Muscle loss is a legit fear when doing things that contradict gains, like going on vacation. However, it’s extremely difficult to lose muscle, and it isn’t in the way you would think.
Here, MUTANT debunks some of those crazy muscle loss myths you might’ve heard about, setting you straight on which things cause muscle loss and which things don’t.
Myth 1: A Training Break Leads to Muscle Loss
Many believe missing a week's training can set you back, but that’s far from true. Let's be honest: If training were that crucial, we'd do it daily and get anxious when the gym is overcrowded. In fact, research shows that training just once a week can preserve your strength. (1)
Luckily – and this goes back to ancestral times – a human being’s muscle preservation is top-of-the-line. It takes about two or three weeks of abstinence from the gym for a person to lose strength, which isn’t necessarily muscle. While it depends on the person in terms of how fast this happens, going on a two-week vacation isn’t going to kill the progress you’ve made in the gym. And if you’ve been strength training consistently (which, hopefully, you are if you’re reading this!), then the strength and muscle gains will come back fast.
Sure, you might have to deload and bring yourself back by about five pounds on most of your lifts. But the muscle fibers will remain thick and full the whole time you’re sipping fruity drinks on an island.
Myth 2: Fasting = Muscle Loss
This one has some nuance because there comes a point where too prolonged of a fast will lead to wasting away both muscle and fat. But for intermittent fasting, don’t sweat the potential for muscle loss. A shorter fast won’t inherently cause muscle atrophy. So if you normally fast for less than 20 hours daily and keep the day-long fasts down to once a month or once a quarter, muscle loss won’t happen.
However, to fully preserve muscle, the last meal you eat before a decent fast should have plenty of protein, carbs, fats, and fiber to slow down digestion and preserve muscle mass while in the fasted state.
The Truth: What Causes Muscle Loss?
Muscle atrophy is, in fact, very difficult to achieve. If you lift and eat right, it should never be an issue. However, two big factors play into whether your muscles are growing, staying the same, or shrinking:
Stopping activity long-term: Injuries or busy life can derail even the best workout routines. If you don’t move around or lift for months, you will notice a change in your physiology, and NOT for the better.
Aging: Father Time wins all wars, but we can make it a fight in a few battles. You can’t completely escape the wrath of muscular atrophy as you age, but you can prolong muscle strength and size with proper nutrition and strength training.
Solutions for these are simple. For the first factor, always find a way to move your body, even if it’s a walk, a handful of push-ups before bed, or air squats before and after a meal. These small bouts of muscle activation keep the body prepped and ready for whatever you might throw at it.
Secondly, consider taking vitamins to stop age-related muscle loss. The best vitamins to take are C, D, and E. These nutrients are found in many protein sources, but if you want to fortify your diet, a high-quality multivitamin should have all three in spades.
You have complete control over muscle loss and muscle gain. So, don't worry the next time you embark on that cruise. Continue to be the badass that you are, and you won’t have to fear that you’ll lose your hard-earned muscle growth anytime soon!
Article by Terry Ramos
Spiering, B. A., Mujika, I., Sharp, M. A., & Foulis, S. A. (2021). Maintaining Physical Performance: The Minimal Dose of Exercise Needed to Preserve Endurance and Strength Over Time. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 35(5), 1449–1458. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000003964