Does cardio exercise mean sacrificing muscle mass?

Does cardio exercise mean sacrificing muscle mass?


It’s a common belief that trying to build muscle and doing cardio are not the most compatible pairing. Makes sense – cardio burns calories and you need calories to build muscle. 

However, when done in moderation, does cardio exercise have to mean sacrificing muscle mass?

In short, no – for the majority of us it is possible to get the best of both worlds, but it’s all about moderation.

Cardio is well known for being good for you, but you can get too much of a good thing. If you’re not providing your body with what it needs outside of the gym, adding cardio training to your workout could negatively impact your body composition. 

However, if you are fuelling your body correctly outside of the gym, incorporating cardio into your training regime will not result in losing muscle mass.

There are of course, things that need to be considered such as what sort of cardio you’re doing and what the best cardio exercises are. 

The best way to retain muscle while still incorporating cardio into your programme is to do either really low or really high intensity. It is when you are doing cardio ‘in-between’ these two stages that the problems will occur. 

In terms of physiological similarities, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is the most similar to weight training as it is anaerobic, and the results are performance and aesthetics related. 

Therefore, in theory HIIT is better when it comes to retaining muscle mass than LISS (Low Intensity Steady State). 

However when it comes to HIIT, recovery time must also be taken into account. Longer recovery time could potentially result in less time spent weight training, which of course could hinder those muscle building minutes in the weights section.

With LISS however, recovery time is not needed to the same extent due to it's less intense approach which also results in les muscle loss as it has been shown to take more energy from fat stores rather than glycogen stores. 

LISS can be extremely beneficial for those with injuries or joint issues, with reduced impact in comparison to running or jumping based exercises.

Of course, whether or not you decide to incorporate HIIT or LISS into your programme is entirely dependent on your goals. 

Anything done in excess is going to impact your body composition and make it harder to see progression - whether that be fat burning or building mass.

However, don’t fear cardio! 

Cardio, in it's many different forms, comes with a load of health benefits and could help you achieve your goals. As long as you are providing your body with the other resources it needs to build muscle outside of the gym, you should be totally fine heading out for a run, cycling or going swimming! 

Which is your favourite type of cardio: HIIT or LISS? Let us know in the comments below. 

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