In life, you will suffer setbacks. Back in 2000, I suffered Empyema in which I needed surgery to put a chest tube in my back. This thing was in my back for 6 months so it can help me breathe. Not only I lost weight but also a significant amount of muscles 💪. In fact, I lost over 5 pounds over muscles after my surgery. It was just in a span of 72 hours. That’s how quickly you can lose muscles. Of course, my situation was extreme since I was sick.
Although you start losing muscle mass after 72 hours of not lifting weights 🏋️♀️ , you probably won’t notice any losses until you’ve gone 3–4 weeks without training. One small study found that trained men could take three weeks off from exercise without any noticeable muscle loss.
However, there are a few factors that determine how quickly you lose muscle mass, including:
- How long and consistent you’ve been training. The longer you’ve been lifting, and the more muscle you have, the better off you’ll be if you decide — or have — to pause your routine. “If you’re fit with developed muscles, you will still have a baseline of muscle that others will not have after a period of inactivity.
- Your diet. Adequate protein, in particular, is key for building and maintaining muscle mass. If you skimp on it, your body won’t have enough amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to keep up with the constant breakdown and rebuilding of cells (muscle, red blood, hormones, etc.) that goes on all day, every day. Eventually, your body pulls from your muscle stores to get the amino acids it needs to keep your other cells and tissues functioning. The result? Muscle loss.
- Your chronological age. Of course as we age we lose a great deal of muscle mass especially on older adults that are 40 and beyond. We lose motor neurons as we age. Motor neurons transmit impulses from the spinal cord that tell our muscles to contract. When you lose motor neurons, it becomes harder to recruit muscle fibers. If you can’t recruit muscle fibers, the fibers won’t break down and rebuild to grow back bigger and stronger. Strength training can help reverse these changes to the nervous system — and other age-related changes — but once you stop training, the benefits gradually disappear. This is why I highly recommend strength training as we grow older. Being strong is a great indication on how healthy you are.
- Your sex. Males have a slight advantage when it comes to muscle. Men have more natural testosterone, which is anabolic to muscle tissue development and maintenance. (Anabolic refers to the process of building larger molecules out of smaller molecules, like building protein out of amino acids.)
I understand that sometimes life gets in the way and have to stop working out (such as our current situation of shelter in place – COVID) but I suggest at least incorporating even body weight training 2x a week and eat sufficient amounts of lean protein. A ratio of 1 gram of protein per 1 pound of your body weight. That way you don’t lose a significant amount of muscles and don’t have to go back to square one once you restart your strength training routine.