Pre and Post Surgery Nutrition and Lifestyle Strategies to Optimize your Recovery



This program is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Abbott.

If you are planning to undergo surgery, or are recovering from a medical procedure, there are strategies you can use to invest in a healthy, steady recovery.  Think of surgery like playing a sport. To prepare for tournaments, you would train and follow tips from your coach, so you are ready to play your best game. If you’re not well trained, you’re not going to perform well. Surgery is much the same. 

During surgery, the human body undergoes surgical stress. Surgical stress can impair the body’s ability to grow and heal.8 It can lead to weight and muscle loss, inflammation, poor wound healing, and complications like infections. Over the years, research has shown that following a nutritional regime, in the weeks and days before and after surgery, can help reduce these risks and set patients up for a quick recovery. 

If you or a loved one requires surgery, consider increasing your nutrition and incorporating a few of our tips to help improve your post-surgery recovery time. 

First things first, dial-up your nutrition.

To support recovery, try eating more high-quality proteins and energy before and after surgery. What consists of good nutrition before surgery? A lot depends on your age, procedure, and general health. If you’re concerned you might not be able to eat well before treatment or surgery, talk to your doctor or dietitian. They can help you determine your body’s energy needs, and tell you which foods to eat before your surgery and which to avoid. They will also give you specific instructions on preparing for the type of surgery you will be having.

Meeting your nutrition needs before and after surgery to help you get back on your feet! Getting enough protein and calories will help you: 1, 4

  • Heal and recover faster
  • Leave the hospital sooner
  • Reduce your risk of complications after surgery
  • Keep up your strength and energy

Doctors may suggest nutrition drinks or oral nutrition supplements that can provide extra calories and nutrients to help meet your nutrition needs. These high-energy, high-protein drinks and supplements will help to prepare and protect your muscles and body tissues before and after surgery. 5,7

Secondly, get moving!

Staying active will help maintain your muscles and strength before and after surgery.1,6,7 Your doctor or certified exercise specialist, like a physiotherapist or kinesiologist, can recommend a program that suits you.

In older adults, three days of bed rest can cause significant muscle loss.  It is important to get up and move, but follow the post-surgery exercises provided by your physician. These exercises or merely moving about can help preserve your muscles, stay strong and make a faster transition back into your routine. Many hospitals now encourage post-operative patients to get up and move about as soon as possible after surgery, to help with recovery.  

Thirdly, it is very normal to feel stressed or anxious before surgery.

Try to prevent anxiety or stress by getting information early on about your surgery. Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation, muscle relaxation or listening to music can be also helpful. Many hospitals even offer special support, and remember, family and friends can help too! 9

Last, but not least – HYDRATE.

It should come as no surprise that water is essential for keeping us functioning well and feeling our best. Water helps your blood flow, carries nutrients and oxygen to your cells.

Be your Body’s Biggest Advocate  

The impact of nutrition before and after surgery is a significant investment to make. If you or a loved one requires surgery, speak to your doctor about pre and post-surgery nutrition and lifestyle strategies to optimize your recovery and get back to living your best life!

Note: These general guidelines are not meant to replace healthcare professional advice. Talk to your doctor or dietitian for more information.


  • 1. Weinmann A et al. Clin Nutr 2017;36(3):623–50.
  • 2. Demling RH. Eplasty 2009;9:65–94.
  • 3. Allard JP et al. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr 2016;40(4):487–97.
  • 4. Fearon KC, Luff R. Proc Nutr Soc 2003;62:807–11.
  • 5. Wischmeyer PE et al. Anesthesia & Analgesia 2018;126(6):1883-1895.
  • 6. Gustafson UO et al. World J of Surg 2019;43(3):659-695.
  • 7. Enhanced Recovery Canada, 2019 Clinical Pathways for Colorectal Surgery.
  • 8. The Surgically Induced Stress Response Celeste C. Finnerty, PhD,1,2 Nigel Tapiwa Mabvuure, MD,1 Arham Ali, MD,1 Rosemary A. Kozar, MD, PhD,3 and David N. Herndon, MD1
  • 9.