Building lean body mass is beneficial for everyone—from professional athletes and competitors to the weekend warrior or recreational gym-goer. Building and maintaining this lean muscle contributes to a healthier metabolism, boosts cognitive performance, and can even help combat the effects of aging and improve longevity.
However, what happens to this muscle tissue when you are forced to take time off from training due to illness or injury? Below, we explore the realities of muscle loss due to inactivity, along with strategies to prevent muscle loss and help maintain as much healthy muscle as possible when you are unable to train.
The human body is a complex system. When you are training, your muscles and metabolism adapt and change to keep up with growing intensities, frequencies, and durations, and this is ultimately how you see results. The same concept is apparent through periods of inactivity, but in reverse, if you are inactive for a long-term period due to injury or illness, your muscles will begin to adapt to this reduction in muscle use.
Studies have shown that total lean body muscle mass is reduced 0.5% per day of bed rest, after an initial 14-day cushion. These effects are more likely for people more severely immobilized over a long-term period, be it weeks or months, and those who are not used to training over a long period of time. That is to say, that an avid athlete will likely lose lean body mass at a slower rate than will a more casual athlete (or non-athlete). If you are training regularly, you do not need to worry if you want to schedule “de-load” break for a few days to recover after intense training.
Alongside muscle mass, is also the question of reduction in strength. Studies have also shown a reduction in strength capacity due to inactivity – up to 1.5% per day; three times the reduction rate of total lean body mass! Long-term inactivity can also cause a whole laundry list of other health drawbacks, including reduced metabolic rate, reduced insulin sensitivity, and increased fat mass. Long-term bed rest and inactivity can also lead to tendon elongation, which can leave your more susceptible to injury.
Whether through a lifestyle change, illness or injury, there are sometimes factors out of our control that can prevent us from training our muscles every day. Whether fully bed-bound, or suffering from an injury that inhibits you from training certain areas of your body, this setback doesn’t mean you have to lose all of your hard-earned muscle mass!
Studies have shown positive effects with protein intake for young subjects required to be in bed, when their protein intake was boosted. Subjects consumed 1 to 1.6 grams of protein per pound of body mass to maintain lean muscle mass, with positive results. However, there are extenuating factors to consider when identifying the ideal amount of protein to stave off muscle loss. In one study, a professional athlete was consuming up to around 2.5 grams of protein per pound of body mass—much more than the average person would require—and this resulted in half the muscle loss that would have taken place otherwise.
While boosting your protein intake has been found to yield substantial benefits in preventing muscle loss during periods of inactivity, you also have to consider your calorie intake. This is a tricky balance, and one that is difficult to generalize from subject to subject. The key is to find the ideal balance of calorie intake for your body; you want to consume enough calories to maintain your muscle but not so much that you promote fat. This balance relies on a variety of factors including your age and metabolic rate. To find the ideal balance, it is recommended that you work with a health and fitness coach or a nutritionist to outline a meal plan best suited to your body and your needs.
Essential amino acids are the building blocks of protein, necessary for building and growing skeletal muscles mass. Muscles tissue is rebuilt and repaired after a workout through the process of protein synthesis, which relies on the presence of essential amino acids. Ensuring adequate consumption of all eight essential amino acids along will help further maximize the effects of the protein intake, helping to curb muscle loss during long periods of inactivity.
Although we are meant to get the essential amino acids that we need from food, such as such as meat, eggs, nuts and beans, our Paleolithic digestive process and today’s refined-food diets don’t match very well. In addition, a variety of factors can impede the body’s ability to “enzymatically metabolize and process foods and render their essential amino acids bioavailable.” As even the healthiest daily diet is insufficient, an all-natural amino acid supplement can help fill the gap.
BodyHealth’s PerfectAmino™ contains the eight essential amino acids the body needs to optimally support and maintain it’s muscular, skeletal, enzymatic, and hormonal systems. PerfectAmino is formulated in the ideal proportions for maximum utilization by the body. It contains all eight essential amino acids in pure, elemental form for quick and easy absorption into the bloodstream for maximum power, energy and recovery.*
For more on this topic, check out a recent podcast by BodyHealth team member Ben Greenfield, founder of BenGreenfieldFitness.com. On the podcast, he talks with Alex James Ritson, a Sport and Exercise Nutrition MA Candidate and co-owner of UK-based Lean Body Performance. The pair discuss muscle loss and inactivity and “how to strike a balance between anti-aging, longevity and protein restriction” while slowing muscle loss. Give the podcast a listen and check out the show page for links to research and case studies on the topic.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.