Losing muscle mass, though seemingly unconventional, is sometimes desired by those looking to achieve a particular appearance. Whether for sports performance, or aesthetic bodybuilding competitions, losing physical bulk is a goal that is less often discussed than muscle building.
Shifting focus from muscle-building activities to other healthy activities can help limit muscle gain. However, directly attempting to lose muscle mass is not recommended whatsoever for the general population. Instead, focus on not building new muscle, and not giving your body the stimulus needed to maintain its current level of muscle.
Alter Your Weight-Lifting Routine
Decrease the amount of resistance used while weight lifting to maintain health and strength while limiting muscle hypertrophy. The American Council on Exercise recommends using lighter resistance for 3 to 6 sets of 12 to 16 repetitions of each exercise for muscle endurance instead of muscle hypertrophy.
Perform bodyweight or light weight-bearing activities in place of heavy lifts when focusing on health maintenance. Focusing on muscle endurance exercise over muscle hypertrophy, or strength will allow you to keep fit and support healthy bones and muscles while limiting bulk.
Lifting weights stimulates growth hormones which stimulate the growth of muscle mass. If you would like to limit muscle gain, decrease, but do not eliminate, your strength training exercise while still maintaining the current guidelines for the recommended amount of activity.
The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous activity per week, or a combination thereof spread throughout the week. You can supplement fun, enjoyable moderate to intense physical activity such as swimming, hiking, biking, softball, soccer, jogging and tennis.
Watch Your Diet and Exercise
Building muscle mass requires a surplus of calories above what you need for health maintenance. To avoid creating the ideal conditions for muscular hypertrophy, eat enough calories to fuel your activity and maintain your weight, but not an excess of calories. That said, never reduce your calorie intake below a healthy amount.
It is important to eat a healthy diet of varied fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, lean meats, legumes, nuts and seeds. The US Dietary Guidelines recommend between 1,600 and 2,400 calories per day for adult women and 2,000 to 3,000 per day for adult men.
Read More: How To Lose Muscle Bulk in a Female
Focusing on cardiovascular exercise sessions instead of strength training will shift from building muscle to maintaining health while still keeping up with your fitness activities. Cardiovascular exercise will help you stay active while not directly adding to your muscle mass the way strength training does.
As mentioned, it is still important to perform strength training exercise twice a week, focusing on muscular endurance in place of hypertrophy training.
Adjusting your diet while still eating healthfully can help you with your goal of not gaining further muscle mass. The protein intake for individuals who wish to gain muscle mass is a recommended range of 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, per day, or 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
However, if you are not looking to gain muscle, but instead focusing on maintaining health, the US Dietary Guidelines suggest 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men, per day, of protein as a minimum for health. As long as you meet these criteria, you do not need additional protein if you are not attempting to gain muscle mass.
Consult your health care provider before beginning a new exercise program.
- PubMed: "Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training."
- American Council on Exercise: "When strength training, is it better to do more reps with lighter weights or fewer reps with heavier weights?"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "PROTEIN INTAKE FOR OPTIMAL MUSCLE MAINTENANCE"
- The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "4 Metabolism Myths and Facts"
- US Dietary Guidelines: "Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- Us Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- US Dietary Guidelines: "Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations"
- American Council on Exercise: "Diet Tips for Gaining Weight"
- US Dietary Guidelines:"Key Recommendations: Components of Healthy Eating Patterns"
- US Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"