Do you skip cardio in fear that it’ll burn off your much-loved muscle? We hear you! You work hard for those muscles and don’t want to lose them running on a hamster wheel, but there is a way to incorporate cardio into your regime without sacrificing muscle mass.
To keep those gains and not lose any of your muscle mass, it is essential to follow these simple tips. Typically, you’ll retain your muscle mass if you’re doing a lot of strength training and eating enough protein in conjunction with your cardio. However if you’re a competitive runner or swimmer and on a very low carb diet, it can be difficult to retain your muscle mass as you’re shedding a lot of weight by training each week.
Try our MACROS approved tips for keeping that hard-earned muscle.
EAT ENOUGH PROTEIN
Protein and carbohydrates are the best source fuel to allow you to gain muscle. In particular, an adequate protein intake allows you to reduce lean body mass loss while losing weight, even in the absence of a good strength training routine (but we know you already have one of those!).
Keeping fat intake at a minimum is essential to promote hypertrophy (muscle growth); so ensure you’re getting enough calories from protein and carbohydrates. Try to aim for 1.2-1.3g of protein per kg of body weight.
USE CARDIO TO COMPLEMENT YOUR STRENGTH TRAINING, NOT AS A STANDALONE
Incorporate cardio training into your workout prior to your strength-based routine or even use it as a cool-down. Using the Stairmaster, elliptical, or exercise bike for about 5-10 minutes would be ideal for a good cool down workout.
If you do more than 3-5 hours of cardio exercise a week, it is more than likely that your body will start to lose your muscle mass as you are starting to wear out.
REMEMBER THE TWO BASIC EXERCISE SYSTEMS
There are two basic systems of cardio exercises that increase your endurance and are great to include in your workouts.
- Anaerobic lactic: The most effective cardio technique for retaining muscle while doing cardio, the anaerobic lactic system works without oxygen, instead creating anaerobic lactic acid allowing you to recover quickly. Much less energy is released during anaerobic exercise that aerobic. Anaerobic routines are short exertion, high intensity exercises like sprinting, jumping, or heavy weight training.
- Aerobic: This system is the opposite of anaerobic – the energy used is for a longer period rather than shorter spouts of HIIT training. It requires oxygen usage and lactic acid, and as a result is not ideal for retaining muscle mass if you’re not consuming enough protein and carbohydrates as it will result in weight loss. Aerobic exercise includes an hour of swimming, or a long jog.
EXAMPLES OF MUSCLE-FRIENDLY CARDIO WORKOUTS
- PER WEEK: 3 x 800m on the stairmaster (really works the thighs) or the rower machine (a whole body workout) – you’ll be doing cardio AND building muscle at the same time.
- SPRINT RUN ON A TREADMILL: Progressively start to incline your treadmill higher and higher to level 8 (if you are able to) while also walking on a faster incline such as 8.5.
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