Nutrition in Neurorehabilitation: Energy and Protein Needs

Our body can be compared to a car. While a car needs gasoline for fuel, we need food. A well-balanced diet is generally important, but it should be tailored to individual needs as well. This is crucial because everyone has different health conditions, tastes, and goals. 

In our clinic, the nutrition scientist ensures that our patients’ diets are adjusted to their medical needs and support their rehabilitation, while also catering to their tastes so they can enjoy their food. For example, the dietary needs of a Parkinson’s patient differ from those of a stroke patient, not only in nutrients, but also in taste and smell, which are often affected in stroke patients.  

From food to energy 

Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are essential to fuel our body. We store carbohydrates as liver and muscle glycogen, fats in fat tissue, and protein in our muscles.  

Fats have a higher energy density, providing long-lasting energy and being burned more slowly. Carbohydrates, being simpler, provide quick energy. Protein is the last nutrient used for energy, as this happens at the expense of muscle mass, and should be avoided for energy purposes. 

Knowing your daily calorie needs is crucial and highly individual. Factors like gender, height, weight, activity level, stress, and illness can greatly influence caloric requirements. It is advisable to consult with a doctor and nutritionist to get a precise calculation. 

Why we need carbs and fats 

Carbs and fats often have a bad reputation in the media, but they are essential. Carbohydrates provide energy and are rich in important B vitamins necessary for neurological health. Fats provide energy, help absorb vitamins, and make food tastier. They also help us feel full longer and slow down sugar absorption. Healthy fats, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, support brain function and can be found in fish, olive oil, avocados, and nuts.  

The vital role of protein for patients in neurorehabilitation 

Proteins are crucial for a healthy diet. They consist of amino acids that build and repair muscles and bones and produce hormones and enzymes. 

At our clinic, patients do a lot of exercise, almost like athletes, which means they need more protein than usual. If they don’t get enough protein with their meals during their intense inpatient training sessions, they can start losing muscle mass. This is especially risky for older patients, who are already prone to muscle loss, a condition called sarcopenia. Our nutrition scientists ensure that patients get enough protein to maintain and even build muscles. 

How much protein do we need per day? 

Dietary proteins provide essential amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own: 

  • Animal sources (meat, dairy, fish, and eggs) provide a range of amino acids, high digestibility, and greater bioavailability, but contain saturated fatty acids linked to cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.  
  • Plant sources (legumes, soy products, grains, nuts, and seeds) are environmentally friendly but might require combinations to provide all essential amino acids. 

The recommended protein intake varies depending on individual needs and objectives. According to a 2018 study by Schoenfeld, an intake range of 1.6-2.2 g/kg/day is suggested. However, exceeding 2.2 g/kg/day does not yield additional benefits for muscle growth and instead may be oxidized. 

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