Here's How To Maintain Muscle Mass When You're Injured And Can't Work-Out
If you're injured and unable to train, you might be concerned about muscle loss. With every passing day, you feel those precious gains shrinking. But is there a way to maintain muscle while injured?
The answer is, yes.
Injuries suck. And when you get one, thoughts immediately turn to muscle loss. Visions of noodle arms and pancake glutes haunt your every waking moment. But the reality might not be as bad as you think.
In this article you'll discover how to approach your training and nutrition so you can maintain as much muscle as possible while injured.
And if you'd prefer to listen to the audio version of "How To Maintain Muscle While Injured", click the play button below.
How To Maintain Muscle While Injured - Training
When you stop training, muscle loss can become a real issue. But 1-2 weeks out of the gym won't undo years of hard work.
So if you're forced to take some time off, don't hit the panic button. In reality, muscle loss will only become a concern after multiple weeks of no training. And even then, there are ways to help maintain muscle mass while you're injured.
The amount of training you can and can't do will be dictated by the type and severity of your injury. For example, slight pain in your calf might decrease the intensity of leg day for a few weeks, but you can still train to some degree. Whereas, a slipped disc might put you out of action completely.
Therefore, it's always advisable to seek the opinion of your doctor or physio in these situations. Listening to their advice on how to approach training will prevent further aggravation of your injury.
But for now, let's assume you've been given the green light to train. Here are a few suggestions to help maintain your muscle as you get back to full fitness.
Bear in mind, you'll need to decide which of these options applies to your specific situation.
Maintain Consistent Training With Uninjured Body Parts
If you have an injury affecting one particular muscle, you don't need to throw the scoop out with the protein powder. Assuming it's safe to do so, train other muscle groups as normal. For instance, there's no need to stop training chest if you have a quad injury.
However, you may need to consider exercise modifications if the injury is a limiting factor. Again, it depends on the injury. But the principle remains the same...
To maintain muscle while injured, train unaffected body parts as much as possible.
Stay As Active As possible
The temptation is always to sit on your butt and feel sorry for yourself if you can't train at all. After all, if you can't train hard, what's the point?
But this is probably the worst mindset you can have. Because in many cases there's always something you can do. And even though it might not seem like much, it could help you maintain muscle.
Walking and isometric contractions are just two examples of light movement that could be an option. Essentially, the goal is to make your muscles work. It might not be to the extent you're used to. But training intensity doesn't need to be as high to maintain muscle while you're recovering from injury.
Find ways to stay active and work your muscle without causing pain or discomfort.
Take Your Time Getting Back To Full Training
Once your injury is fully healed, use a methodical and structured approach to get back to full training. There are no prizes for attempting a 1RM squat PB on your first session back. Unless you count another injury as a prize.
Instead, take the smart approach. Train within yourself, start light and build up weight over time. You can also try techniques, such as Blood Flow Restriction, to reduce the loads you use while still creating an increased training intensity.
It's also important to understand and correct any form issues that may have caused the injury. Blindly ignoring this would be a recipe for more pain and suffering in the future.
Take your time getting back to full training. Focus on form and build up load slowly. Ultimately, make sure you are in full control of the rep at all times.
How To Maintain Muscle While Injured - Nutrition
Changes to your nutrition will be dictated by the degree to which activity has been compromised. A minor injury may not make a huge impact on energy balance. But a major injury could result in you being sedentary for extended periods of the day. And this means a calorie adjustment would be needed.
More often than not, if you're not working out, there's a temptation to become relaxed with nutrition.
What you have been focusing on to build muscle, all of a sudden feels less important. So you stop eating a high protein diet, you move less, and stay up later. All of which contribute to a sub-optimal approach to recovery. And if taken to an extreme, the risk of muscle loss could increase.
And with that in mind, here are 3 nutrition-related suggestions to maintain muscle while injured.
Adjust Your Calories Based On Your Activity Level
Your body will need calories to fuel the recovery process. So a calorie deficit is not what you need right now. Added to that, your risk of muscle loss increases in a deficit if you're not training.
Therefore, adjust your calories back up to maintenance, making sure you account for any compromised activity levels. For example, if you're laying on the couch for 8 hours a day, you're not burning as many calories as when you were walking 10k steps.
And if you need help calculating your maintenance calories, click here for a free online calorie and macro calculator.
It's also worth noting that you may need to make a manual adjustment if your workouts are less intense than normal.
Keep Protein Intake High
Trying to maintain muscle while injured is difficult when you're not training. So don't make it harder by losing sight of the importance of protein. If you're able to maintain some form of training, then keep your protein intake close to the level you're accustomed to.
If you’re already on a high protein diet (above 1.5g per kg) then there’s no added benefit to increasing this. Just stick where you’re at and rest up.
But if you’re below the 1.5g per kg mark, then consider increasing your intake. It's likely to help with recovery and prevention of muscle loss.
Rest, Sleep, And Supplements
Maintaining the day-to-day habits that help you build muscle, are worth maintaining while you recover from injury.
Whilst they might not directly speed up recovery, they help to keep you focused and avoid adopting bad habits you have to try and break.
So make sure you maximise rest and sleep where possible. And maintain a supplement regimen with considerations for creatine (keep your 5g maintenance dose), vitamin D, and fish oil. Continuing with positive lifestyle habits will assist you in the long run.
The Bottom Line On How To Maintain Muscle Mass While Injured
Maintaining muscle mass while injured can be difficult, but it's not impossible. Depending on the severity and type of injury, you can approach training and nutrition in a way that minimises any issues.
Injuries are a pain in the ass (literally if you overdo those hip thrusts). And if you're unable to train for a number of weeks, maintaining muscle can be extremely difficult. But there are things you can do to optimise recovery and limit your losses.
So if you're injured, don't resign yourself to kissing the gains goodbye. Focus on the actions within your control. Train sensibly as and when you can. And pay close attention to your nutrition in order to maximise recovery.
By taking positive action you may be able to speed up your recovery and maintain muscle while injured.
What are your thoughts on trying to maintain muscle while injured? Has this article given you a structure to follow? Do you feel reassured about the realities of muscle loss when you're injured? Let me know in the comments below, or drop me a message on Instagram (@iron_paradise_fitness).
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