Does Cardio Make You Lose Muscle? - NinjAthlete Skip to content

Does Cardio Make You Lose Muscle?

Cardio, in moderation and combined with a well-balanced fitness routine and proper nutrition, will not inherently lead to muscle loss.

Cardiovascular exercise, commonly referred to as "cardio," plays an essential role in promoting heart health, burning calories, and increasing overall endurance.

However, one frequently asked question in the fitness community is whether cardio leads to muscle loss.

To understand this better, let’s delve into the science, facts, and myths surrounding cardio and muscle mass.

The Science Behind Cardio and Muscle Interaction

muscle effects on cardio

The Energy Systems in Play

When you engage in exercise, your body relies on multiple energy systems. For short, explosive activities like weightlifting, the phosphagen system is dominant.

Meanwhile, for longer-duration activities, the body taps into the glycolytic and oxidative systems.

Prolonged, intense cardio primarily uses the oxidative system, which can deplete glycogen stores in muscles.

If these stores aren't replenished and recovery isn't prioritized, it could potentially lead to muscle breakdown.

The Role of Catabolic and Anabolic Hormones

Exercising affects hormone levels. Strength training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) increase anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone that support muscle growth.

On the other hand, prolonged, steady-state cardio can increase catabolic hormones like cortisol, which, in excess, can lead to muscle breakdown.

Myths vs. Facts

myths and facts about muscle building

Myth: Any Cardio Leads to Muscle Loss

Fact: Not all cardio will cause muscle loss. The intensity, duration, and frequency of cardio play a significant role. Short, high-intensity sessions, like HIIT, can even complement muscle growth by boosting metabolic rate and hormone production.

Myth: You Can't Build Muscle and Do Cardio Simultaneously

Fact: Many athletes incorporate both cardio and resistance training into their routines. The key is finding the right balance and ensuring adequate recovery between sessions.

Myth: Cardio Before Weights Drains Energy and Hinders Muscle Building

Fact: While it's true that a long cardio session before weights might deplete glycogen stores, making you feel fatigued, a short warm-up cardio session can actually be beneficial. It increases blood flow and preps the body for a more strenuous workout.

Tips to Preserve Muscle Mass While Doing Cardio

cardio to preserve muscle tips

Prioritize Nutrition

Ensure you're consuming enough calories, especially from protein and carbohydrates.

Post-cardio, replenish glycogen stores with carbs, and support muscle repair with protein.

Opt for HIIT

High-Intensity Interval Training provides the benefits of cardio without the extended durations that might tap excessively into muscle glycogen stores.

Listen to Your Body

Overtraining can lead to muscle loss, increased cortisol levels, and a weakened immune system.

Balance is key, so ensure you're getting ample rest and not pushing yourself too hard every single day.

Incorporate Strength Training

Building and preserving muscle requires resistance training.

Even if your primary goal is cardiovascular health or fat loss, integrating strength workouts into your routine will help maintain your muscle mass.


how to avoid muscle loss

Cardio, in moderation and combined with a well-balanced fitness routine and proper nutrition, will not inherently lead to muscle loss.

It's all about striking the right balance, listening to your body, and ensuring that you're fueling and recovering appropriately.

Remember, every individual's body responds differently, so it's essential to find what works best for you and your goals.

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