Will Doing Too Much Cardio Kill Muscle Gains?

Many people who aspire to build muscle wonder, “Does cardio kill muscle gains?” This is an understandable question, as no one wants their hard-earned sweat equity in the gym to go to waste! 

So Does Cardio Kill Muscle Gains?

The answer is no in nearly all cases. Cardio will not kill, or even hurt, your muscle gains. In fact, cardio is a key component to any health and fitness foundation. Cardio adds a ton of health benefits to your overall wellness, and we’ll cover those in a bit.

Cardio Goes Hand-in-Hand With Resistance Training

For a large majority of people with a goal to achieve their best body, a key part of this is building a lean and muscular frame. As you build muscle and increase mass, you want to remain lean with a low body fat percentage. This provides a lean and muscular look that is the most visually appealing body type.

And most people agree that the most attractive physique is a lean and muscular frame. And in order to build muscle, it makes sense to eat a high calorie and high protein diet. 

Cardio is the Counterbalance to Ensure You Stay Lean as You Build Muscle.

If you bulk up and build mass without the counterbalance of cardio, you can easily end up with the thick and bulky frame. For most people, this is not your best look. Cardio is the key to ensuring this journey results in a lean and muscular frame that most people desire.

Cardio will not kill muscle gains for the majority of people. If you’re a super ectomorph who is naturally skinny and has a difficult time gaining fat and muscle, then you likely don’t need a lot of cardio to maintain a lean build. You are naturally lean, with a different set of challenges. Only 5 percent of people are ectomorphs, so this is not the norm.

Especially in Western cultures, a vast majority of people struggle to get or stay lean. A full 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and the numbers balloon each decade. This is the norm, so cardio will only help a high majority of people trying to get lean and gain muscle. 

And yes, if you workout with enough resistance in the gym, you will build muscle while still doing frequent cardio.

Cardio Can be Counterproductive in Other Ways

However, if your cardio is so intense that it’s stealing all your fuel, this can impact your muscle gains. So you want to make sure your cardio is in balance with your resistance training. 

You don’t want to do an intense and exhaustive 45-minute HIIT workout, and then follow that with resistance training. You’ll likely be too spent to have enough energy for a good muscle-building workout. 

During your resistance training, you’ll want to exert your muscles for 30-60 seconds with moderate to high intensity per set. This is doing 6-15 repetitions per set, and 2-3 sets per body part (chest, back, biceps, triceps, shoulders, legs, etc). 

If your energy is wiped out from cardio, then you simply won’t have the juice to achieve the necessary resistance intensity. And to build muscle (hypertrophy), then you do need to put your muscles under strain and exertion. A “walk in the park” workout just won’t cut it for building muscle.

So as long as your cardio is not affecting your energy levels for resistance training, you’ll be good to go!

Best Time to Do Cardio

So this dovetails into another important question, and that is when is the best time to do cardio?

Since you want to have ample energy for a moderate to high intensity resistance training, a good time to do your more intense cardio is after your resistance training. 

That being said, it’s a really good idea to do light cardio before resistance training to loosen and warm your muscles. And then after your resistance workout, hit the cardio harder to ensure you’re staying lean over time. This is a practice that companies like Lean Life help promote. Doing light cardio before lifting is the very best hedge against injury.

As you get older and start to approach middle age, you’ll become much more susceptible to workout injuries. For this reason, stacking your cardio around your workouts is optimal:

  • Light cardio for 5 minutes to warm-up and loosen your muscles
  • Heavier cardio for 15-45 minutes after your workout to burn fat (this can be HIIT, steady-state, stationary bike, or many other forms of cardio)

Diet Plan to Build Lean Muscle

For most people, you’ll want to stay in a small calorie surplus to gain muscle. But everyone is different, so no fitness guidance applies universally. If your body type is a stubborn endomorph (gain fat easily), you’ll need to be in a slight deficit on most days to get lean. 

However, the fundamentals are the same for everyone, and that’s the importance of balanced nutrition. No matter your body type, it’s best to eat a balanced, healthy diet to best feed your muscles and promote muscle gains.

Some basic nutrition guidelines to live by:

  • A protein shake after your workout is a great idea.
  • Lots of colorful veggies in your diet (spinach, carrots, kale, broccoli, beats, etc.)
  • Lean meats and poultry like chicken breast, turkey, lean steak (sirloins)
  • Healthy fish like salmon (bake it skin down on a thin layer of olive oil for 15 minutes at 375 degrees)
  • Egg whites (and sprinkle in the yolk on occasion)
  • Healthy nuts (almonds and walnuts are two great ones)
  • Healthy complex carbs, like brown rice, whole wheat bread, and quinoa 

The Many Benefits of Cardio

Cardio has many wellness benefits, and should be part of every person’s fit plan.

Some of the benefits of doing cardio:

  • Weight control (70% of adults in Western cultures are overweight or obese)
  • Improved blood pressure
  • Improved circulation (which also improves your skin)
  • Better energy levels
  • Better sleep

Summing It Up

For the vast majority of people, cardio does not kill muscle gains. Instead, for most fitness enthusiasts cardio is a pillar of wellness and health. It adds many benefits to your fit plan, and will help you to achieve a lean and muscular look.

But with all things fitness and wellness, it’s different for everyone. And the best way to make sure it’s working for you is to track your results. Measure. Measure. Measure.

Keep a log of your vital workout stats in some type of spreadsheet or journal. Track your workouts, track your weight, track the weights you’re lifting, and more. Watching your progress over months is the best way to tell if you’re making progress, or need to adjust.

But for a vast majority of people, doing cardio plus resistance training is the secret sauce to building muscle and getting lean!

Use Jefit App to Track Your Cardio & Strength Workouts

Jefit, a top rated app for 2022 by PC MagazineForbes Health and others comes equipped with a customizable workout planner and training log. Take advantage of Jefit’s exercise database for your strength workouts. Visit our members-only Facebook group. Connect with like-minded people, share tips, and advice to help get closer to reaching your fitness goals. Try one of the new interval-based workouts and add it to your weekly training schedule. Stay strong with Jefit as you live your fitness lifestyle.

Michael Wood, CSCS
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