Does Cardio Kill Positive aspects? An Reply, Based on Science

Does Cardio Kill Positive aspects? An Reply, Based on Science

By many individuals’s lights, cardio is to muscle acquire what garlic farts are to a primary date. 


Many guys and gals trying to construct muscle keep away from cardio like cigarette smoke, considering that even somewhat whiff will kill their positive factors. 

Others take avoiding cardio to absurd extremes (utilizing the escalator as an alternative of the steps, for instance, or asking a pal to stroll their canine in order that they don’t “burn muscle”), and even many realized health consultants rail in opposition to the perils of cardio.

After all, many who get pleasure from lifting weights take a look at cardio like a drunk uncle who simply collapsed on their porch—a duty they know they ought to handle however would quite evade. 

Thus, when their favourite TikTok health tubthumper tells them that in the event that they wish to construct muscle, they should cease doing cardio, they bounce on it.

The concept that cardio burns muscle is contagious: it gives a sCiEnTiFiC justification for shirking an exercise many individuals don’t like (cardio), it’s easy and catchy, and it even incorporates a kernel of fact. And like many virulent health conventions, it’s additionally false. 

On this article, you’re going to be taught what scientific analysis has to say about questions like . . .

  • Does cardio actually burn muscle? 
  • Does fasted cardio burn muscle? 
  • Do you have to do cardio whereas bulking?
  • How a lot cardio is an excessive amount of? 

Allow us to start.

How Cardio Can “Burn” Muscle

When individuals say cardio “burns” muscle, what they actually imply is that cardio breaks down the contractile proteins that make up your muscle groups.

And so they’re partly proper. Cardio can burn muscle . . . in the event you do virtually every part improper along with your food regimen and coaching.

In a approach, saying that cardio burns muscle, with no exceptions, is like saying that bank cards smash your funds.

Type of true for many individuals? Sure. 

Deceptive and facile to the purpose of being improper? Additionally sure. 

As you’ll be taught on this article, cardio gained’t hamper your positive factors in the event you eat and practice correctly. What’s extra, it’ll enhance your cardiovascular well being, cut back your danger of coronary heart illness, most cancers, and cognitive decline, make it simpler to get (and keep) lean, and probably even enhance your efficiency within the health club. 

In different phrases, in the event you’re making the errors lined within the subsequent few paragraphs, you’ll acquire extra muscle and power in the event you cease doing cardio totally. Nonetheless, in the event you cease making these errors, you’ll be able to (and doubtless ought to) do cardio with out scuppering your positive factors. 

The highest six causes individuals assume cardio burns muscle are as a result of they do. . . 

  1. Cardio as an alternative of lifting weights.
  2. Cardio as a part of a crash food regimen.
  3. An excessive amount of working.
  4. An excessive amount of complete cardio.
  5. An excessive amount of cardio at one time.
  6. Exhausting cardio instantly earlier than, throughout, or after lifting weights.

Mistake #1: Doing cardio as an alternative of lifting weights.

Though many individuals blame cardio for inflicting muscle loss, an absence of weightlifting is extra precisely responsible.

For instance, one in all many health gurus’s perennial pink herrings is to match footage of marathon runners and sprinters. “Hurr durr which might you quite appear like LOL? #nocardio #positivevibesonly #pumpedAF” This sophistic line of reasoning is the way you get footage like these: 




Their argument is that in the event you do conventional, low-intensity cardio (like marathon runners), you’re going to appear like a scraggy wraith. If you happen to raise weights and do little or no cardio (like sprinters), you’ll appear like a bodybuilder.  

After all, this inane argument ignores a number of info: 

  1. Many endurance athletes don’t raise weights. Or in the event that they do, they accomplish that with mild weights, high-reps, and sometimes or inconsistently. 
  2. Most elite endurance athletes practice far, way over even aggressive leisure athletes. For instance, champion marathoners run as much as 160 miles per week—over 20 miles per day! That’s a far cry from what most individuals do to get match. 
  3. Most elite endurance athletes have a borderlineunhealthy obsession with sustaining a low physique weight (particularly long-distance runners). They typically severely limit their calorie consumption to make sure they don’t acquire weight (both fats or muscle), as this reduces their efficiency.
  4. Most sprinters, and definitely those who appear like IFBB professionals, are on all types of steroids (Winstrol, testosterone, Deca-Durabolin, you identify it). Additionally they spend a superb chunk of their time lifting weights, as the extra muscle mass and power improves their efficiency, whereas this isn’t true for many endurance athletes. 

