Cardio in Muscle Building Phase

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I start this blog talking about recomp. So why did recomp looks so attractive at the first sight? Yes, you get it. We all wanted to be lean without losing too much weight. Especially if you found yourself on my blog, chances are losing weight is not your goal (as I said losing weight means you lose fat and muscle altogether, duh!)

However, this blog post is not about recomp, perhaps both of them look like they have the same goal, the goal for this blog post isn’t all about body recomp. But simply for the bulking goal while staying lean, and the key to staying lean while bulking is– cardio.

(Heads toward here is you wish to know more about recomp)

I know some of you hate cardio, and you think that cardio makes you lose your gains.

In this blog post, I will discuss the finding of what cardio really means for those that are in the muscle building phase and everything in terms of caloric surplus.

Therefore if you are someone that found yourself gaining some fat during your bulking phase but you still wish to build muscle, this post is definitely for you.

Is Building Muscle really Contradicting with Staying lean?

We all know that while building muscle, one important aspect is to eat more than our maintenance, so-called ‘surplus’. As result, we will eventually notice some fat gain.

Feeling softer but not more muscular during bulking can be quite disheartening. We know that we are making progress by adding in more lean mass. But fat gain really is not a sexy fact of bulking. Especially for beginners, even with the ‘newbie’ gain, the starting point of our muscle mass is still limited. The muscle still remained under that layer of fat, therefore we can’t see much progress on the surface.

Sometimes I wish that I could stop bulking and start cutting for a while.

This leads me to think, is both of these really contradicting each other? Means that you can never be lean and what you can do is just wait until your cutting phase? What if you are still not happy with the muscle you currently have and wish to add more?

Therefore here are the benefits of cardio come into play–it helps you shed extra fat and slow down your fat gain rate. Perhaps not eliminate all fat gain, but limit it as possible.

The Calorie Deficit Theory

Still feeling contradicting? Let’s talk about the theory first. To lose fat, we need to be in calorie deficit.

Which means:

Calorie used > Calorie Consumed

Seems that eating lesser is the most direct solution.

However what if we think in another way?

Instead of eating less, we still eat the same amount (perhaps if you really to lean bulk, just decrease a slight amount of your calories). We make the calorie deficit by increasing the ‘calorie used’ spectrum.

Both of these seems to be the same, but there is a slight difference.

Using more energy instead of limiting the energy source, is because our body is always trying to adapt. Think of it this way, if you started to decrease calories, your body has less fuel, and you will have trouble lifting heavier. By doing this your body also started adapting to lower-calorie– you’ll find you need to eat even lesser later in the cutting phase.

However, if we did it in another way. We still eat the same amount while adding in extra cardio than usual. Your body is still in deficit — as a result, you’ll lose fat. But your body still has enough fuel for you to do those bulking work.

Both ways lead to a calorie deficit, however, adding in activity level is better in restricting your daily calories.

In What Condition Cardio Did Not Work?

To know whether to do cardio or not, we need to know when is the time the cardio did not work.

Someone said that cardio will hinder muscle gain. That’s true — if you doing cardio for an extended amount of time (over half an hour). Or your cardio is too intense that it did not promote much recovery (read more about recovery for muscle building).

Or if you are the opposite, you are doing cardio but you notice fat gain still persists.

As I mentioned above, the key to fat loss is just calorie deficit. In this case, although you are doing quite an amount of cardio, the calorie that you consumed still overcast the calories that you used. Then it is time you should look at how much you exactly consume. Keep a food journal if you need it.

Another possibility: your cardio is too easy for you like a cakewalk.

Everyone’s physical capabilities are different. Some cardio that is challenging for others might not mean challenging for you. We need to consider the intensity of the cardio itself–not too intense until hinders muscle recovery, but still not too light.

This leads us to the next session, the importance of fat burning zone in cardio.

Why Did Fat Burning Zone Matter

As I mentioned above, cardio for too long might be bad for muscle growth, therefore we need to make sure the cardio we did in that limited time is still effective.

As we know, every activity burn fat (calories), but when you reach the bat burning zone, you are able to burn a relatively higher amount of calories compared with sitting, walking, and sleeping. A low-intensity activity still burn fat, but those that let our body tap into the fat-burning zone let us able to burn more calories in the given amount of time.

I assume that most of us have a busy life, we won’t spend all day walking or standing. When you did not hit the fat burning zone during your cardio session, chances are we have a lesser amount of calories spent in the time other than our workout.

The fat burning zone is where you reach your 70-80% of maximum heart rate. However, we don’t need to be too calculative with this, just remember when you reach the fat burning rate, it is the stage where you found yourself can’t hold on a conversation. But only a few words at a time.

LISS vs HIIT Cardio, which is better for bulking phase?

Well, both of these are fine for burning fat. But if you really want to know the better option, I will prefer HIIT. No other reason, it is just about the effectiveness.

Here’s come another question, if you wonder: Research had found that a lower intensity workout will burn more fat, but a more intense workout will burn glucose. Should I opt for low-intensity cardio?

The glucose that you burn is still considered energy, and do you know that our body still needs calories to repair all of these. In the end, we still burn calories. Our body won’t stop burning calories just because you burn more glucose, instead of directly burning fat, it will eventually balance out the total calories that we expense.

Therefore, only one things matter, the total calories. Therefore by comparing both modes, tapping into the fat-burning zone is considered more effective.

Three guides of Cardio for muscle building:

Cardio is to help you even better in your fitness journey, and not hinder your gains, therefore here are a few rules for you when you start integrating cardio into your workout routine.

Rule 1: Weight sessions should always before cardio

The priority is to build muscle, therefore you need to make sure you have a quality lifting session as always. Placing cardio after the weight session could prevent you from exhausting too much energy before you do the work.

Rule 2: Cardio Should not be too long

If you are not overweight or obese, chances are a 15-20 minutes of cardio session is good enough for you to stay lean. If you found the cardio that you are currently doing is not challenging enough, instead of lengthening the time, adding in intensity is always a better option.

Rule 3: 3-5 Cardio sessions per week

I don’t do cardio every day.

The reason is that I always love high-intensity cardio, and if I do it every day, it will bring a lot of muscle stress and prevent them from recovering. That’s not what we want during the building phase.

However, for those that wish to have their cardio more frequently, you can go for alternate high-intensity cardio with low-intensity cardio throughout the weeks. In this case, some of the sessions will not be too intense and will not bring unnecessary stress on your muscle for recovery.

Final Thought

The right amount of cardio actually promotes muscle growth and recovery. What we need to figure out is the sweet spot to optimize the result. Getting to know what cardio really means for a person in the muscle-building phase, really helps you to make better choices on how to integrate an effective cardio session into your workout.

That’s all for my post, I hope this could give you some ideas of the benefits of cardio and you make good use of it.

Happy go Strong!

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2 responses to “Cardio in Muscle Building Phase”

  1. indecactus Avatar

    I’ve never thought about what cardio is before this. It’s such an eye opening info.

    1. Alyssa Avatar

      Thanks for your comment 🙂

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