you and adapt the percentages.
But this is the ballpark.
For me, personally, it turned out to work out best at about 60% carbs, 20% protein and 20% healthy fats.
But this is for everyone to experiment with, because we’re all unique!
Protein intake is often low in modern diets
A well-balanced distribution seems like a boring and obvious fact to highlight.
I still name it, for 2 important reasons.
One: most of us – my past self included – have no clue about our distribution of macronutrients.
About 2 years into my recovery process, I started to track what I ate and drank.
And I was completely surprised by the disbalance in my results.
My protein intake was very poor.
And this is a common and unfamiliar problem for many Westerners.
If we don’t pay attention, our diets are easily filled with carbs and (unhealthy) fats.
I would linger around 6-10% of my total intake a day on protein.
No wonder I wasn’t recovering fast at all!
This is because protein serves an important role in healing brain injury.
The importance of protein for brain injury
A healthy brain needs protein to produce hormones and enzymes.
And after a concussion, the chemical processes regulating this production are often already out of whack.
In addition, to repair and regenerate our brains, your brain needs protein, too.
And a concussed brain certainly needs a minimum amount of protein a day to function normally.
(Increasing our daily protein intake above the minimum can be beneficial to our recovery processes, too!)
I wasn’t giving my brain a lot of protein at the beginning, so no wonder my recovery was going slow at the time!
My meager 6-10% protein wasn’t going to help me cure my concussion.
Right after I started to increase my intake of protein to 20% of my daily intake, did I start to notice short-term results in my energetic balance and “awakeness” every day.
Halfway keto can harm your recovery
Before, I wrote that there are 2 reasons why I stress the seemingly obvious fact of a well-balanced distribution.
The second reason is the current trend of cutting carbs, aka “keto”.
Now, before I say anything else, there’s not much wrong with the keto diet in principle.
It might actually an interesting avenue to explore for your concussion recovery (more about that another time).
Low carb diets and an injured brain
Because of the keto trend, people start to believe that cutting carbs to a minimum is generally a good idea.
This is not.
Especially not when you have an injured brain.
Let’s have a look at the distribution again: the general balance is carbs 45-65%, protein 10-35% and fat 20-35%.
Again, this is the general ballpark, see what works for you.
But the idea is: as long as you’re not in ketosis, about half or more of your caloric intake consists of carbohydrates.
If it doesn’t, your brain will not have enough carbs to transform into energy.
This will leave you with a suboptimal or even a destructive level of energy to spend on your recovery.
(Destructive means that you feel so tired and empty that you cope by doing things that harm instead of help your recovery).
Slow carbs are a concussion food
The whole low carb movement could be translated for concussion recovery by placing an “S” before “low”: SLOW carbs.
Science has shown that in general, it’s a good idea to replace carbs with a high glycemic index with so-called “slow carbs”.
Foods with slow carbs release the carbs over hours instead of at once, causing less or even no blood sugar fluctuations, leaving you less tired.
Did you know that slow carbs are even related to longevity?
This is beyond the point, but very interesting: they are good for your body in general.
Anyway, once you’ve taken in slow carbs for a few days, you will probably notice results in your energy levels.
#3: Drink the right amount & the right things
During your recovery, mind your water intake.
Your brain needs water to function normally, let alone recover and regenerate.
Take plenty, but also not too much: this will drain your body of the valuable micronutrients that you take in through your brain foods.
So see what’s the best amount of water for you every day (normally, it’s around 1,5 – 2 liters) and keep an eye on this amount every day.
Try to limit or eliminate caffeine and fast sugars
You don’t want to increase your intake of caffeinated or sugary drinks.
These are not on the list of foods good for a concussion.
A small dose of caffeine a day is proven to be good for your brain health.
However, take too much and you deplete certain hormones and disturb other processes that you want balanced out for your recovery.
Sugary drinks, so everything from Coca Cola to freshly squeezed orange juice, contain fast carbs that spike your blood sugar levels.
They set into motion harmful processes that you really want to avoid.
Drinking with a concussion
Can you drink with a concussion – as in: alcohol?
Sure you can. Good idea? No.
For one, alcohol spike your blood sugars right after drinking – not so much but just like the sugary drinks.
Also, drinking alcohol means that your body has to get rid of the toxins afterwards.
This means that you put extra stress on your recovering system that’s already under a lot of stress.
Finally, alchohol blocks chemical signals between your brain cells.
And they are exactly the cells that have been damaged during your concussion.
I don’t think I need to explain how this doens’t help your recovery…
Water or herbal water / tea
The best way to go is to drink plain water or to infuse your water with herbs.
Did you know that in certain Blue Zones (areas that have the most centenarians in the world), people drink a lot of herbal tea?
So you could do this as well, or you could infuse cold water with a slice of lemon or a branch of mint.
The advantage of infusing your water, cold or hot, with herbs and brightly colored fruits is that you’ll gain from the beneficial health properties of these plants as well.
Herbs are an absolute part of concussion healing foods: they do wonders for your brain health and support your recovery capacity.
Rosemary as a concussion healing food
Did you know that rosemary, for example, can alleviate pain?
It has anti-inflammatory properties, protecting and supporting your brain health and promoting your general health in the long run.
One thing I like to do, is to ground dried rosemary, and mix it with dried peppermint and sage in a tea strainer.
Then I pour water at 80 degrees over it (because antioxidants are known to be wasted at a higher temperature) and drink this homemade herbal tea.
On Crete, people drink a similar blend called Mountain Tea, and they put a small drop of honey in it, too.
Now I’d like to hear from you:
Did you read a takeaway that you would like to try out?
Please leave your comment below so I can read!
And if you want to discover specific concussion healing foods:
I made this illustrated PDF that you can download, print and even stick onto your fridge to help you make the choices that help you.