We can probably all agree that nutrition has a role in how our body functions. When it comes to lower back pain, the injuries responsible for it, and the recovery process nutrition also has a role to play. Establishing what supplement is going to play the biggest role in your lower back pain recovery you might be surprised at our conclusion. But before we ruin this surprise it is helpful as with all our articles, to understand the causes of back pain, and therefore what is required as we go through the healing and rehabilitative process. With clear objectives we can easily identify which food supplement is going to play the biggest role in recovery from back pain.
Fundamentally, back pain is caused by mechanical injuries, damage to tissues of the low back. This will involve ligamentous, tendinous and muscular tissue on the whole. In the cases of long standing lower back pain, there will always be an accompanying degree of muscular weakness, or at the very least insufficiency. This is as true for a degenerative disc as it is for a bulging or herniated disc, as it is for facet injuries, sacroiliac injuries, the list goes on. Don’t get too bogged down with the minutia here, all joints are fundamentally very similar in terms of constituent tissues involved.
Why might we be using supplements for back pain?
Well often people will try using a variety of supplements for reduction in pain, but here we’re going to work on finding the best solution for back pain possible which is a supplement that will help with the cause of the problem above all. With this in mind we’re looking at supplements that are going to help with the healing process and adaptive process your back injury is trying to complete.
It is important to realise that at all times, no matter how old or young, our bodies are adapting, working to heal and restore a sense of balance or homeostasis. If we are to choose a supplement then this should be geared at providing the nutrition necessary to rebuild the body, or at least enhance the process of healing.
Common supplements that are going to be used, could be things like turmeric or other “superfood supplements”. In most cases these supplements will have a micronutrient, perhaps a vitamin or mineral of some form in high quantity. Circumin in the case of Turmeric is the active component that is supposed to help manage inflammation. This may well be helpful, but managing inflammation is a lower order benefit and isn’t quite what we’re looking for in the category of “best supplement” for back pain.
Remember, here we are looking for a supplement that is going to support the body’s healing process, reductions in inflammation would be inhibiting a process rather than supporting a process – not that there isn’t benefit to be had in these sorts of approaches.
We could now consider something like Magnesium, a fantastic little mineral. Magnesium is used to help lubricate the actions of many processes in the body, such as muscle function. Considered in comparison to Turmeric, we could say this would be closer to a “best supplement” category, as it is working to enhance the natural processes of the body so it works more efficiently.
Unfortunately as great as these two examples of supplements are, they aren’t quite hitting the mark when it comes to meeting the needs of the body in the most wide reaching and powerful way.
Our take on the best food supplement for back pain
So enough beating around the bush. Protein, there you have it. This would be the best supplement for lower back pain and we will explain why. Protein is essential for life, those tissues that are injured, those muscles that are weakened and need strengthening, they require the raw materials with which the body will rebuild. We only have finite resources within us and cannot hope to increase the muscle mass, or heal as effectively as we should if we do not provide the resources essential for the repair process.
If you’re trying to rebuild part of your house that’s been damaged in some way, the protein would be the bricks and mortar. Without sufficient resources being delivered on a daily basis, you simply are not going to be able to heal and build that extension. The extension of the house being akin to the added muscle tissue built during the rehabilitation process.
So many are lacking an adequate amount of nutritional protein in their daily diet, for a multitude of reasons that we won’t get into here. If you are lacking this essential macronutrient, then taking other supplements for your back, like those mentioned above, is fundamentally futile – you’re putting the cart before the horse. Of course Magnesium in sufficient quantity, Turmeric to control excess inflammation can be helpful and they do help many around the world. But without adequate protein intake on a daily basis they are not going to be able to express their benefit to the maximal degree. Conversely, if you only took adequate protein intake without those two supplements for example, you would be able to go through the healing process and muscular hypertrophy process required.
The easiest way to get more of this essential back health supplement
One of the realities that we’ve observed over the years is that protein is not particularly well understood by many. In spite of its essential role in the human body. People have naturally become obsessed over “superfoods” but these often are simply foods high in antioxidants – vitamins in most cases. So the health conscious will follow diets that are high in these, which is not a problem in itself at all, however this is often at the expense of nutrition that is essential for the human body, the raw materials for life.
Perhaps returning to the building example, if the protein is the bricks of the house, the “superfoods” are the decorations or furnishings. What good is it having lovely tables, lavish lights – vitamins and antioxidants in the traditional “superfoods” if you’ve got a gaping hole in the wall where the protein should have been!
Whether you’re plant based or meat based or anything in between, you can easily work on meeting your protein needs from your food and diet, no special supplements or fancy pills and powders required! Just focusing on foods that contain a reasonable proportion of protein.