Mainly, the one factor these comparability footage show is that working marathons, severely limiting your calorie consumption, and never lifting weights is a recipe for staying small. 

The true query is what occurs if an endurance athlete begins consuming and lifting weights in a approach that’s conducive to muscle acquire?

As a substitute of answering this query myself, I’ll let Ryan Corridor accomplish that. Corridor is a retired elite-level runner, who at present holds the U.S. report for the half marathon and is the one American to ever run a sub-2:05 marathon. Like most endurance athletes, Corridor didn’t raise weights, spent most of his time working, and meticulously managed his calorie consumption to make sure he stayed skinny, mild, and speedy.

In 2016, Corridor retired from aggressive working and began weightlifting. Not tottering on Bosu balls or doing planks until he was blue within the face—however heavy, compound weightlifting.

And right here’s what occurred:

Ryan Hall Before and After-v2

“However doesn’t this show that cardio burns muscle? He solely bought large after he threw away his trainers!” 


Corridor nonetheless runs each week (with the quantity relying on his present targets and schedule), and even often races. 

The lesson? 

Doing a lot of cardio on the expense of correct weightlifting can burn muscle, however that is a straightforward mistake to keep away from. As a substitute, raise weights too. (And earlier than you cry “steroids,” learn this text and ask your self if Corridor’s transformation raises any pink flags. Methinks not.)

Mistake #2: Doing cardio as a part of a crash food regimen.

Most individuals who do a lot of cardio aren’t elite endurance athletes like Ryan Corridor. As a substitute, the prototypical cardio junkie makes use of giant quantities of cardio together with a crash food regimen to reduce weight as quick as doable. 

And this works extraordinarily effectively. 

For instance, a examine printed within the Scandinavian Journal of Medication & Science in Sports activities had fifteen obese males observe a food regimen that supplied simply 10% of their calorie wants per day for 4 days. Right here’s the kicker: additionally they had them train 9 hours per day—eight hours (20 miles) of strolling adopted by 45 minutes of arm cranking. 

Positive as dying and taxes, they misplaced a boatload of physique fats—virtually 5 kilos in 4 days. 

The catch is that additionally they misplaced a few pound of muscle. 

After all, that is an excessive instance, however many individuals observe a milder model of this protocol for a number of weeks or months, as an alternative of for 4 days. For instance, it’s not unusual to seek out individuals who lower their calorie consumption in half (a 50% calorie deficit) and do an hour or extra of cardio per day for a number of weeks to drop weight. 

Whereas they reduce weight rapidly, additionally they normally wind up dropping giant quantities of muscle and looking out skinny fats.

And when this occurs, individuals typically blame cardio.

By no means thoughts the intense calorie restriction (which causes muscle loss even in the event you don’t train) or lack of protein. It was all cardio’s fault.

Mmmhmm. Positive. 

Identical to getting in debt is all the fault of your Amazon Rewards Visa. 

The underside line is that excessive calorie restriction of any type—whether or not it’s achieved by means of consuming much less, doing a lot of cardio, or a mixture of each—causes muscle loss, amplified a number of instances over in the event you don’t raise weights.

That is the fault of reckless calorie restriction—not cardio.

Mistake #3: Working an excessive amount of.

Does working burn muscle

Form of. 

It’s true that of all of the sorts of cardio, working appears to be uniquely inimical to gaining muscle (hypertrophy). 

Working causes extra muscle harm than different types of cardio, like biking, rowing, and rucking, which interferes with muscle acquire in two methods: 

  1. It considerably will increase muscle protein breakdown throughout and after runs, which makes it tougher in your physique to construct new muscle proteins.
  2. It causes disproportionately extra fatigue than other forms of train, which may intrude along with your power coaching exercises. 

That stated, as our chum Ryan Corridor proves, this doesn’t imply any quantity of working will damage your progress.

As an example, one of many first research on this matter had one group of individuals observe a five-day-per-week power coaching program and one other group observe the identical power coaching program in addition to three vigorous working and three biking exercises per week. 

They discovered that the individuals who did each power coaching and cardio gained virtually the identical quantity of muscle because the individuals who solely lifted weights. Many different research which have mixed working and weightlifting have discovered the identical factor. 

Thus, the anecdotal and scientific proof is obvious: working doesn’t burn muscle, however working an excessive amount of can intrude along with your positive factors. You can keep away from this, although, by limiting your weekly working mileage and correctly planning your runs round your weightlifting exercises. 

