Let’s be honest; we all need a bit of cardio in our life, but not enough to create muscle wastage
When I decided on a whim that I wanted to build more muscle, change my body shape and then show it all off on stage, many things in my lifestyle had to change. For instance, I gave up sugar (the hardest thing for me), then all the refined carbs, and began to eat a lot of protein, veggies and a good range of fats.
Unfortunately, I also sacrificed carbs, which left me flat and lifeless — but that’s for another post. During the muscle-building phase, I was chastised for doing any cardio.
Cardio can eat away your muscle; muscle wastage happens faster and more frequently when dieting. How is that possible when you eat tons of protein and lift weights? During my years of research and writing, I have discovered that’s not true! We don’t waste muscle just because we diet. Instead, a few factors diminish muscle mass in all people.
- Lack of lifting weights or taking an extended break (this is the primary cause of muscle wastage)
- Not eating any protein whatsoever (but protein is found in plants, legumes and vegan alternatives, so you can still get some form of protein in those sources)
- Being completely inn-active
- A diet of processed foods
- Women who are menopausal
As you can see, we will run into many factors that can hinder or diminish our muscle-building through a lack of awareness. So, don’t give up your muscle-building efforts too soon because you can and will still need that component — although you won’t have to stop that beloved cardio. You have to work on your cardio according to your goals. I wish I had known this eight years ago. Unfortunately, cardio fitness diminishes a lot faster than strength. Here are six ways you can have your weights and cardio too!
One: Steady-state cardio is OK, as long as you don’t do it for 2–3 hours a day
If your goal is to put on muscle, then your time is better-utilised lifting weights, and heavy ones, for that matter. Being on a treadmill isn’t fill this need, and too much cardio will hinder any muscle-building potential you may try to develop. So, think very hard before spending hours on the treadmill running or jogging. A brisk walk is sufficient for 20 minutes; even walking on an incline at a relatively fast pace is a good cardio option. But please adhere to a strict time limit of about 45 minutes to one hour. Two hours and above is not ideal — unless you are training for a marathon.
Two: If you want to do a bit more cardio without losing muscle, pick a safe option like walking
This would have to be my favourite form of cardio. It’s low-impact and relaxing and allows me to switch off, listen to my favourite audiobooks, and enjoy the environment around me in a stress-free zone. Lowering your stress levels will help you increase your fat-burning potential and help to save those precious muscles. We all need this in our lives, and it’s undoubtedly an efficient option for burning calories and fat as energy. Make sure you aren’t making up for the effort with more food!
Three: If you want to target stubborn stores of fat, please pick HIIT
If you do intense fat-burning cardio to tap into those fat stores, I highly recommend HIIT several times a week. You can do this outdoors or in the gym. Swap between bouts of intense sprints and active recovery. If running at high speeds is too much, you can use a cross trainer or create a circuit training program that suits your fitness level. HIIT doesn’t mean killing yourself — but a way to slowly work up to the fitness level you need to hit those fat loss goalposts. These are, by far, the most effective means to burn belly fat. Stick with 20 minutes at a time, and always do this when you do not lift weights.
Four: Make sure you are eating correctly — fuel your workouts
No amount of exercise will help if you are not eating the right foods consistently. Plan your meals with protein, fat, veggies and carbs. But don’t follow my lead in giving up those healthy carbs. It’s not the food that’s the problem; it’s always the amount you eat and the quality of the food. Nothing will help us put on more weight than eating the wrong foods. The scary fact is, those added calories have a way of creeping up behind you and then unexpectedly showing up on your ass (or your abdomen). So, do your body justice and treat it well by eating a diet filled with unprocessed natural, healthy, and whole foods — and feel free to indulge in a cheat meal every so often.
Five: Do you need cardio? Do you have extra body fat stores?
Most people do cardio because they think they should, since bodybuilders do cardio in the mornings and evenings. And they seem to look pretty shredded in the process. If you are already lean, then perhaps skip it. Why not focus on your weight training, and do the brisk walking I mentioned above? There isn’t a point in doing something you don’t need if it’s only for a backup to help you eat the wrong foods. If you are overweight, please don’t go nuts here.
Instead, take it slow with cardio; you can put in that extra effort as you become stronger and much fitter. Last but not least, in light of getting leaner, I can’t stress enough just how important diet is. If your diet is not in line with your goals, it will hinder your progress — or not allow it to move the needle toward weight loss.
Test different strategies as a self-experiment, then tweak them as you go along. That’s how I’ve discovered what works for my body. Trial and error all the way — and unfortunately, it’s been a lot more ‘error’ based than most people — due to stubbornness!
Six: Try different forms of cardio; don’t stick with one all the time
Maybe you might indulge in some HIIT and focus on high-intensity circuit training on another occasion. Since I started to weight train again, I’ve enjoyed strong-man training between my regular weight sessions.
A strong man consists of kettlebells, a sledge, and a medicine ball. You can buy most of these items for your home and create some convenient home workout sessions. If you are breathless and working up a sweat — it’s working! Keep it up.
When you swap and alter your cardio, you’ll get better results + and you won’t be so bored and make an effort to increase your efforts at each stage. Our bodies tend to adapt and stop responding to the same stimulus. Prevent that from happening by always throwing your body into a bit of unknown territory. It’s the best way to keep getting results.
Key take away
I won’t ever give up cardio, but I will not be in a position to overtrain; since I had my hysterectomy, I resorted to a lot of power walking, and today, I deadlifted (a very lightweight, mind you) for the first time in a VERY long time! I did miss my weight training a lot.
It’s the only exercise that has reshaped my body and kept me in great shape.
At 43, I’m scrutinising my food choices and putting weight training on the higher list of importance.
I no longer allow myself to be driven by doing too much cardio — just the leisurely walk as much as possible, as this is mainly for my mental health rather than a leaning-up strategy.
Your goals will change as your body does, so keep an open mind and have fun with training. You don’t have to do the same thing; you are on the right track as long as your body changes. Enjoy your path because the finish line is a long time coming, because you will always grow and develop your goals.
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