Nutrition

What to eat if cardio’s killin’ your muscle gains

“People who are doing cardio typically have pretty big expenditures and that makes it hard for them to eat up to that amount and over a period of time that’s where you’ll see losses of cardio weight, which will usually be some proportion of muscle.”

If you love the rush of smashing out some cardio but finding you’re not only losing weight but also a bit of muscle, get ready to get back on the gains train. We’ve asked Aquanation and Aquahub nutritionist and personal trainer Byron Manning for his tips for getting the best of both worlds. 

 

Does cardio burn muscle?

Yes and no. According to Manning, it’s not that you’ll burn muscle during that particular cardio session but rather throughout the day.

“When you’re doing cardio, you are straining a lot of different muscles groups pretty repetitively for a decent amount of time, in that process you’re pulling on all sorts of fuel source,” says the personal trainer.

Manning explains that in fuelling your workout your body “might start with your fat stores, then it’ll move towards your carbohydrates, carbs then break down into smaller sugars and converted into glucose. Any stored glucose will be converted into glycogen and stored in the muscles which your body uses to fuel your workout as the intensity increases.”

He adds that in the background of your cardio workout is a very small contribution to amino acids (which are pretty much your protein).

So where does this burning muscle after your workout come in? Manning clarifies it’s all about what your cardio session does to your overall expenditure for the day.

“People who are doing cardio typically have pretty big expenditures and that makes it hard for them to eat up to that amount and over a period of time that’s where you’ll see losses of cardio weight, which will usually be some proportion of muscle.”

Filling up the tank

What you put into your body impacts your output no matter what type of training you fancy. According to Manning, one common factor impacting the goals of cardio is not eating enough.

“One of the biggest contributors is not eating as much as you need and that chipping away at you over a long period of time will be what results in you losing muscle mass,” the nutritionist explains.

So essentially, you can’t build muscle if you’re not eating more calories than you’re burning during cardio, or what’s known as a calorie deficit. And although protein brings all the gym junkies to the yard, it’s also super important for cardio nuts too. A 2016 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that consuming more protein than you normally might can help you preserve your muscle mass, rather than if you don’t switch up your protein when you’re burning cals. 

Switch up your workouts

Look we get it, if you’re a cardio lover resistance training may not get your mojo going. But if your goal is to tone up and maintain muscle then get ready to hit the bar friends (the dumbbell bar that is) because that’s where the gains are at.

“If you’re fanatical about your cardio and not doing any resistance training you’re not really giving that muscle a reason to hang around,” Manning warns.

Not feelin’ it? Manning understands that the slower pace of strength training might not be every cardio kid’s cup of tea, but there are ways to make it your jam.

“One way to motivate cardio fans is that resistance training reduces their risk of injury in the long run, that means your cardio career is going to last longer if you’ve got some resistance training in your program as it impacts your recovery and overall muscle growth,” the personal trainer explains.