How Nutrition Factors Into Rehabilitation: Project Walk Atlanta

Editor’s Note: Tony Davenport, the lead clinical exercise physiologist and rehab specialist for Project Walk Atlanta, graduated with a master’s degree in exercise science focusing on performance enhancement and injury prevention.

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5 Chris Weaver
Tony Davenport [on right] is the lead clinical exercise physiologist and rehab specialist for Project Walk Atlanta.
One of the most overlooked aspects of a successful rehabilitation program is diet. People who are doing any form of rehabilitation or trying to promote better body health need to eat the foods that will help keep their digestive tracts clear of buildup and waste, so they can absorb nutrients.

Green vegetables have micronutrients that your body needs.

But the beginning of better health through nutrition should be preceded by a blood chemistry analyzation to determine what effect the prescriptions you’re taking have on the depletion of micronutrients, minerals and vitamins in your blood. Certain prescription drugs cause depletion of micronutrients, or they’ll suppress the vital nutrients that we take in from the foods we eat.

You need to know your bio index to understand what foods you need to eat more of, and the types of supplements you need that your body’s not getting.

You need to eat more green vegetables and take in more nutrients and vitamins, because after trauma or a debilitating event, your body is more susceptible to pathogens, which will make you sick or cause you to have pneumonia. The breakdown of your immune system occurs much more frequently when you’ve had an injury or an accident that creates a need for rehabilitation.

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You’re also much more susceptible to urinary tract infections, bed sores, fatigue, depression, poor liver health, poor bone health, weight gain and muscle loss. By eating right and/or taking supplements, you can keep your body as healthy as possible, especially after sicknesses, accidents or injuries.

The Most Common Nutrient Deficiency

The two vitamins most commonly deficient in people in wheelchairs or who have some type of illness or been in an accident are Vitamins D and C.

Orange tree

When people’s lives suddenly change, like beginning to use a wheelchair, generally, they don’t get outside as much as they have before their accidents or injuries. Then they don’t absorb as much Vitamin D from the sun. If they stop eating foods rich in Vitamin D, every function that Vitamin D supports is depleted and diminished – skin health, heart health and brain function. Vitamin D also plays a major role in many of the other functions of the body.

To solve this problem, get outside as much as possible, and eat foods that are rich in Vitamin D.

Vitamin C is critically important to your immune system, your heart and your brain. People often tend to eat the same foods (fast foods) that they’ve eaten before they’ve become injured. They also tend to eat more sweets and comfort foods to take their minds away from their physical conditions. They don’t change the ways they think and eat to put their bodies in better condition for the optimal function possible.

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Project Walk Atlanta usually recommends taking supplemental Vitamin D and Vitamin C. Our organization has a master herbalist and naturopathic doctor on staff.  She can be brought in to do special testing on someone to help determine what other vitamins and minerals possibly may help a specific individual obtain better body health, as it relates to the medicines he or she’s taking. T

he best solution for getting better vitamins and minerals is to eat more fresh green vegetables. But, if you don’t like green vegetables, we can recommend supplements like superfood green powders like Green Vibrance that contain superfood greens with probiotics and macro and micro nutrients that a person can consume once per day to help supplement much of the nutrition they’re not getting in their daily diets.

Successful Rehabilitation 20Nutrition for Bed Sores or Pressure Sores

When a person is having a problem with bed sores, their caloric consumption must stay high – somewhat more than it has been when they have been active. You also need to increase their protein consumption to rebuild their tissues, eat foods and take supplements that are high in Vitamins A, C, D, E and zinc. They need to drink a good amount of fluids and eat plenty of good fats. Also, applying skin healing nutrients like Vitamin E to their skin will keep the skin pliable and prevent it from breaking down.

Clients generally get sores on their tail bones and their hips, or, on some part of their body that comes in contact with their wheelchairs.

So, Project Walk Atlanta recommends these people lay on their sides as much as possible to allow their bodies to heal the places where the bed sores are most likely to occur. When you’re sitting or laying a lot, you need to eat more of the right foods to keep your caloric count up. Then, your body can take from those foods the nutrients it needs to heal the tissue that has been damaged by bed sores.

Pneumonia and Nutrition

mar2014sns_heat_tomatoesOnce a person develops pneumonia, he usually goes to the hospital, and is on constant care. To prevent pneumonia, you need to limit the amount of sugar you’re taking in, and you need to make sure you’re eating dishes that contain ginger, carrots and different spices that help support your respiratory system.

When we use the words “limit sugar”, most people only think of processed sugar.

However, you also need to limit sugars found in fruit. Be conscious to eat foods high in Vitamins A, C and zinc like grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, vegetable soups and parsley.

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Inflammation and Nutrition

Fresh Organic Cranberry Juice
Fresh Organic Cranberry Juice

Inflammation allows for a toxic internal environment in our bodies. For someone living with spinal cord injuries, this inflammation makes them more prone to sickness and opportunistic pathogens, which may cause their bodies to break down faster, worsening their health and shortening their lives.

The first line of defense is to use litmus strips that can be bought at any drug store to test pH daily or weekly. The pH, when balanced (alkaline), allows for an internal environment for optimal function.

You want to make sure you are getting powerful antioxidants like berries and raw vegetables aids in achieving a balanced pH to reduce inflammation. However, one never wants to be too acidic causing inflammation, or too alkaline, creating other internal issues.

Your Sleep Needs to be Managed

Many of our patients report having problems sleeping. So, we have to look at what factors are affecting your sleeping pattern. When your body or a portion of your body is paralyzed, your mind is still active. But you can eat certain foods that help support your brain function. A gland in our brains secrete melatonin as the sun starts to go down and helps regulate our biological clocks. If you’re not eating specific foods that help support that gland, you can have problems sleeping. As we age, that gland produces less and less melatonin.

