Every Freezer Needs a Bag of Bones
Sounds a little odd, right? Well, bones in the freezer equals broth in your crock pot, and bone broth has too many health benefits related to tissue repair and healing to be overlooked for the recovering athlete.
The healing process begins immediately following an injury or tissue breakdown, getting rid of the damaged tissue to make way for fresh new tissue. Bones, ligaments, cartilage; these are some of the primary tissues requiring extra attention post injury or surgery, so let's get a teeny bit science-y to understand how broth can benefit you!
Chondrocytes are the cells responsible for the formation, maintenance and repair of cartilage, and these cells are influenced by their biochemical environment. This can be tricky, however, as cartilage doesn’t have a steady blood supply, meaning that the chondrocytes don’t have access to a stream of nutrients to aid in repair. Thus, the cartilage must in effect be bathed in nutrients so as to absorbed them like a sponge.
This means that a robust supply of nutrients must be available to the cartilage to optimize absorption and delivery to these specialized cells. Specific physical therapy regimes, like compression and decompression or dry needling, facilitate the waste/nutrient exchange, but what we eat is at the heart of optimizing nutrient levels for that delivery.
Connective Tissue Repair - Getting Technical
Consider some of the specialized tissues needed for repair and healing:
Collagen fibers are long protein chains made up of specific amino acids. Glycine makes up about 1/3 of collagen and works in conjunction with proline, lysine, cysteine, hydroxycysteine and hydroxylysine.
Glycosaminoglycans (aka GAGs) comprise the proteoglycans in the ground substance of connective tissue and help connective tissue be spongy and resilient.
Elastins are another class of proteins that work in with collagen, and as the name implies, are quite elastic. Approximately 1/3 of the amino acid composition of elastin is glycine.
Clearly having an optimal intake of these regenerative compounds is critical for “feeding” the connective tissue. Even a well balanced whole foods diet of meats, healthy fats, vegetables, roots, tubers and fruits may come up short in several of these nutrients. There is the easy route of supplementation, but individual nutrients are like players on a team and do not function well solo. Rather, they work synergistically with one another to effectively and efficiently get the job done. Obtaining nutrients from food rather than in isolated supplements confers the benefit of this working symbiosis. This brings me back to bone broth.
Bone Broth (aka Stock) Nutrition - Exploring the Benefits
According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, bone broth provides our bodies with bioavailable forms of bone supporting minerals calcium, magnesium, silicon, and phosphorus. And that’s just from the bone itself. Joint tissue is really where you get the biggest bang for your buck.
If you’ve ever allowed your stock or meat drippings to cool and witnessed the resulting congealed state, you’ve seen the presence of gelatin, rich in the amino acids glycine, proline, and arginine. Recall that these are essential building blocks for both collagen and elastin. Glycine is also important for hemoglobin synthesis, which facilitates transport of oxygen to tissues, and in the production of bile salts, aiding in digestion. Proline supports skin health, especially when paired with vitamin C.
Not only that, when connective tissue is present on the bones (i.e. knuckle bones), broth will be rich in building GAGs like chondroitin and glucosamine. According to Dr. Cate Shanahan, author of Deep Nutrition, GAGs “head directly to parts of the body that need collagen most,” and “will naturally adhere to collagen anywhere in your body, moistening dry skin, helping your tendons and ligaments stay supple.” Remember, too, that “collagen isn’t just in your joints; it’s in bone, skin, arteries, and hair, and just about everywhere in between.” So, along with healthy connective tissues, you get supple skin and shiny hair to boot when regularly consuming bone broth!
Making Bone Broth - As Easy as it Gets
If you’re thinking about running out to the market to stock up on cans or cartons of broth, not so fast. Not only do commercially made broths often contain unwanted additives, but the health benefits of bone broth are unique to homemade bone broth -- bones, tendons, ligaments simmered in water over a long period of time. This traditional method of preparation has been used for hundreds of years as a way to utilize the entire animal and extract the inherent nutrient density. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Any kind of bones will do: a leftover chicken carcass or rib bones, knuckle bones from the farmers market or local butcher, or even the freezer section at the grocery store. Two to three pounds of bones per batch will be plenty.
As simple as making bone broth is, a key ingredient to get the most out of your broth is a splash (1-2 tablespoons) of vinegar or lemon juice. This adds acidity and helps to breakdown the bone and soft tissue without affecting flavor.
Generally, you don’t want your broth to boil for an extended period of time but rather simmer on a very low temperature for 12-24 hrs. If cooked too high the collagen and gelatin proteins can be denatured and your broth will not gel, which is ideal.
You can add any vegetables you’d like for flavor, but this is not essential, and the lazy way (my way) simply involves bones in the crock pot or on the stove covered with water and a dribble of vinegar. A little heat and patience go a long way.
You’ll likely want to skim any fat or “scum” from the top of your broth, as this can contribute to an “off” taste.
Drain broth from the bones (which may simply mush up at this point) and store broth in jars in the fridge or even in freezer safe bags to stash away for later use. The broth should stay good in the fridge for at least a week or so, especially if you get a layer of fat on top.
Now, you may be wondering what the heck you’re suppose to do with a whole pot of bone broth. Drink it, of course! One of my favorite ways to get it down the hatch is to warm up a mug of broth and add a splash of ume plum vinegar or sea salt and sip on it. It’s comfort and nourishment in a mug! Or you could make a soup. Or braise vegetables. Or use it in place of water to cook rice. The possibilities are endless! However you decide to enjoy your broth, aim for 4-8 oz daily, maybe even more if you’re goal is speedy recover. As a perk, you’ll boost your immune system and save money by not having to buy broth at the store,
Now go forth and nourish yourself!