If you are worried about operating rod damage and are not competing in an as-issued rules match, the gas ports are the way to go. Not only do they protect the op-rod, but you can pick the port size to drop your particular load's brass nearby.
To protect the rear of the receiver, you want to be sure your op-rod spring is in good shape. I advise against the extra power types, even though I used to use them, because they can encourage slam fires by stripping a round from the clip too vigorously. The springs Orion has made special have mil-spec tension and are a stainless alloy, to boot, so they shouldn't go bad easily, and are what most folks now recommend as new replacements.
The op-rod's tube is what is vulnerable to bending. It is heat treated seamless 1050 steel tubing. You could try to use something else, but you need the right combination of springiness and toughness. You definitely don't want to change its weight, as that could affect cycling function.
Gunsite Orange Hat Family Member
CMP Certified GSM Master Instructor
NRA Certified Rifle Instructor
NRA Patron Member