Taking Protein After Surgery

Surgery, of any type, can be a pretty challenging ordeal. First of all, there's the mental component of dealing with the prospect of going through the procedure. And then there's the recovery process.

Many experts and doctors, however, have been exploring the potential usefulness of protein supplements after surgery. How can protein supplements assist with recovery? Is there any science to back this practice?

The General Idea 

It's not unusual for a surgery patient, regardless of the surgery that they've undergone, to lose about five to ten percent of their total body weight. But post-surgery nutrition is about a lot more than just weight control.

Surgery, by its very nature, requires various muscles and tissues to be moved and/or damaged. And that's going to put pressure on your body to fix the damage that's been done. All of those tissues that need to be fixed are made up of amino acids – which enter your body through dietary protein.

Three breakfast protein shakes on a wooden countertop

Getting adequate amounts of protein, then, makes sure that your body has everything it needs to fix any of the damage done during surgery. Or that's how it the theory goes, at least. Does this idea hold up in the lab?

The Science

First, it's important to say that the concept of protein improving recovery rates hasn't been thoroughly studied with surgery specifically in mind. Still, there's good reason to believe that that's how things work.

Numerous studies have found the protein supplements can speed up the recovery process associated with athletic injuries and the damage caused by physical activity. And muscle damage is muscle damage. Regardless of what caused the problems, proteins offer the solution.

What about the weight loss faced by surgical patients? A 2016 study published in the journal Nutrition, specifically examined the potential benefit of protein supplements on bariatric patients – who are at a much higher risk of protein deficiency and extreme weight loss than other groups.

Two scoops of protein powder on a countertop

After six months, the patients who were given regular protein supplements retained muscle mass while losing fat mass, meaning that they achieved a health body composition.

Ultimately...

Surgery, even when it's completely necessary, is a traumatic experience for the body. And, to fully recover fully, various nutrients are going to be needed in higher quantities than are normally required.

Protein, as the source of amino acids, are especially important for surgical patients. The exact amount of protein needed, however, is going to depend on the type of surgery, your overall diet, your fitness level and many other health factors.