If you’re about to go on vacation, you might find yourself worrying about muscle atrophy and whether you’ll be able to avoid it. After all, gaining muscle takes a lot of hard work, and it would be devastating to lose your gains while relaxing on the beach under the hot tropical sun. Fortunately, you can avoid muscle atrophy on vacation in a few simple ways.
When Should You Start Worrying?
According to a study conducted at the University of Texas Medical School, there is evidence to suggest that muscle atrophy may begin to set in as little as 48 hours into a vacation, especially for conditioned athletes. Genetics play a big role in your atrophy rate, but athletes’ bodies become dependent on training. They rely on that training to keep their hard-earned muscle mass, and without it, their bodies begin to change quickly. If you’re concerned about atrophy, the best thing you can do is plan in advance in terms of activity, diet, and workouts.
Although you likely worked out for weeks on end with heavy weights and machinery to build your muscles, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that you can delay the rate at which muscle atrophy sets in simply by staying active, even if that activity doesn’t include strength and resistance training. Activities such as snowboarding, skiing, surfing, hiking and swimming are all great ways to keep your metabolic rate up and allow your body to make the best possible use of the proteins you consume. Allowing your metabolism to slow too much while on vacation can lead to fat gain, which actually speeds up the rate of muscle atrophy.
Nutrition Is Your Friend
Unless you’re vacationing in a location that offers access to a full gym, then chances are good that you’re not going to be working out as much as you would be at home. You can compensate for this to a degree with nutrition. A study out of the Department of Exercise Science at Campbell University showed that you can prevent muscle atrophy with a regimen of protein and amino acids. Subjects were placed on 28 days of bedrest, and those who used protein and amino acid supplements maintained far more of their muscle mass than the placebo group, even in the complete absence of activity. As such, consider bringing protein powder or bars and an amino acid supplement, which along with a well-balanced diet can help you ward off muscle atrophy while you’re on vacation.
Another way to avoid muscle atrophy is to work out wherever and however you can. Even if you don’t have a full gym on site, you can use bodyweight exercises and even resistance bands which are easy to pack in and bring with you. Various exercises that are easy to perform and are great at maintaining your physique include push ups (various grips), pull ups, planks, crunches/sit ups, burpees, jump squats and more. Remember that atrophy occurs when you don’t use muscles, so finding innovative ways to push yourself – even with a lack of weights or gym equipment – can help you keep more of your hard-earned muscle mass.
The Break May Do You Some Good
A 1997 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences showed that the body can only take so much training before it simply stops responding. Your body learns to adapt to training, and this is why you hit training “plateaus”. To combat this, you should take breaks long enough to let the fatigue you feel disappear completely. NFL players work hard to perform at their peaks, but even they take breaks now and then. For example, Antonio Brown, wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, does nothing but Pilates in the offseason. This allows him to maintain most of his strength and muscle mass while he “detrains”. When he returns to training once again, his body is far more receptive to every lift, push, and curl. With this in mind, if you’ve been training long and hard then a week or two off could actually be just what your body needs.
Your concerns about muscle atrophy while you vacation are certainly valid, but it may not be nearly as devastating as you think. The evidence shows that with the right nutrition and regular activity, you can slow or even stave off atrophy. What’s more, the break will likely do your body some good at the same time.