How to Maintain Muscle When You Are Not Working Out
Whether it is an injury, sickness, vacation, or just a crazy schedule, getting to the gym as often as you want can be near impossible. The last thing you want is to lose the muscle you worked so hard to build because of a few bumps in the road. For most people, strength loss occurs just after two to three weeks of inactivity and cardio loss happens in as little as 12 days, so if you are able, start hitting the gym again whenever you are able.
Here are a few tips on how to maintain muscle during your next workout hiatus.
Work around your injury
If you are missing the gym because of an injury, consider exercising the rest of your non-injured body. For example, if your right leg is injured, there is benefit to training your uninjured leg. Studies show that, to some degree, there is a transfer to the injured limb. But make sure to watch out for muscle imbalances if you consistently train one side or muscle more than others.
Grab a burger
Creatine is a very popular supplement at the moment, but it is also found in red meat. Creatine not only provides fuel for your muscles, it has also been shown to be a great option for maintaining muscle strength and size when you are injured.
Up your protein
Protein sources your body with amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscles. A Dutch study found that maintaining your protein intake when you are on a prolonged workout break could help preserve your muscles. Find quality sources of protein in animals (poultry, fish, eggs, beef, low-fat dairy) or plants (beans, soy, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables) and include them in every meal and snack.
Aim for three to five ounces of protein at every meal and two to three ounces in your snacks.
Cut your carbs
If you are being less active, your body requires fewer carbohydrates. Carbs are used as energy, along with fat, but when you are inactive excess carbs, just like calories, are stored as fat. Aim for 15 to 25 grams of carbs at each meal and snack.
Just picturing yourself exercising can help retain muscle mass. A study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology followed 29 subjects who had a cast placed on their non-dominant arm for four weeks. Half of the subjects imagined contracting their forearm muscles and flexing their wrists (without actually doing it) for five seconds. The other half did not do the mental exercises. After the four weeks, those who performed the imaginary exercises only lost 24 percent of their strength compared to the 45 percent lost by the other group.
Kick it into high gear first
If you know you are going to be missing the gym because of vacation or a schedule that is about to get busy, push yourself more in the upcoming weeks. If you work harder than your body is typically used to then your body will need more time to recover, allowing you to build muscle during your hiatus.