In the run up to my Miami Pro competition I have been asked this question a lot lately. For the last several weeks I have been performing cardiovascular sessions in the mornings on an empty stomach. The guys in and out of the gym will ask if doing cardio will burn the muscle that I have. This is a contentious subject whereby different people will have their own views on this. Here is my take on whether performing cardiovascular exercise makes you lose muscle.
There are two types of cardiovascular exercise, Aerobic and Anaerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise is associated with long distance type activities. Running, cycling, swimming over long distances to name just a few. These type of activities put a high demand on your muscles and you could if you are not careful deplete from muscle stores and go into a catabolic state. If you use muscle as an energy source then you are going to burn muscle mass. You'll know if you have done this because you may feel sick or slightly uncomfortable after performing the cardio session. This is because it is not a natural energy source for your body to use. If this does happen however, it is down to poor preparation and I will touch on this shortly. The other type of cardiovascular exercise is anaerobic based training. This type of training is associated with short distance activities that require a short surge of energy. For instance sprinting within a run, cycle and a row are good examples. The term anaerobic means to go a short period without the use of oxygen. In my opinion this type of exercise requires a larger physical demand on the body and your muscles. Some of you may have read my HIIT article (high intensity interval training) on the benefits of building muscle by doing this. So in this type of cardiovascular exercise it is possible to BUILD muscle rather than lose it. Again, you need to make sure your preparation is correct and that you are using the right fuel within your body.
In my opinion during both types of exercise you will not lose muscle if you follow these easy steps.
First of all. Make sure you eat enough protein for your body. The biggest mistake I see often is that you aren't consuming enough protein. Protein is what your muscles need first and foremost to function and to REMAIN. Without protein you aren't giving the muscles what they need. You should be having roughly 1g of protein per 1 pound of body weight. Sounds like a lot? Well a chicken breast contains 25g and a Whey Protein Shake contains anywhere from 20g-40g depending on serving amounts.
You don't eat enough. This is something I hear a lot. You will start performing more cardiovascular exercise but you will restrict your calories?!! This will only lead to muscle loss. Do you think that by restricting what you eat you will burn more fat? This doesn't happen and what you will actually do is lose your muscle! So make sure you keep an eye on what you are eating, especially your carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates are used as energy for your body to perform functions like running and cycling etc. If you find it hard to access extra calories why not use a weight gainer where you can add an extra 500kcals – 1200kcals per shake. Give it what it needs!
Finally, we all know that by including weight training in your routine will build muscles right? Why is it when you want to strip away body fat you include lots more cardiovascular exercise and neglect the weight training? Another common error that I see often. Don't forget to include your weight training sessions to stimulate muscle growth within your body.
Be sure to keep these in mind when you next include cardiovascular exercise within your routine.