This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

Here's How to Reverse & Avoid Muscle Loss

muscle atrophy

Muscle atrophy is a real concern when you experience a long duration of physical inactivity. Over time your gains and strength can be lost.

Muscle atrophy is defined as a loss of muscle mass and is commonly caused by muscle disuse or starvation. For the purpose of today's discussion, we'll assume that your muscle loss is due to taking an extended time off from exercising. Perhaps you burned yourself out, you got the flu or maybe life became extremely busy. Whatever the case, it's been eons since you've worked out. Suddenly you're losing weight, but it's not fat, and you can barely climb a flight of stairs without tiring out.

Here's a starting list of signs you've lost muscle.

  1. Loss of strength while performing familiar exercises.

  2. Weight loss without increased muscle definition.

  3. Difficulty performing ordinary tasks.

  4. Urine tests containing high amounts of urea.

In a nutshell, where you were once in great shape, or at least improving drastically, you've now fallen entirely off. However, all is not lost. It's fairly simple to get back on track.

You should be actively performing muscle growth exercises.

The opposite of muscle loss is muscle growth. Therefore the direct way to combat the condition is through actively performing muscle hypertrophic or muscle growth activities. Therefore, whatever you do, do not reintroduce yourself into a cardio only routine. Cardio is excellent for staying heart healthy, however, for the purpose of rebuilding lost muscle, it can worsen your situation. Instead, jump right back into strength exercises. If necessary, you can take the process slow by performing resistance training exercises with resistance bands and body weight workouts. Both are methods of challenging your muscles without the need of equipment. Your goal is to reacclimate your muscles to excessive stress which translates into muscle growth when combined with an adequate diet. Not only is focusing on resistance and body weight training a good way to ease yourself back into training but they can both be done at home if your schedule is tight.

Here's how to slowly reverse muscle loss at home or in the gym.

  1. Perform regular resistance or body weight workouts

  2. Complete 8 to 12 challenging reps of each exercise

  3. Give each muscle group worked about 2 recovery days before exercising them again. For example. If you do a resistance upper body day, don't work arms again for about two days.

If you're not one to go into anything slowly, if you're more of the "dive right back in type," then go for it. Try to pick your exercise routine right back where you left off. Muscle memory is this beautiful phenomenon that's basically like riding a bike but for your muscles. Your muscles retain a memory of each exercise you perform to execute them more effectively over time. What this means for avoiding muscle loss is that reintroducing your body to an old workout means even faster muscle regrowth. My only word of caution is to make sure not to burn yourself out again; it's a marathon, not a race.

Diet is the other crucial piece of this puzzle.

In short, eat more protein. I can say with near certainty that you're not eating nearly enough protein to avoid muscle loss, because most people don't. Focus on eating .8 to 1 gram of protein for each pound you weigh every day. Eating that much protein can seem daunting at first, so bulk up on protein powders and shakes. Both supplements are convenient and can help you reach your goal number quickly.