Many people know about the benefits of adding protein to your diet post-surgery—to help preserve lean body mass, boost immune function and promote healing, but did you know that getting adequate protein BEFORE surgery may be equally as important? Recent studies have shown that encouraging certain activities, including whey protein supplementation, during the preoperative period—also referred to as “prehabilitation”—can improve a patient’s functional capacity before surgery and also speed up recovery after surgery.
One pilot study prehabilitation program composed of moderate intensity physical exercise, complemented by nutritional counseling, protein supplementation and anxiety reduction strategies, was conducted in 164 patients undergoing colorectal resection. More than 80% of patients were able to return to preoperative functional capacity by eight weeks, compared to only 40% of a control group.
Another study included a similar comprehensive prehabilitation program, providing nutrition counseling with whey protein supplementation, exercise, and psychological care—initiated 4 weeks before colorectal surgery for cancer. Study participants experienced improved functional capacity before surgery and accelerated functional recovery. Those receiving standard of care deteriorated.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), protein quality should be assessed using the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score. Using this method to assess protein quality, whey protein isolates are among the greatest sources of high-quality protein, so it’s no surprise Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) is so helpful during prehabilitation.
These findings about the benefits of high-quality protein before surgery are exciting and reassuring for medical professionals and patients alike. Surgery can be stressful for patients who often fear the long recovery road ahead. And surgeons want to know that their patients are happy with the results, which a speedy recovery certainly encourages. Based on these recent findings, more trials are recommended to pinpoint the specific role of protein supplementation before surgery and how it aids in post-surgical recovery.