Particularly, a superb rule of thumb is to do not more than two-to-three hours of working per week, and be sure to do your working and lower-body weightlifting on separate days. 

Mistake #4: Doing an excessive amount of complete cardio.

Even in the event you do most issues proper—you raise weights, eat sufficient energy and protein, get loads of sleep, and separate most of your cardio and weightlifting exercises—cardio can nonetheless retrench muscle acquire in the event you do an excessive amount of. 

Your physique can solely get better from a lot train per week, and in the event you’re already lifting weights three-to-five instances per week, it’s solely logical that including an equal quantity of cardio on prime of that is going to throw some sand in your gears. 

Some individuals misconstrue this to imply that “the extra cardio you do, the tougher it is going to be to construct muscle,” however that is incorrect. 

Analysis reveals that as long as you’re following a correct food regimen and power coaching program, you’ll be able to acquire muscle simply as successfully doing a couple of hours of cardio per week as you’ll be able to when solely lifting weights.

Doing greater than this doesn’t burn muscle, but it surely does retard muscle progress to a sure extent.

As soon as once more, although, the rub isn’t cardio as an entire—it’s merely doing an excessive amount of. The dose makes the poison (in the event you can name one thing that improves your well being in almost each approach a poison). 

Mistake #5: Doing an excessive amount of cardio at one time.

Along with how a lot complete cardio you do per week, the length of your cardio exercises additionally impacts your capacity to construct muscle. 

Most research have proven that an efficient technique to keep away from the unfavourable results of cardio on muscle progress is to restrict most of your exercises to lower than an hour. Understand that doing greater than an hour doesn’t routinely “set off” muscle breakdown, however merely will increase the chance of impeding your capacity to construct muscle. 

Additional proof for this technique comes from research on pure bodybuilders, who typically do a number of 30-to-40-minute cardio exercises per week with out dropping any muscle to talk of. 

As Dr. Mike Zourdos, an Affiliate Professor at Florida Atlantic College places it, “biking a pair instances per week for half-hour at a reasonable depth has been proven to have completely no unfavourable impact on hypertrophy and power positive factors.”

Thus, as long as you retain most of your cardio exercises below an hour, you don’t want to fret about burning muscle. 

Mistake #6: Doing exhausting cardio instantly earlier than, throughout, or after lifting weights.

Lastly, the final mistake many individuals make when combining weightlifting and cardio is combining each sorts of coaching in the identical exercise. 

As an example, many individuals will do half-hour or so of cardio instantly earlier than or after weightlifting, and others interweave bouts of weightlifting and cardio in the identical exercise (reminiscent of CrossFit or circuit coaching). 

None of those methods are ideally suited.

Doing cardio instantly and even a number of hours earlier than lifting weights makes it tough to carry out at your finest within the health club, which normally leads to much less muscle progress over time. 

Doing cardio instantly after lifting weights is much less detrimental, however may also intrude with muscle progress by dampening a number of the anabolic (muscle-building) alerts from power coaching. 

We don’t have to get into the particulars of how this works, but it surely’s typically finest to chorus from cardio instantly after lifting weights to permit the variations from power coaching to sink in. 

That stated, if the one time you are able to do cardio is true after lifting, don’t sweat it. Analysis reveals that so long as you retain your cardio exercises pretty brief and low-intensity, this shouldn’t get in the best way of muscle constructing. 

Lastly, mixing cardio and power coaching in the identical exercise (circuit coaching) will typically cut back your efficiency at each, thus decreasing your positive factors over time. 

Once more, none of which means that cardio burns muscle, however doing it on the improper instances can meddle along with your physique’s muscle-building mechanisms. 

Bear in mind too that not all cardio is equally problematic. Strolling 10-to-20 minutes to the health club isn’t going to harm your positive factors. Doing an intense 30-minute HIIT exercise after which clomping from the treadmill to the squat rack will.   

The Proper Method to Mix Cardio and Power Coaching

So, does cardio actually burn muscle


If you happen to do cardio incorrectly, it could actually gradual your charge of muscle progress by interfering along with your power coaching exercises and dampening the anabolic results of weightlifting. However it gained’t make you lose muscle in the event you sidestep these blunders, which is simple to do.

Just like the bank card analogy, cardio may cause issues in the event you don’t know tips on how to use it correctly. Use it correctly, although, and you may reap many rewards. 

