Too Much Cardio to Build Muscle?

Dear Davey,

For a little while now I have been trying to put on some muscle mass (I’m a fairly skinny guy), but have been having a hard time. I have been told by a few people that it is because I do too much cardio. I’m a cycling instructor here in Canada and I teach 3 – 5 cycling classes a week. Is there a way to gain muscle mass even though I do a large amount of intense cardio on weekly basis?

Thanks,
Jason

Hey Jason,

The real story here isn’t cardio – it’s calories. In order to build muscle, you need to create a calorie surplus. That is, you need to take in more calories than you burn.

If you take in fewer calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight and mass. If you take in the same amount of calories that you burn, you’ll stay the same. But if you want to increase the amount of mass on your body, you need to take in a greater number of calories than you burn. The surplus calories can be put to work building new muscle mass.

Of course, this assumes that you’re exercising and engaged in a workout program that promotes muscle growth (i.e., heavy weights, train to muscle failure, etc.). If you’re sedentary and spending your time watching TV, then those surplus calories will build fat – not muscle. And even if you are hitting the gym, it doesn’t mean that your training necessarily targets gains in muscle size. In other words, make sure your workout is on point.

If you’re looking to build muscle, the recommended calorie surplus is 250 – 500 calories. So, calculate your recommended calorie intake – and then add 250 – 500 calories to it.

Doing frequent and intense steady-state cardio makes it harder to build muscle because you burn many more calories than the rest of us. Whereas I could gain muscle by eating around 3,150 calories, your requirement may be considerably higher – and difficult to achieve. This is why, for many people, frequent and intense cardio sessions can cannibalize their muscle gains.

If you can’t cut back on the amount or duration of cardio, then it just means you’ll have to top your plate a little higher – a problem that most of us would love having!

Love,
Davey

P.S. It’s worth noting that high intensity interval training is the type of cardio recommended for individuals who are trying to build muscle. High intensity interval training is more anabolic in nature and better for muscle retention.

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Comments

  1. Dear Davey, for over two years I have been following your advices in order to loose fat and gain muscle, but something is not right and maybe you could tell me what it is. According to your calculator, I should be taking in 2.500 calories per day. To gain muscle, I should take more, right? But I take only about 1.500 calories per day and I am still fat. If I take more than 2.500 imagine how my size would be! I lift weights 4 times a week and do interval training of 15-20 minutes 3 times a week. I have been doing this for over 2 years. I understand why I am not gaining muscle… but why am I not loosing fat? I am 39, male, and have been working out for 6 years straight. Please help me gain muscle and loose fat. At this point I feel I´ve tried everything and I am ready to throw in the towel. Thanks.

    • I experienced pretty much the same, I even gained weight. The problem was I ate roughly the same amount of calories a day as you even though my daily dose should be 2,800.

      By not eating enough to support my “burn” I halted my metabolism to a crawl and forced my body into some sort of hibernation-state where every nutrient you take in gets stored instead of actually used.

      My trainer noticed this and gave me a schedule to work with. I now eat 2800 calories (with minimal fat/sugar intake) a day and work out three times a week (which is the same I was doing before yet still gained weight).

      I have now lost 14 lbs in 6 weeks with no muscle loss.

      If you want a fire to burn, you’ve got to feed it wood. If you don’t use enough wood, the flame will diminish and desperately cling to the few logs it’s been given.

      I’m no expert so correct me where I’m wrong, but you might benefit from the same method.

      FYI: The eating plan he made for me was made with Diplan. I’m not sure if it’s international or not because mine’s in Dutch but it couldn’t hurt to check if you’re interested.

      • Marcos Alexandre says:

        Hi Peter, thanks a lot for your reply. I found some dutch websites about Diplan and translated them using Google translator. For what I read each person must have a different, personalized diet, so I can’t follow what you ate, right? Nevertheless, if you can give me some pointers on what to eat I´d appreciate it. And I liked the concept of adding more wood to the fire… I might try that. Thanks!

  2. If you have any doubt, believe Davey. I’ve been a runner all my life — distance runner, that is. I graduated high school at 142. I graduated college at 148, I could never really put on weight, even with a pretty serious weight lifting regimen. The problem was calories. Some smart guy told me to track my food intake for a week. I did, and when we added up my daily calorie intake, I was floored with how little I was taking in. When I increased my calorie intake, I didn’t put on fat; I began to build mass. I still run 3-5 miles a day, but I am now at 165. Still less than 9% body fat. So, yeah, more calories = more muscle. (up to a point, of course). Weird but true.

    • Marcos Alexandre says:

      Thanks Casey! Actually it is quite logical that one should eat more calories in order to get more muscle mass – the problem is, when does muscle gain stop and fat gain begins?I was talking to my gym instructor today and he suggested I created a few different menus with different calories/carbs intakes and try each one for two months too see what my body responds better to.

  3. christopher says:

    balance is the key-DW-explains better than anyone i know.

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