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6 Methods for Preserving Muscle Without Exercise

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

Sometimes injuries, illness, vacation, or your busy schedule prevent you from going to the gym. (Been there.) Here’s how to sustain the muscle you worked so diligently to build during your next workout break. (But don’t push yourself to do more than your body can handle — rest days are equally important.)

Find Alternatives for Your Injury

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Curious about how to maintain muscle while recuperating from an injury? Consider exercising the rest of your (non-injured) body, if possible. “If your left leg is injured, for instance, there’s merit in training the unaffected leg,” states David Hooper, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., an associate professor of exercise science at Jacksonville University in Jacksonville, Florida. “It has been demonstrated to have some effect on the injured limb,” he remarks. Yes, working out one part of your body can aid in preserving muscle in other areas — seriously. Just be mindful of any muscle imbalances if you train one side or muscle more than the others.

Indulge in a Hamburger

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You’ve probably come across creatine supplements at your local supplement store, but it is also naturally found in red meat. Creatine supplies energy to muscles and has been proven to be a viable option for maintaining muscle strength and size when you’re injured, according to Jeffrey R. Stout, Ph.D., professor and director of the school of kinesiology and physical therapy at the University of Central Florida. If you don’t consume meat, you may consider opting for those supplements.

Give Priority to Protein

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Studies reveal that maintaining or increasing protein intake can help safeguard muscle during an extended period of not working out since protein provides the body with amino acids, which are the fundamental building blocks of muscle. “High-quality protein sources such as animal protein (poultry, eggs, fish, beef, low-fat dairy) and plant-based protein (soy, beans, legumes, vegetables, nuts, and seeds) should be included in every meal and snack,” recommends Tiffani Bachus, a registered dietitian and nutritionist based in Arizona.

How much protein do you require to preserve muscle?

“Aim for 3 to 5 ounces at each meal and 2 to 3 ounces at snack time,” recommends Bachus.

Consume Slightly Fewer Carbs

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Reduced activity should indicate a decrease in carbohydrates: “When your body is active, carbohydrates are utilized for energy (alongside fat),” says Bachus. When you’re less active, surplus carbs are stored as fat. (But remember, it’s not a big deal to gain a bit of fat.) Try consuming approximately 15 to 25 grams of carbohydrates at each meal and snack, suggests Bachus. Try these high-protein, low-carb foods recommended by nutritionists.

Exert Yourself Before Your Rest

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If you know you’re going on vacation or anticipate a hectic schedule next week, exert more effort this week — if you’re able. By working harder than usual, your body will require more time to recover, enabling muscle growth during your break, says Hooper. However, don’t overexert yourself this week just because you anticipate a break next week. Feeling so sore that you can’t walk isn’t the ideal way to start a vacation. Moreover, taking a break from exercise isn’t a negative thing.

Visualize Yourself Exercising

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Exercise your imagination on your off days. In a Journal of Neurophysiology study, 29 subjects had a cast placed on their non-dominant arm for four weeks. Half of the subjects imagined contracting their forearm muscles and flexing their wrists for five seconds (without actually doing it), while the other half didn’t engage in the mental imagery exercises. At the end of the month, those who worked out with their imagination only experienced a 24 percent loss of strength, compared to the 45 percent loss experienced by the group who didn’t partake in the mental exercise. Manifestation is effective, folks!

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