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Is Cardio Bad for Building Muscle?

author image Frank Yemi
Frank Yemi has been a professional writer since 2007, and has contributed to several health and fitness magazines. He has worked as a medical fact checker and sports nutritionist in the United Kingdom. Yemi holds a Bachelor of Science in medical physiology, as well as a Master of Science in applied sports nutrition.
Is Cardio Bad for Building Muscle?
Moderate jogging can help improve your muscle growth. Photo Credit gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images

When it comes to building muscle mass, how much cardio affects your muscle growth depends on your current fitness level and diet. Some fitness enthusiasts avoid cardio under the notion that it burns through hard earned muscles. However, research suggests that it can help your muscles grow, if you consume enough calories. No single exercise program suits everyone; by learning how cardio affects your body, you can make an informed decision on your fitness program.

How Growing Muscles Work

Muscle hypertrophy occurs when you create small tears to your muscle tissue with resistance exercise. These micro-tears recover between workouts and grow stronger to resist the bearing weight from exercise equipment. Calories from protein and carbohydrates provide fuel for your workout and help your muscles recover quicker. When you perform cardio exercises such as jogging, your body uses these same protein and carbs to help you sustain energy during a cardio workout and recovery. Therefore, depending how much you eat, cardio can use up the nutrients that will help speed up your muscle recovery and growth.

Cardio Helps with the Pain

Some forms of cardio can aid in your muscle-building program. Delayed-onset muscle soreness, DOMS, causes muscle pain, stiffness and swelling; it occurs 12 to 24 hours after exercising. A study conducted by the California State University-Fullerton found that those who performed moderately intense cardio on a stationary bike after a DOMS-inducing leg workout recovered a full day faster than those who performed a low-intensity cardio workout. Perform 20 minutes of cycling at a moderately intense rate, after completing a weight-training session to prevent muscle soreness.

Greater Muscle Growth with Cardio

Performing aerobic exercise before weightlifting can help increase your muscle growth. According to a 2013 issue of the “Journal of Applied Physiology,” doing an aerobic exercise -- such as cycling on a stationary bike – six hours before performing resistance exercise can increase muscle hypertrophy. The researchers discovered that the participants who performed aerobic and resistance exercise experienced a faster increase in muscle size when compared to those who only performed resistance exercise.

The Cardio You Should Avoid

Vigorous cardio such as high-intensity interval training, HIIT, is effective in burning fat but it requires a lot of energy to complete, which can extend your muscle recovery period. Therefore, limit intense cardio to once or twice a month or none at all, if your focus is to build muscle mass. To perform cardio exercises while building muscle, you should keep your cardio sessions less than 30 minutes, increase your calorie intake and avoid exercising on an empty stomach.

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