The short answer: Yes. It is possible to build muscle doing cardio, but it is also possible to lose muscle with cardio. It all comes down to your current physical state and how you plan to implement it into your routine.
But first, let’s define what cardio actually is.
What is cardio?
Cardio is loved by some and hated by others depending on the experiences and thoughts you have about it. Cardio is the overarching activity of increasing heart rate and breath. Therefore, cardio can include anything from walking outside to get the mail, doing household chores, or running on a treadmill.
Cardio can also be a 40 minute workout on a stationary elliptical, or it can be 10 minute interval training workout with bodyweight exercises. Because of the many different ways to increase your heart rate depending on your physical ability, there are ways to build muscle with cardio or potentially lose muscle by doing too much cardio.
Ok, now that we know the definition of cardio, it is worth listing out its benefits because there are some.
Benefits of Cardio
- Strengthens lungs, heart, and muscles
- Boosts metabolism
- Increases quality of Sleep
- Can aid in weight loss
- Increased energy
- Hormonal regulation
- Improved mood
- Improved memory and brain function
As you can see, cardio can help build muscle or lose muscle. It all depends on how you go about it.
For example, suppose you are sedentary and decide to start implementing 20 minutes of using the elliptical a few times per week. In that case, it is likely you could increase muscle as your body fights to repair the muscle tissue you are breaking down.
If you’re a long-distance runner and start incorporating HIIT bodyweight movements, you will likely build muscle for the same reason. However, if you are overtraining or performing too much cardio and are not eating correctly to sustain it, it is possible to lose muscle.
Most people know that having muscle mass is important to overall health. So how do you make sure you’re not losing muscle? There are several ways to build and maintain muscle when incorporating cardio exercises into your routine.
1. Eat adequate amounts of protein, which is the most essential macronutrient in sustaining muscle.
2. Get adequate sleep and take rest days to allow your body to repair itself.
3. Change up your cardio activities. Do you always jump on the elliptical for 30 minutes at a moderate pace? Try interval training on your machine or jump on a bike instead to work new muscle groups and metabolic pathways.
The bottom line: It is possible to build muscle or lose muscle depending on your exercise routine, physical fitness, and nutrition. If you are not used to cardio and start incorporating it, you may build muscle. On the flip side, if you are doing too much cardio and not fueling your body correctly to sustain it, you can lose muscle. Whatever your fitness goal may be, cardio has many benefits outside of weight loss and is worth implementing into your workout routine in one way or another.