One of the biggest fears that people have about cardio is that it will make them lose their hard earned muscle mass. We get it! You work hard for your muscle and don’t want to lose it by doing cardio. Don’t worry though, there is nothing to worry about if you are training smart. In this article we are going to teach you how to train smart, so you do cardio to burn body fat AND keep your muscle. First off, let’s be logical here. Think about the amount of professional athletes out there that do cardio 5+ times a week and are still able to maintain their muscle. Think pro bodybuilders, pro football players, pro basketball players, olympic sprinters… and the list goes on. The reason they are able to maintain their muscle is because they are training their muscle consistently and eating enough food to maintain their mass.
One of our favorite examples of someone who maintains a decent amount of muscle while doing an insane amount of cardio is Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s a guy who’s not super bulky, but he does have some visible muscle mass that he’s able to maintain despite the fact that all he does is run up and down a soccer pitch.
Two Things to Maintain Muscle Mass
So how do you make sure that you’re not going to lose your muscle mass when you are doing a lot of cardio? Well, there are two key things you need to focus on. First, you need to eat the right amount of food to maintain your muscle without gaining excess body fat. Second, you need to train your muscles on a consistent basis using resistance training.
Eat the Right Amount of Food for Your Goals
You have to make sure that you’re eating enough food to maintain the muscle mass you have on your body. Your body is just a science equation, so you need to pay attention to how much you put in it and how much energy you put out. If you’re not supplying your body with enough calories, especially protein, you can’t expect to maintain the muscle mass that you do have.
Your body needs protein to maintain the muscle mass. We recommend as a rule of thumb to consume between .8 and 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight that you have. If you consume that every single day, you should be able to maintain your lean muscle mass.
To figure out exactly how many calories you should be eating every day, check out our Nutrition Calculator. Just plug in your information including weight, height, fitness goals and exercise level. The calculator lets you choose from these four different activity levels:
Not Active: You don’t exercise at all
Lightly Active: You exercise 1-2 times per week at all out intensity for about 30 minutes to an hour.
Moderately Active: You exercise all-out 3-4 times a week
Highly Active: You exercise all-out 5 times or more per week
Now this isn’t perfect, but you don’t have to be perfect. The calculator is going to give you the right amount of food for the amount of exercise that you’re doing so you can keep your muscle mass and get the body you want.
Train Your Muscles
If you are not training your muscles, they are going to atrophy which means that you are going to lose the muscle mass. This happens when you’re not giving your body enough nutrients, specifically the macronutrient protein. In more technical terms, what happens when you’re not getting enough food is your body goes catabolic because it is eating away the muscle tissue to supply itself with the nutrients it needs to function.
Even though we don’t teach weight lifting specifically, the easiest way to work your muscles is to lift weights. You should be lifting weights at least three times a week, making sure to hit each one of your body parts. This is going to be the number one thing you can do as far as training your body physically to help you maintain that muscle despite doing lots of cardio. If you don’t have access to a gym and you just want to maintain your muscle mass, you can also do bodyweight exercises. As long as you’re doing some kind of resistance strength training, hitting all the muscles every week and getting enough food and protein on a daily basis, you’re going to be great.
Additional Strategies For Not Losing Muscle
Include branch chain amino acids when you are fasted or just before or during your workout. These amino acids are the building blocks to protein and they help you stay anabolic during your workout and fasting periods, helping you hold onto those lean muscles.
Maintain a Consistent Workout Schedule
This isn’t rocket science – obviously you want to be committed and stick to a consistent plan that works out all of your muscles. But we totally get it, it’s easy to get inconsistent with weight training and only hit the bench press or do push-ups once every few weeks. Try to avoid falling into that habit. If you want a plan that will keep you accountable and help you stay consistent, check out our 4-week challenge where we give you four weeks of workouts to make things easier.
You lose muscle mass for two reasons:
You don’t have enough nutrients to maintain the muscle
Your not working your muscles, which leads to atrophy and muscle loss
How to maintain muscle mass:
Do bodyweight exercises or lift weights at least three times a week
Schedule in your workouts and go as hard as possible
Eat enough food for your body
Stay consistent with your nutrition and training programs
Do The Thing
Cardiovascular exercise does not kill your gains. If anything, your cardio should improve your performance overall and help you become even stronger over the long run. Stay consistent with eating the right amount of food for your exercise level and do resistance training at least three times every week (hitting every major muscle group at least once.) The jump rope or the cardio training that you do on a consistent basis is going to help you remove body fat and stay lean while you put on muscle. The weight lifting or bodyweight exercises you do are going to help you maintain that hard-earned muscle or build new muscle that shows up when you get super lean. With these two things combined, you’re going to get the athletic body you want.