For example, 100g of beef or salmon will contain approximately 25g of protein raw. A plant based option would be lentils which are 9g per 100g cooked lentils – with vegan sources it is important to check the “raw” or “cooked” values as they differ quite dramatically. There are numerous guides and articles online to give you the “top 10 foods by protein” so 10-15 minutes on google will give you a rough idea of which foods are best to meet your dietary requirements.
What about supplementing protein for back pain?
A vital part of your rehabilitation process will be to build or rebuild muscle strength and to do this you must be consuming a sufficient quantity of protein to have success and allow your body to respond optimally to your hard work! For some of you, it might well be difficult initially to get sufficient protein intake on a daily basis. In which case protein supplements can form a helpful tool to achieve this end.
We would always recommend “get it from your diet” of course, but the simple fact of the matter is, if you aren’t able to do this consistently, take a supplement.
Again as with real food, supplements can be chosen to cater to dietary choices, such as being plant based. Pea proteins are a reasonable choice here. For those that want the best protein option and do not have dietary limitations, then a simple Whey Protein will always be the best and most affordable option. Some that are mildly intolerant to lactose will find they can take whey protein in its more pure form (isolate or concentrate) although this is a more expensive option, the quality is certainly there and regardless of intolerances you’ll likely find these are the easiest on your stomach.
How much protein should you be taking per day?
Older research identified that for the absence of disease protein requirements were approximately 0.8g per kilogram of bodyweight. This would mean that a 100kg individual should aim to consume 80g of protein per day. Remember 100g of Salmon has 25g of protein, so it is the protein content not the “food weight” that needs to be added up – a common mistake!
You will however notice that this intake was “to avoid disease”. It is now considered out of date and quite frankly not helpful.
You should be aiming for 1g to 1.5g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight according to more recent updated research – this is also for “normal functioning” as opposed to simply the absence of deficiency. So that same 100kg individual would be aiming for 100g of protein to 150g per day.
Unfortunately many are not even meeting the outdated guidelines of 0.8g per Kg on examination, so in terms of meeting nutritional needs for the human body on a daily basis this is lacking even before having a lower back injury!
What possible hope have we got of really rehabilitating effectively no matter what amounts of other supplements we take?
If you had to make sure you were getting one supplement on board, protein would be the one. The great thing about it is that we can say specifically how much you need on a daily basis, and we can measure it so easily to make sure we are reaching it every day. A common question with many other supplements is “how do I know if I’m taking enough?” but with protein, that is not the case, you can know, for certain. You just need to measure your intake. Protein is providing the necessary building blocks specifically to help your body heal, as well as build the muscle strength so important to long term back recovery. Granted, you have to do the rehab work, but it is the one supplement with the most wide ranging benefits, the easiest to apply and measure and the one you cannot do without.
Whether you can get it from your diet or need additional supplementation through a powder, you can rest assured that if you’re consistently meeting your daily needs with this essential nutrient, you’re setting your body up for success, healing and wellbeing for the long term!
Comment of the week – Nick
“A big thanks to the back in shape program! I have been doing the phases for 2 years now and feel so much stronger.”
4 Steps To Start Getting Your Protein Intake Right Today!
- Measure your current intake! – Google and Myfitnesspal
Nowadays this is easier than ever, with free tools like Google Search and the Myfitness pal App you can easily measure your daily protein intake, as well as other nutrient types & calories in total. If we are serious about resolving our lower back pain you should be taking the 10-20 minutes to get to know these tools, a small time investment can really help you in your understanding of what you are consuming on a daily basis. You’ll have accurate measurements and then can make informed decisions rather than guesses.
- Adjust your diet if need be to reach the 1g to 1.5g level
If step 1 revealed you are already in range then great, but more likely your current intake is a little off. Now you know specifically by how much you can look at food substitutions or additions that can help contribute to getting what your body needs. From here, using Google search, you could look at the sorts of high protein snacks (seeds/nuts) or adding in a portion of good quality protein (beef/salmon). These are just quick examples and there are a huge variety of foods to choose from.
- If you cannot reach from diet alone, get a supplement
Be realistic, we know from experience some people find it difficult and in spite of the best intentions it suites the lifestyle best to go with a good quality protein supplement instead – we will link to some options below for the various dietary regimens.
- Be consistent
One of the reasons we do recommend the supplement option as it is easier for some to use these to help them be consistent, it would be ideal if you could get the right amount every day from your food. In the real world however, work, schedule, life, can all get in the way. The one thing that matters more than whether you’re getting protein from food or a supplement is whether you’re getting it or not CONSISTENTLY! Be honest with yourself and act accordingly 🙂