Right here’s how:

  1. Prioritize low-impact types of cardio like biking, rowing, snowboarding, and rucking.
  2. Restrict the amount and length of your cardio exercises to not more than 30-to-45 minutes per cardio exercise and two-to-three hours of complete cardio per week.
  3. Separate your cardio and power coaching exercises by as a lot time as doable, and attempt to keep away from coaching the identical muscle group with each weightlifting and cardio on the identical day (reminiscent of squats within the morning and working within the afternoon).

Do these three issues, and cardio ought to have roughly no unfavourable results in your capacity to realize muscle. 

In the end, cardio doesn’t should intrude with muscle acquire in the event you implement it correctly. At backside, the explanation cardio has earned a nasty rap is because of consumer error, not as a result of cardio kills your positive factors.

If you wish to be taught extra about tips on how to mix power coaching and cardio with out interfering with muscle acquire, take a look at this Legion article: 

Concurrent Coaching: The Proper Method to Mix Cardio and Power Coaching

FAQ #1: Does fasted cardio burn muscle?

Fasted cardio includes deliberately doing cardio after your final meal has absolutely digested (normally a minimum of five-to six hours or so). 

Whereas fasted cardio does enhance fats burning throughout your exercise, it causes two issues: 

  1. You burn much less fats throughout the remainder of the day, which implies you lose the identical quantity of complete physique fats over a 24-hour interval as you do after fed cardio.
  2. Your danger of muscle loss rises.

The principle purpose fasted cardio may cause muscle loss is that it rapidly depletes muscle glycogen ranges, and when this occurs, the physique begins to interrupt down protein (muscle) for vitality. 

Nonetheless, you typically should do a good quantity of cardio—a minimum of 60 minutes or extra—to deplete glycogen ranges. Thus, your danger of dropping muscle after a brief ~30-ish minute fasted cardio exercise is minimal. 

If you wish to be taught extra concerning the professionals and cons of fasted cardio and the one scenario the place it may be helpful, take a look at this text: 

What Is Fasted Cardio and Can It Assist You Lose Weight?

FAQ #2: Does high-intensity cardio burn muscle? 

No, a minimum of not any greater than common cardio, as long as you aren’t making the errors listed above. 

Whereas some individuals declare that high-intensity cardio is much less prone to burn muscle, the proof for that is spotty. Some research present that high-intensity cardio interferes with muscle progress greater than conventional, low-intensity cardio, and others present the other.

Whereas research haven’t supplied a definitive reply to this query, there’s good purpose to assume that high-intensity cardio could also be barely extra prone to intrude with muscle progress than low-intensity cardio. The principle purpose for that is that high-intensity cardio tends to trigger extra muscle harm and fatigue than low-intensity cardio, which may intrude along with your power coaching exercises and cut back muscle acquire over time. 

Thus, high-intensity cardio doesn’t burn muscle, however you’re in all probability higher off choosing low-intensity cardio more often than not in case your fundamental purpose is to get swole.

FAQ #3: How a lot cardio is an excessive amount of?

There’s no laborious and quick rule about how a lot cardio it’s best to do, as the reply depends upon your targets, preferences, and restoration skills. 

That stated, in case your major goal is constructing muscle, listed here are a couple of guidelines of thumb that are likely to work effectively for most individuals: 

  • Restrict the time you spend doing cardio to not more than half the period of time you spend weightlifting every week. As an example, in the event you raise weights for 4 hours per week, don’t do greater than two hours of cardio.
  • Restrict the length of most of your cardio exercises to 30-to-45 minutes, solely doing greater than this in the event you get pleasure from it or if you wish to considerably enhance your endurance.
  • Don’t do a couple of HIIT cardio exercise per week. If you wish to do extra cardio than this, do the remainder of your exercises as low-intensity cardio.

FAQ #4: Do you have to do cardio whereas bulking?

You don’t have to do cardio whereas bulking, but it surely’s a good suggestion for a number of causes: 

  • Cardio affords many well being advantages which are tough to get from weightlifting alone, reminiscent of higher decreases in blood strain and ldl cholesterol and enhancements in blood vessel well being.
  • Cardio could enable you to get better quicker between units throughout your weightlifting exercises, which may enhance your positive factors over time. 
  • Cardio improves your physique’s capacity to burn fats, which can make it simpler to lose fats when it’s time to begin slicing once more.
  • Likewise, doing cardio whereas bulking helps you keep within the behavior of doing cardio, which makes it simpler to leap again into it while you wish to get lean once more.
  • Cardio will be enjoyable. If you happen to get pleasure from it, there’s no purpose to keep away from climbing, biking, snowboarding, and even some working whereas bulking, so long as you don’t make the errors listed earlier on this article.

+ Scientific References

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