10 Ways You Lose Muscle Mass and Ruin Gains

attractive man working out with resistance band

Experiencing muscle loss? Here’s some possible reasons why 

Are you losing muscle mass? Despite your best efforts at the gym, does it seem like your gains are slipping away? Wondering why this might be happening?

If the answer is yes, you wouldn’t be alone. The hard truth is that as we age, all of us experience some amount of muscle shrinkage.

In the clinical sense, this is called sarcopenia; a condition that robs you of [muscle] size and strength. Some of this is beyond your control as a function of the aging. But that doesn’t mean you should throw your hands in the air and say “screw it!”.

That’s because muscle loss can also be caused by lifestyle factors – things that you are doing which work against the gains you’ve previously made. So, what are they?

Because we know men who visit this site are interested in looking as good as possible for as long as possible, Guy Counseling spoke to several health experts about the topic of muscle loss.

Check it out.

body building nutrition faqs
Are you eating enough?

1. You aren’t eating enough

You probably knew this but it’s worth mentioning because of its importance. A lot of guys, hoping to increase lean muscle mass, falsely believe reducing caloric intake is the best approach.

But that’s really a myth, according to Lindsey Mathews, a personal trainer and nutritionist with IdealFit. “Your muscles need to be well fed in order to grow.

If you are working out but withholding nutrients, you put yourself at risk for muscle loss.  It’s important to get enough high-quality protein, carbs, and fat to support lean muscle growth and maintenance.”

Because you are lifting weights, your body requires those extra calories to grow and maintain. See this FAQ on bodybuilding nutrition to learn more.

2. Overtraining

Do you hit the gym for two hours a day? Are you lifting weights more than 5 days a week? If the answer is yes, you could be overtraining.

Mathews says, “Some people get stuck in the mindset that more is always better when it comes to training.

But the fact is, it’s possible to reach the point where your body can’t take that much working out and it will start to break down. Possible side effects of overtraining include fatigue, increased heart rate, a diminished immune system, and even a loss of muscle mass.”

In severe cases, some people fall victim to a condition called overtraining syndrome. Be sure to review the eight signs of this phenomenon and check yourself to see if any apply to you.

man sleeping couch
Getting enough sleep?

3. Not enough sleep

Getting the right amount of rest is imperative for muscle growth, particularly for bodybuilders. The problem is most of us don’t get the rest we need. Mathews offers the following insight.

“When you work out, you break down your muscle fibers. During your post-workout recovery, they grow back a little bit stronger than before.

A good portion of the recovery period takes place while you’re asleep though. And if you’re severely deprived of sleep, your muscles won’t be able to regrow as they should, and you run the risk of losing muscle mass,” says Mathews.

So, how much sleep should you be getting each night? According to the National Sleep Foundation, most adults need between 7-9 hours.

And did you know a lack of sleep can cause you to gain unwanted weight? It sure can. Read this sleep loss and body fat post to learn more.

4. Lack of focus and intensity

When you are doing concentration curls, do you feel the burn in your biceps or are you simply going through the motions to complete the rep?

At its core, we’re talking about working out mindfully. This means focusing on the exercise at hand and doing so with intensity.

According to former NFL player and certified personal trainer, Peter Koch, “Going through the motions rather than applying mental focus to each rep can work against you.”

body building lifting weights at gum
Using heavy weights for compound exercises?

5. You don’t change your routine

If you are like a lot of guys, it doesn’t take long for you get comfortable with your gym routine. As a result, you keep repeating the same exercises week in and week out. Over time, this can cause mental boredom.

But did you know that your muscles can also get bored – in a manner of speaking? Here, we are talking about your body not feeling challenged, which directly impacts intensity, muscle breakdown and the possibility of new growth.

Koch suggests changing your strength training routine every eight weeks. “Try new exercises and consider switching things up.”

6. Not doing heavy, compound lifts

Some guys will initially gain muscle after starting a strength training program, only to find those gains shrink away. A possible reason for this is not partaking in heavy, compound lifts that encourage growth hormones.

According to Travis Barrett, a certified strength and conditioning specialist with Evolution Athletics, “Men should be regularly squatting, deadlifting, pushing and pulling in order to facilitate a large hormonal release of testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).

They also need to consistently lift for heavy sets of 5 as well as incorporating necessary assistance exercises that have less than 60 second rest periods to really drive up growth hormone release.”

attractive black man bicep
What’s your diet like?

7. Eating processed foods

When life is busy, it’s easy to grab whatever is available and scarf it down. Typically, this means processed foods. Here, we’re talking about frozen dinners, salty lunchmeats, and drive through burgers.

The problem is these kinds of eats can work against you when trying to increase muscle size.

“Most men are eating large amounts of processed foods that have little nutritional value and negatively impact hormonal levels which, negatively impact strength and muscle mass.”

Most experts suggest the best approach is to eat as clean as possible. If you are looking for practical ways to introduce clean foods into your diet, designed specifically for bodybuilders, consider picking up a copy of the Shredded Chef by trainer Michael Matthews.

8. Skipping workouts

Occasionally, missing the gym happens for all of us. That said, there is a difference between not being able to work out your legs because of travel and actively deciding to blow them off.

If you’ve been involved with strength training for any amount of time, you already know how easy it is for one skip to lead to another until ultimately, that body part isn’t getting properly exercised.

According to Dr. Michael Braccio with Velocity Sports Rehab, “If someone is skipping leg day, then eventually lower body muscle mass is going to decrease because of disuse.”

So, the bottom line is this. Ask yourself if you consistently hit the gym. If the answer is no, maybe it’s time to charge up your fitness motivation?

man weight lifting outdoors preventing muscle loss
Are your exercises age appropriate?

9. Not factoring in your age

Are you in your mid-thirties and trying to do exercises like you were in your twenties? Past the age of forty and trying to lift barbells like you are thirty?

If the answer is yes, you may be making the mistake of not working your muscles smarter and not harder. The truth is we start to lose muscle mass after the age of thirty.

When you don’t match your approach to strength training to your age, you can end up (unintentionally) causing muscle shrinkage.

“For many people, their muscle mass begins to drop after the age of 30, yet their exercise programs do not.

Without addressing this change and adjusting fitness programs to maintain muscle mass by adding exercises that increase load or even add load for the first time, muscle mass will continue to drop while exercise frequency can stay the same or even increase,” says Elizabeth Robinson, certified personal trainer and founder of Vit Fit.

10. Not stretching

The final reason you may be losing muscle mass relates to not stretching and warming up. If you are like most guys, you probably check-in to your gym and start hitting the weights.

But that would be a mistake, according to David Houchbaum, a Chicago personal trainer who specializes in helping bodybuilders gain mass.

“Stretching and warmups help to get the blood flowing. This helps to feed muscles important nutrients that are important for muscle growth. It’s something a lot of people skip, and they really shouldn’t, Houchbaum says.

Check out this article if you want to learn more about the benefits of warming up.

Bringing It All Together

Muscle loss is inevitable as we age. But that doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel. Instead, do what you can to prevent and minimize shrinkage by considering the causes listed above.

Finally, if you notice a sudden loss in body mass or muscle tone, it may speak to an underlying medical condition. Make an appointment with your doctor and get a physical.

Thanks for stopping by.

About John D. Moore 349 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Check out his show --> The Men's Self Help Podcast