Do Wounds Heal Faster in a Caloric Surplus?

Whenever you get a wound, your body works hard to heal it as quickly as possible.

During wound healing, your body relies on calories and nutrients to repair and rebuild damaged tissue.

This may have you wondering whether you should make adjustments to your diet, such as eating more calories, to help a wound heal faster.

Here’s an overview of the role calories and nutrition play in wound healing.

How do wounds heal?

A wound is a break in skin or other body tissue. Cuts or lacerations, scrapes, burns, and punctured skin are all types of wounds.

Your body quickly goes to work to heal any damaged tissue in four main phases:

  1. Coagulation/hemostasis phase: Your body works to stop any bleeding by clotting your blood.
  2. Inflammatory phase: White blood cells destroy bacteria while macrophages clear out debris. During this phase, you may notice swelling and redness or discoloration.
  3. Proliferative phase: Once the wound is cleared out, your body creates a protective covering over the wound and begins producing new tissue using collagen.
  4. Remodeling phase: The final phase involves strengthening new tissue (i.e., skin) and remodeling the scar until the injury is fully healed.

Depending on the severity of the wound, the healing process can last for days to months.

Does a calorie surplus heal wounds faster?

Wound healing is an energy-demanding process, meaning your body needs calories to properly repair and rebuild damaged tissue.

For more serious wounds — such as pressure ulcers, burns, or deep lacerations — your body enters a hypermetabolic state, meaning your metabolism increases and burns more calories. In severe cases, your body may burn 50% more calories.

Therefore, it’s important that you supply your body with enough calories to allow proper wound healing.

In the event of a severe wound, a dietitian or other healthcare professional may recommend increasing your calorie intake to support healing. They may recommend adding 14–18 calories per pound of body weight (30–40 kcal/kg) per day.

This may put you in a calorie surplus to meet the additional demands from your body and prevent weight loss, which is associated with delayed wound healing and a weakened immune response.

However, this recommendation usually follows severe cases in an inpatient setting. For chronic wounds, such as pressure ulcers, ongoing nutrition support may be necessary.

Most of the time, healthy individuals can heal their wounds without increasing their calorie intake, since they’re generally meeting their calorie needs and their wounds are often minor.

If you find that your wounds are taking longer than usual to heal, check to make sure you’re eating enough calories using this helpful calorie estimator and speak with a healthcare professional.

Other nutrients for wound healing

In addition to calories, it’s important to ensure that you’re getting enough of these nutrients in your diet:

  • Protein: Protein plays a crucial role in all stages of wound healing since it’s the main structure of collagen and helps form other healing agents. Protein needs are often higher during wound healing, and people with protein-energy malnutrition often have delayed wound healing.
  • Fats: Getting enough fats — especially omega-3 fatty acids — in your diet may help support the inflammatory process and increase your absorption of fat-soluble vitamins important for wound healing, such as vitamins A and E.
  • Fluids: Staying hydrated allows your blood to properly deliver nutrients to healing tissue.
  • Vitamin A: Deficiency in vitamin A may delay wound healing, especially during the inflammatory phase. For severe wounds, a healthcare professional may recommend short-term doses of 10,000–25,000 IU. It’s important not to consume doses this high unless directed by a healthcare professional.
  • Vitamin C: This nutrient is crucial for collagen synthesis, preventing free radical damage, and other aspects of wound healing. Most people can easily get enough through diet alone, and supplementation is usually not recommended.
  • Zinc: Zinc is important for DNA replication and supporting the immune response during the early stages of healing. However, supplementation appears to be effective only in people who have a zinc deficiency.
  • Iron: Iron supports collagen synthesis and helps transport oxygen to cells. Most people do not need to supplement and can instead focus on getting iron from their diet.
  • Arginine and glutamine: These two amino acids are commonly used in the treatment of severe wounds, when demand for them increases. They may be used in conjunction with a high protein diet.
  • Vitamin K: This vitamin helps support blood clotting, which is important in the early stages of wound healing. Usually, you can get enough through your diet.

Always check with a healthcare professional before taking new supplements to make sure they’re right for you. A healthcare professional may run some blood tests to check for deficiencies, especially if wounds are taking longer than usual to heal.

For most people, eating a nutritious diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and protein is enough to support healing of minor wounds.

The bottom line

Depending on a wound’s severity, the healing process can take a few days or even months.

To ensure proper wound healing, it’s important to aim to eat enough calories each day. However, unless you have a severe wound, you probably do not need to be in a calorie surplus for it to heal properly and quickly.

Other important nutrients to pay attention to are protein; fat; vitamins A, C, and K; and certain minerals, such as zinc and iron.

Beyond that, your body just needs time to do its job.