All gyms closed due to lockdown! Am I going to lose all my hard-gained muscles? I do not have gym equipment at home, am I going to lose all my strength? Can doing light exercises prevent muscle atrophy (muscle loss)? Will bed rest from injury take away all my muscles? Read on to find answers to all such doubts.
Muscle loss aka muscle atrophy implies the loss of muscle tissues. Atrophied muscles appear smaller than normal. Muscle atrophy can occur if the person is living a sedentary lifestyle for long. If a muscle is not used, the body will ultimately break it down to conserve energy. Muscle atrophy occurs when the breakdown of muscle protein overtakes the synthesis process of proteins that form muscle mass.
Indicators related to muscle atrophy to know if you are affected:
• Loss of movement and strength
• Exercise limitations
• Reduced range of motion
• One limb that appears smaller than the other
• Poor quality of life, especially if someone is bedridden and cannot move their limbs
Factors contributing to muscle loss :
• Inactivity for long periods due to illness or injury
• Neurological problems
• Certain medical conditions such as arthritis, myositis, ALS and MS
Inactivity and muscle loss
This article mainly focuses on inactivity factor which can be caused by injury or lockdown situation.
Inactivity is a common cause of muscle loss and can be local (due to injury), general (bed rest) or the situation of lockdown. If the muscles are not utilized from 10 – 42 days, then the rate of muscle atrophy is approximately 0.5–0.6% of total muscle mass/day, even though there is substantial variation between people . The muscle mass loss happens between 2-3 weeks after inactivity begins .
Although muscles don’t start fading for some weeks, this doesn’t mean your muscles won’t be sore quicker, and your muscles will have to get used to lifting again. If you are on compulsory bed rest for two weeks, the muscles might weaken away faster. If you can still find ways to activate and use muscles every day and stay in action, you may preserve your muscle mass for longer.
Inactivity impact on different types of training:
->Athletes typically lose less overall muscle strength during a break than non-athletes . The athletes who do resistance training kept muscular strength even after a 2-week break and started to drop muscle strength after 3-weeks.
->In non-athletes, specially beginners, Eccentric strength – the strength you use when stretching a muscle or lowering a weight – is harder to lose whereas Concentric strength – which you use when contracting a muscle – is easier to lose.
Endurance will start disappearing a little quicker. Even with 12 days of inactivity, VO2 max dropped by 7% and enzymes in the blood associated with endurance performance decreased by 50 %.
->Athletes will see larger declines if they stop exercising completely . Keeping some level of activity will help them maintain some level of cardio fitness.
->Non-athletes who haven’t been exercising regularly for long are more likely to lose their progress during periods of inactivity. The good news is that they can reach their peak fitness levels faster after a break, in comparison to when they first began training.
Inactivity impact on Age and Sex:
• Older people lose strength almost twice as fast as the younger ones.
• There are no significant differences in strength loss between men and women within the same age groups .
• Older women will return to their baseline fitness level faster, meaning they had lost all their progress.
muscle loss prevention
Muscle loss can be prevented in the following ways:
->Resistance exercise : Physical activity provides a significant anabolic muscle stimulus and is a critical factor in slowing or reversing muscle loss . Resistance exercise is beneficial in reducing muscle loss in older adults. Even a four-minute Tabata session will help you in maintaining your strength . Light, dynamic warmups are also a good way to help keep the body from getting too stiff and to slow the loss of mobility without putting too much additional stress.
->Keep doing light cardio : Brisk walking or climbing-up stairs keeping your heart rate in the 120-ish range should be able to stave you off losing conditioning for a little longer. Light training will help in maintaining gains, especially if you’re able to squeeze in the odd cardio session that’ll train you at the upper end of your VO2 max.
->Nutrient dense diet with enough protein :
Adequate calories and protein are crucial to prevent muscle atrophy. Protein needs may vary dramatically depending on metabolic factors and disease state, so high-protein supplementation may be beneficial. Studies show that enough protein intake reduces the loss of lean body mass. Nutrient dense diet full of protein, healthy fats, and low-GI carbs will also speed up your recovery if you’re injured or ill.
what if muscle loss already happened?
How long will it take to recover if muscle loss already happened? Let’s see, how recovery happens in different categories of people:
->Athletes can return to their former fitness levels more quickly than non-athletes because of muscle memory. Researchers found that muscle growth is “remembered” by genes in the affected muscles. When you start training those muscles again, even after a long break, the genes respond more quickly than genes in previously unused muscles.
->Even non-athletes (regular gym-goers) also have muscle memory from previous activity, but your genes won’t be as quick to recall your former exercise if it wasn’t very consistent. You’ll still be able to get back to your former fitness level quicker than it took the first time around, but it will take longer than it does for an athlete . The better shape you were in while training, the quicker you’ll be able to get back to that level.
The bottom line is that taking a few days or few weeks off won’t seriously spoil your progress. Remember, you’ll also be able to reach your peak fitness levels more quickly after a break than you did when you first began training. Even if you need to cut back on your exercise then do not stop completely, a minimal amount of strength or cardio activity can prevent you from losing all your progress. If you’re struggling to stay on track with a fitness plan, talking with a personal trainer can help. They can set you up with a plan that takes into consideration your lifestyle, fitness level, goals, and any injuries.
About the Author: Anil Malik is an INFS scholar and has completed his Foundation and Expert certification from INFS (Institute of Nutrition and Fitness Sciences). He has been associated with the health and fitness industry for more than 2 years. There are a lot of myths about health and fitness, which people are following without knowing the reason. Anil wants to share his learning and knowledge to guide people in the right direction.
 (McMaster DT, et al. (2013). The development, retention and decay rates of strength and power in elite rugby union, rugby league, and American football: A systematic review. DOI: 10.1007/s40279-013-0031-3)
Institute of Nutrition and Fitness Sciences (INFS) was established with the intent of providing comprehensive and practical knowledge in Health and Fitness. INFS Nutrition and Training courses are divided into levels so that everyone from a general health enthusiast to someone who wants to build a career in Fitness industry can benefit from them.
For more about INFS Courses, visit us here.