How Cardio Helps You Build More Muscle

How Cardio Helps You Build More Muscle

The relation between muscle growth and cardio

One of the most prominent debates held in the bodybuilding and weight training community is whether cardio or any kind of aerobic activity should or should not be performed when the ultimate goal is maximum muscle mass gains. On one side you have people who argue that lifters should perform at least an hour of low-intensity cardio every day during their bulking or mass gaining period.

The main idea behind this reasoning is that it is a method of maintaining normal fat levels during a period of massive calorie consumption needed to maximize muscle growth. On the other side, you’ve got the idea that any type of activity that is not lifting weights will do nothing other than harm muscle mass and strength gains.

The fact is that truth as always lies somewhere in the middle, and in this article, we will explore some of the various pros and cons of doing some type cardio in your overall training program when the ultimate goal is maximal muscle mass growth.

The kind of cardio exercise that is usually recommended when trying to gain maximal muscle mass is of the moderate intensity, steady state variety. In fact, you will not find a great number of people who would argue that high-intensity interval training is an effective training method for building muscle mass.

It’s true that sprinting can definitely help with building more muscle mass, because of the increase in anabolic hormonesin the body that happens afterward, but the reality is that this short-burst, high-intensity intervals don’t really work combined with a muscle building program. In this article, we will focus on the many advantages of performing cardio when trying to build muscle mass.


When cardio is performed at low or moderate intensity it can be considered a type of “active recovery”

When your body is forced to pump blood through the worked muscles, recovery is drastically accelerated. Active recovery can help more than simple passive recovery, which usually consists of doing no exercise at all. For this to have a full body effect, since most cardio machines target the lower portion of the body, something like an elliptical trainer or a rowing machine should be used ideally.

You should also consider drinking a high protein and carbs drink while doing this full-body, moderate-intensity cardio, to improve the delivery of nutrients to the targeted muscles, which will ultimately speed up the recovery process. The effect of exercise on appetite greatly differs from person to person. Some people notice that exercising can blunt appetite, while others find exercising making them increasingly hungry.

Moderate intensity cardio seems to stimulate the appetite in most people since it is low enough in intensity so as to not cause increased adrenaline release. This means that those who have difficulties ingesting a sufficient number of calories often find that adding moderate amounts of cardio into their training program can be beneficial when it comes to improving appetite.

Whether your primary goal is to train purely for mass or get rid of the excess fat, you can lose a great amount of your metabolic conditioning when you enter the lean mass gain phase, where the only thing you are doing is lifting weights.

Low-reps and long rest interval types of training usually have the biggest impact and causes the loss of a great amount of work capacity and conditioning during this phase.

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When the level of conditioning decreases, so too does the body’s ability to recover which obviously negatively impacts muscle gain. Another advantage to performing low-intensity cardio training during the bulking phase is that it requires a lot less effort to maintain a certain level of cardiovascular conditioning than it does to reach it again from a state of being unconditioned.

An added benefit of doing aerobic training is that it could potentially improve mass gaining results during a bulking phase with overall caloric partitioning. It has been proven that the most effective form of caloric partitioning that has ever been tried is lifting weights.

Regular muscle contractions increase the uptake of nutrients into skeletal muscle

This basically means that when you’re lifting weights, fewer excess calories get deposited as fat cells. It is still debatable how big the impact of low or moderate intensity cardio will have on this, though it certainly won’t be counterproductive if performed at a reasonable level and will most likely help in the long-term too. Additionally, there’s also the issue of keeping the fat-burning processes active and staying lean during the bulking phase. Cardio is not even the most effective way to lose fat to begin with, however it helps create a caloric deficit, provided that you don’t eat more to compensate for it.

In any case, a good reason why you might want to keep cardio in your workout program is that if you are currently in the bulking phase, you will most likely want to lean out eventually. It has been proven time and time again that if you want to get the fastest rate of muscle growth possible you have to allow some fat gain at the same time, and it’s only logical that this accumulated fat will have to be lost through proper dieting. So, if we conclude that this is the best possible method, then you might as well try to gain the least amount of fat possible.

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One of the reasons why steady state cardio is not commonly considered effective when it comes to losing fat is because very often during a bulking phase or a de-load period where the lifter usually eats a lot of food, the body loses its efficiency at using fat as an energy source. If this resting period is followed by cardio and dieting, it can take the body several weeks to be able to provide enough amounts of fat as an energy source and it is during this period that muscle tissue is sacrificed.

This partly explains why when first starting out a new diet, it can a couple of weeks before you start getting noticeable results. The scenario above tends to be even more pronounced when the lifter has done no cardio at all during the bulking phase or during the deload phase.

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