Working in the health and fitness industry, you tend to hear all sorts of claims made by a variety of different people that truthfully have no idea what they’re talking about, and certainly have no evidence, credentials, or qualifications to back up their claims. You’ll hear people talking about how protein shakes are actually steroids, or how women will turn into hulking great bodybuilders if they start lifting weights two or three times a week. A personal favourite, and one which is becoming more and more frequent, is when people claim that it is impossible to build muscle if you perform cardio a few times each week. All of the aforementioned claims are completely bogus, and to help prove this, let’s take a look at the subject more in-depth, with some proven scientific and medical facts.
First off, does cardio burn muscle?
The answer to this question is that it actually depends on numerous factors, but it is possible for cardio to burn muscle, in extreme circumstances. Many people believe that in order to build muscle, you must avoid cardio like the plague as it will destroy their “gains” in a matter of minutes. This is nonsense. Ok, it is possible for cardio to burn muscle, BUT in order for this to happen, you would need to completely diminish all available energy and glycogen stores, forcing the body to tap into your muscle stores and burn them for energy. Before the body taps into muscle stores for energy, it would instead first go to body fat, as that is why we store body fat in the first place, as an emergency source of energy. Put very simply, the only way that cardio could burn muscle, would be if you were doing unusually long cardio sessions, numerous sessions each week, you had virtually no excess body fat on your body, and you had no energy from food or supplements inside your body at all.
So, is it possible to build muscle and do cardio?
Not only is it very possible to build muscle whilst doing cardio, cardio could actually help you to gain muscle in numerous ways. Studies have found that warming down after weight lifting, a steady 10 minutes on a cross trainer or exercise bike, could actually help you to build muscle as it increases blood flow. Increased blood flow leads to muscle repair, growth, and recovery, and therefore makes future sessions far easier. Some forms of cardio also stimulate the muscles and therefore contribute towards muscle growth in the process. If you’ve ever seen a cyclist’s legs you’ll know what we’re talking about as their legs are often lean, powerful looking, and incredibly muscular. Swimming is another great cardio exercise for building muscle because the water actually creates resistance so with each stroke your muscles are being worked harder than usual as they’re working against the resistance. Simply put, if you’re looking to build muscle, don’t neglect your cardio as 3 or 4 moderate sessions on the treadmill each week will certain not interfere with muscle growth, gains, or recovery in the slightest.