Is There an Increased Need for Protein After Knee Surgery?

You rely on your knees to take you places. When you experience an injury or have a degenerative condition, such as osteoarthritis, you may require surgery to walk without experiencing pain. Several factors contribute to your recovery including your diet. In fact, you might want to increase your protein intake to facilitate healing. However, always consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet following a surgery.

How Protein Helps

After knee surgery, the surgical incision and areas of repair require time for new cells to regenerate. Getting enough protein in your daily diet is vital to wound healing following surgery, note naturopathic doctors Douglas MacKay and Alan Miller in a 2003 article in the "Alternative Medicine Review." The article indicates that arginine and glutamine, two amino acids -- which are the building blocks of protein -- are particularly associated with wound healing 2. You can find these amino acids in meats, low-fat dairy products, beans and nuts. Angela Pifer, certified nutritionist at Northwest Hospital & Medical Center, explains that these amino acids play a vital role in tissue repair and in building cells for your immune system called antibodies, which are also composed of proteins.


A study published in 2004 in the journal “Kinesiology” examined the link between protein supplementation and post-knee arthroscopic surgery success in high-level soccer athletes 4. All study participants consumed a standard diet, but one group was also given a milk-and-egg protein supplement. Researchers measured factors, such as range of motion as well as muscle size and strength, concluding that the increased protein intake resulted in less muscle loss, particularly in the quadriceps.

Post-Surgery Recommendations

While your physician may make individualized recommendations based on your health and anticipated recovery, there are some general post-surgery guidelines for protein intake, notes nutritionist Angela Pifer. Consuming 1 gram of protein per 2 pounds of your body weight is a general rule of thumb following surgery. For example, if you weight 120 pounds, about 60 grams of protein per day is recommended following surgery. Varying your protein food sources -- such as:

  • red meat
  • chicken
  • beans
  • soy
  • low-fat dairy products
  • protein powders -- can give you a wider variety of amino acids

Adverse Effects

While a high-protein diet may be suitable in the weeks following surgery, it is not typically intended as a long-term weight loss method. This is because your kidneys and liver must break down protein for use in your body. If you consume too much protein, you may adversely affect these organs. When your physician gives you the OK to reduce your protein intake, consuming 1 gram of protein per 3 pounds of body weight may be more suitable. If you have liver or kidney disease, your doctor can make dietary recommendations for you to follow after your knee surgery.