How do I get rid of muscle?
It’s an odd question I know, and one I have tackled before, but it seems people are still confused about what makes them gain and lose muscle.
We all know that people who are bedridden and on a low calorie diet lose muscle.
When I first starting writing Eat Stop Eat, and was running the idea past several dietitians for input, they all brought up stories of muscle loss in their patients who were bedridden and on a low calorie diet.
And since I am constantly saying that simple caloric restriction does NOT cause you to lose muscle if you are working out, then that leaves being ‘bedridden’ (or ‘disuse’ as they say in research) as the cause of muscle loss.
And this is exactly what research suggests as well.
Ever break your arm and have to wear a cast, or know someone who did?
Do you remember how skinny that arm was when the cast finally came off?
The arm in the cast got the EXACT same nutrition as the arm that wasn’t in the cast. The only change was in the amount that the muscles were used.
In fact, ‘casting’ is so effective at causing muscle loss that it has been used in research to study something called ‘disuse atrophy’ or muscle loss from lack of use.
In a study conducted at the University of Nottingham, 22 male and female studies had casts put on their right leg for two weeks. Their diets didn’t change, yet after only two weeks the cross sectional area of their quadriceps (the big muscles in your thigh) decreased by 10%.
NO CHANGE IN DIET…but the muscle still decreases in size by 10%.
And the decrease was across ALL muscle fiber types. From slow twitch to fast twitch, they all decreased in diameter when they were not being used.
In other words – Your muscles are not ‘storage units’ like fat cells, they are contractile units.
So while your fat cells respond to what (or more correctly- how much) you eat by storing or releasing energy in the form of fat. Muscle responds to stress and challenge.
Your muscles will always try to match the challenge that is placed on them.
No challenge = no increase in muscle size.
No challenge for a long enough time = decreases in muscle size.
This is why as long as you are working out, and meeting some sort of caloric minimum (studies have gone as low as 80 grams of protein and 800 Kcals a day for several weeks), you won’t lose muscle.
However, if you don’t use the muscle, then it really doesn’t matter what you are eating, the muscle is going to shrink.
Bottom Line – Forget those people who push multiple meals and protein at every meal as the secret to ‘not losing muscle’ the best way to prevent yourself from losing muscle is to exercise that muscle.
Or, if you are trying to lose muscle (not something I suggest) simple stop using it.