Post-Operative Nutrition

Nutrition is a key component of your surgery recovery. Food not only nourishes you; it helps your body heal from the stress of surgery. Healing requires that the body creates new tissue and blood vessels, repair injured tissue and set up the production of cells that repair wounds. These complex activities cannot occur efficiently if your diet is short on essential nutrients. As previously mentioned, without proper pre and post-surgical nutrition, the patient will experience a slower recovery, higher risk of complications and higher loss of skeletal muscle tissue.

Post-operatively your nutrition should have a bigger focus upon; protein needs, vitamins and minerals, fats and inflammation and constipation reduction.

Top Tip: Go food shopping the week before surgery. Shopping for healthy foods right before surgery, or discharged from hospital, allows you to keep up your healthy eating plan after surgery during the recovery period. If you cannot go to the shop yourself, send someone with a list or arrange an online delivery.

Protein: Protein is especially important after surgery. Extra protein is required post-operatively to:

  • Repair injured tissue
  • Replace skeletal muscle tissue, use for: 
    • Strengthening the immune system
    • Support vital organ function
  • Due to increased metabolic activity, secondary to:
    • Wound healing
    • Surgical stress

To prevent muscle tissue being broken down to supply amino acids, your protein intake needs to be increased through food. If the protein intake/supply is inadequately post-operatively the body will heal more slowly. 


Inflammation is normal post-operatively; it is essential and part of the bodies healing process. There are several foods that may help to reduce your pain and inflammation after surgery, such as:

  • Fatty fish, such as; salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, halibut, flounder or sole
  • Walnuts, almonds, peanuts
  • Canola oil, extra virgin olive oil, and soybean oils
  • Flaxseed meal or flaxseed oil
  • Soy products (soy milk, tofu, tempeh, edamame, whole soybeans)
  • Onion, garlic, and green leafy vegetables
  • Dark fruits (blueberries, cranberries, red apples, eggplant, red grapes)
  • Green and black tea (most herbal teas are not known to have the same benefit)
  • Turmeric is a mustard-yellow spice from Asia. Use it in cooking or buy in capsule form

Vitamins and Minerals:

Vitamins and minerals are essential for to maintain our normal bodily functions. Furthermore, many vitamins and minerals can also help reduce inflammation, as well as accelerate wound healing after surgery.

Vitamin A – stimulates the immune response and helps form normal outer and inner skin. Good sources include;

  • Carrots
  • Leafy greens
  • Red bell pepper
  • Sweet potato
  • Cantaloupe melon

Vitamin C – is needed for the speed and strength associated with wound healing. It forms collagen in bones, cartilage, muscle, and blood vessels. Good sources include;

  • Kiwi
  • Oranges
  • Tomatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
  • Bell peppers
  • Potatoes

Vitamin D – is an essential nutrient in the formation, maintenance, and repair of bones. Good sources include;

  • Fortified milk
  • Egg yolk
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Direct exposure of skin to sunlight (even 10 minutes, two times per week)

Calcium is an essential mineral for bone repair/soft tissue healing, proper blood clotting, muscle contraction (especially normal heartbeat rhythm). Good sources include;

  • Milk and milk products
  • Dark green leafy vegetables

Zinc – is involved in the early re-modelling of collagen and may accelerate wound healing in patients following surgery. Primary sources include;

  • Oysters
  • Lean meats
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Legumes
  • Whole grain breads
  • Cereals

Copper – is necessary for collagen formation, as well as bone and joint integrity. Copper is in most foods, but especially:

  • Oysters and other shellfish
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Potatoes
  • Dark leafy greens.


Healthy fat are essential, they:

  • Help your body absorb vitamins and minerals
  • Strengthen your immune system
  • Reduce your risk of infection
  • Provide you with long-lasting source of energy
  • Good source of vitamin E, which helps wounds heal faster and reduce appearance of scars

Examples of healthy fats include;

  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Coconut oil
  • Nuts
  • Seeds


Constipation can be quite common post-operatively, partly due to poor nourishment but also medication and pain relief you may be taking. Following surgery, it is advised that you;

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Eat fibre
  • Eat whole foods that are higher in fibre (an orange instead of orange juice)
  • Limit food that are refined or include additives like salt, fat, and sugar.
  • Eat whole grain breads, cereals, fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen) to increase your insoluble fibre intake
  • If you are able, try to exercise or be active in your daily routine. Exercise can stimulate the bowel movements.

Foods to avoid or limit, that likely cause constipation, include;

  • Dried or dehydrated foods, such as dried fruits (prunes are an exception, they can help to ease constipation), beef jerky and some types of crisps.
  • Refined/processed foods, such as white bread, white rice, packaged high calorie snack foods (such as crisps, cookies, and pork rinds), and ready meals.
  • Large quantities of dairy products, such as; cheese, milk and yogurts
  • Large portions of red meat
  • Sweets including pastries, candies, cakes and other sugary foods

*Key Point*

Older adults lose approximately x3 more lean leg muscle mass, in 10 days of inactivity, compared to a younger cohort after 28 days of bed rest.  From the age of 40, muscles do not respond to protein from the diet, as well as that of younger counterparts. The right nutrition for muscle health and recovery is key.


1. Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Choose a wide variety of colours.

  • One serving of fruit is one piece of fruit (i.e. a medium orange or apple) or ½ cup of canned or frozen fruit (in juices not syrup).
  • One serving of vegetables is ½ cup of cooked or 1 cup raw. Frozen vegetables and fruit are good to have available when shopping frequently is not possible.

2. Eat plenty of starchy foods, especially whole grain foods every day.

  • i.e. rice, bread, pasta and potatoes.

3. Eat a moderate amount of food high in protein

  • Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, cheese, beans, nuts, tofu, and dairy products.
  • Two portions of these each week should be oily fish.

4. Consume moderate amounts of milk and dairy

5. Use fats, oils, and sweets sparingly

  • Choose healthier fats such as rapeseed oil and olive oil.
  • Avoid fried foods

6. Drink plenty of water/fluids, particularly 3 weeks prior to surgery

  • Staying well hydrated will help in the recovery process.
  • A general goal for daily water/fluid consumption is 6-8 glasses per day.
  • i.e. water, unsweetened tea or coffee

TOP TIP: Get some exercise. Walking is not only good for the body it is good for the brain. Exercise may help in ‘clearing your head’ when you begin to get anxious. It will also help you to maintain lean body mass (muscle). Muscle loss is likely to occur after surgery due to physical inactivity. It is important to try to get back to doing some physical activity as soon as possible during the recovery process.

Next Section: References

Nutrition and Prehabilitation Main Page