When you have an injury, your mind keeps running, while a portion of your body is shut down.

Bedroom decorated with bright purple flowers

You need to avoid foods with caffeine, alcohol and other foods that keep your nervous system firing and keep you awake and anxious. Avoid spicy foods that cause inflammatory responses to your nervous system. You even may have to supplement melatonin at some point, because your biological clock may be impaired due to your injury. Maintaining a healthy weight also helps your sleep.

A supplement called 5-HTP or a melatonin supplement can also help. Go to a homeopathic store like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or Goodness Grocery that offer clean-based nutritional products not made or formed with toxins. Some of these supplements are liquid, some are sublingual – drops you put on your tongue – some are in a solution that you have to mix with water, and some are tablets or pills.

You just have to find the right supplement that works best for you. Remember, don’t overuse the supplements, so that your system becomes immune to them.

Information for Better Nutrition

A book we suggest to our clients with spinal cord injuries is titled, “Eat Well, Live Well with Spinal Cord Injury.” It’s a PDF download authored by Joanne Smith – a certified nutritionist – and Kylie James – an occupational therapist and certified nutritionist. We order the book online.

I’m not a licensed nutritionist, and I’m not a certified dietician. But with my experience, I can recommend a book like this written by professionals that coincides with what our naturopathic doctor suggests. The recommendations made in this book help our clients stay as healthy as possible, and it deals with many of the problems that good nutrition can help solve to aid in recovery from spinal cord injuries.

To order the book, go online at


Metabolic processes slowdown in people with spinal cord injuries, because they aren’t using their bodies physically as much as they once did. People may comfort eat too – consuming heavy, greasy goods that slowdown their metabolism even more. Or, they may not have a basic understanding of nutrition, or what compensations need to be taken to ensure their health is improved upon nutritionally. When metabolism slows, weight gain and loss of healthy muscle tissue occur, and the key functions of organ metabolism become compromised.

The 70/30 Principle

As a personal trainer, I tell our clients that good health is 70 percent trying and 30 percent physical exertion. If the person becomes injured, the 70/30 rule applies even more. When you get injured, the bar is raised on nutrition. You have to be more conscious and adhere more closely to a good nutritional program than a body builder does.

I often tell my clients, “Okay, if you don’t like vegetables, consider making vegetable smoothies or juice vegetables.”

If someone says, “No, I’m not going to eat that stuff,” or comes to work out and tells me, “I just finished a meal at a fast food restaurant,” and is trying to get his body to function below his level of injury, I’ll say, “How do you expect to reach the goal you want to reach?”

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A typical session at Project Walk Atlanta lasts 2-3 hours. If you come in and spend that amount of time to increase your body function, but as soon as the session is over, you go outside and smoke cigarettes, go have a fast food giant burger, drink some alcohol and/or eat a piece of pie, you won’t get the nutrients your body needs to uptake from that exercise therapy.

You can’t increase your function in your overall health when you’re tearing it down faster than we can help you bring it up. As a society, we are so vain that we forget how important it is to get our internal function optimized to get better quicker, to recover faster and to maximize our potential to recover.

The Results of Good Nutrition and Therapy

We’ve noticed that the skin of our clients who follow a good nutrition regimen looks better. Healthier people are more energized when they go through the different exercises and perform those exercises much better than the people who haven’t improved their nutritional levels.

If people follow a quality nutritional regimen, then their recovery usually goes really well.

They’re more likely to have new and different breakthroughs every time they come into a session, and these breakthroughs are happening weekly or monthly rather than yearly. The people who are following good nutritional recommendations also tend to accept their injuries as temporary setbacks that they’ll move beyond.

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A person who doesn’t realize that good nutrition is a way to improve his or her body is less likely to experience breakthroughs with each session and see the type of recovery he’s hoping to achieve. They’re also less likely to have overall mental wellness than the people who make a concerted effort to eat better nutritionally.

We’ve seen at Project Walk Atlanta that people who have devoted themselves to good nutrition generally have better overall mental health and are more positive than the people who don’t develop a good nutritional regimen.

Remember, better nutritional health is a long term investment. No one has a magic pill you can take and instantly have better nutritional health. If someone did, he’d become rich overnight.

Successful Rehabilitation3What Is Project Walk Atlanta

Project Walk Atlanta is a nonprofit spinal cord injury recovery facility based in a northern suburb of Atlanta, GA. The owner, Paul Pickard, established the program after his son Chris suffered a spinal cord injury in 2011.

The original program that was Project Walk Atlanta was born in Carlsbad, California, in the late 1990s. The program developed a curriculum to train people with 4 year college degrees or higher or those licensed in physical or occupational therapy or chiropractic care to use neuromuscular protocols taken from traditional physical therapy settings.

Then they were taught to apply those concepts to exercise, using unique sets of specialized equipment to help someone who had suffered a central nervous system injury like a spinal cord injury or some type of problem like multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, Guillain Barre, transverse myelitis, tetraplegia and paraplegia to move forward in improving his or her physical ability to have a direct, positive impact on his quality of life.

The program options include: a home program where the client stays at Project Walk Atlanta for a week to learn the exercises most beneficial to him; a family track program that teaches a family member to help with the exercises; and the in-house program.

To learn about Project Walk Atlanta and its philosophy on nutrition as it applies to improved health and wellness, go to You can also visit their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Or, you can go to the program’s YouTube channel to learn more about nutritional guidance.

A person has to schedule an appointment at the Project Walk facility to talk with their master herbalist and review the types of medications they’re specifically taking to learn how those medicines are impacting their bodies, and what types of food and nutritional supplements they may want to focus on to address those specific needs.

Note: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice.

About the Author:John-E_-Phillips
For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at


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