Muscle atrophy can happen to anyone for a wide range of reasons, but regaining muscle mass after atrophy can be achieved by following the advice we provide in this article. Maybe you’ve been ill for a while, had an injury, or have been going through a stressful period. Whatever the reason why your muscles have atrophied, when you’re ready to get back in the game and regain some muscle you are going to want to give yourself the best possible chance of doing it effectively and efficiently.
If this is you then are in luck because there are lots of things that you can do which will help to boost muscle growth and reduce muscle atrophy, including dietary changes, exercise, and supplements. Let’s take a look.
Regaining Muscle Mass After Atrophy
Muscle atrophy is the wasting (or thinning) and loss of muscle tissue. Its most common cause is a lack of physical activity (due to injury or other reasons) but is also a normal part of aging and can be a consequence of a variety of health conditions.
In my recent article I explained how chronic stress decimated my muscle mass.
I have learnt from experience that losing muscle mass can have quite an impact on your life.
Not only will you look different than you normally do, especially if you normally exercise regularly, but you probably won’t feel the same either. You will be physically weaker and you may feel down about the changes to your body.
Nowhere does the adage of “use it or lose it” apply more aptly than in respect of our muscles.
Our bodies are motivated to be as efficient as possible and that includes not maintaining muscle that isn’t needed.
Muscle takes more energy than fat to maintain, so if you don’t need that muscle for anything, then your body won’t put effort into keeping it going. Of course, you don’t completely lose the muscle, you just have fewer muscle fibers in each muscle group.
If you have been dealing with muscle atrophy, it is easy to feel like regaining it is an insurmountable task, but there are lots of things that you can do to give yourself the best chance you can of getting back to the way you used to be – or even better!
Changes to your nutrition, including supplements, and the right exercise routine can help to accelerate your muscle growth and reduce your muscle atrophy at a faster rate.
Exercises to Help With Regaining Muscle Mass
Before you start exercising to regain your muscle mass, it is important to remind yourself that you are not going to be where you were before your muscles atrophied.
It can be easy to get disheartened when you aren’t able to achieve anything close to what you could have done before but consistency and taking it one step at a time is key to making progress.
For instance, earlier this year I had Covid and due to the high level of stress I was under at that time, it hit me pretty hard. Coupled with the stress related muscle loss I had experienced, I was in pretty bad shape by the time I recovered.
I benchmark my fitness against a modified Cindy workout, and in normal times, I grind out around 12 rounds.
The workout consists of:
- 6 chins
- 12 deep press-ups (using push-up bars)
- 15 Kettlebell Squats
I complete this within a minute, rest for a minute and then repeat.
As I said, typically, I’ll do 12 rounds in 24 minutes and be pretty exhausted at the end of it.
When I resumed training after Covid, I could barely get 3 rounds out!
By keeping a record of each training session and by doing my best to add just one more round, I quickly began to improve.
I’d definitely suggest that it is best to start with bodyweight exercises, aka calisthenics.
You don’t need weights to break down muscles and rebuild them (in order to grow bigger muscles). Bodyweight exercises can give you enough resistance to do just that on their own. Press-ups, for example, when coupled with resistance bands are just as effective at building strength as bench presses.
The great thing about bodyweight exercises is that you can do them at home at any time. Squats, burpees, press-ups, planks, and dips are all great exercises that will help to build strength all over your body.
A set of resistance bands will add to the variety of gentle, muscle building exercises you can do while you are getting back into the game.
Once you feel as though you are starting to get stronger, you can add in some weighted exercises. It is best to start with lower weights and then build up your reps or add extra weight as and when you feel as though you’re ready to move onto the next level.
Before long, you will start to see your strength improve. With bodyweight exercises, you can track your strength by giving yourself a set time for each round of exercises (like my modified Cindy workout) and counting how many reps you can complete within that time.
This number will go up and up as you get stronger.
With weighted exercises, you can track your strength by using a training diary and recording how much weight you lift and for how many sets.
Diet Changes to Help With Regaining Muscle Mass After Atrophy
Regaining muscle mass after atrophy isn’t just about the exercises that you do. Diet is an important part of muscle building that should never be neglected.
Food is fuel and when it comes to regaining muscle, and your body will be using specific types of fuel to complete the process.
Muscles are made of protein, so it makes sense that you should ensure your diet has enough protein, amino acids, and peptides to give your body the nutrients it needs to build your muscles.
Eggs, meat, poultry, fish and milk are all excellent sources of bioavailable protein – as well as being nutritionally dense in terms of vitamins and minerals.
Whey protein supplements are also an excellent source of protein that can help to speed up the process of rebuilding lost muscle.
These foods also contain leucine and glutamine, which can aid protein synthesis and prevent protein degradation.
For the vegetarians out there (and non-vegetarians alike), you may be pleased to know that soybeans are considered to be a complete protein and useful for promoting muscle growth.
Vitamins play an important role in regaining muscles. Many vitamins have antioxidant capabilities, which means that they can isolate and eliminate “free radicals”. These free radicals can cause oxidative stress in your body which can accelerate protein degradation.
And many vitamins are also anti-inflammatory. When your body is dealing with inflammation, it can trigger it to attack and destroy healthy tissue, including muscles.
A combination of vitamins C, D and E may help to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. However, I prefer the natural route and would promote kiwi fruit and lemons as great sources of vitamin C.
Selenium is a mineral that is found in eggs and meat – especially in heart tissue (tastes great chopped up finely in a casserole), and can reduce muscle atrophy and also help to improve your physical performance. There is also research to suggest that combining fish oil with selenium can be especially effective at reducing muscle atrophy and improving performance.
So eating a diet filled with meat, poultry, eggs, fruit, and oily fish will help to give your body an extra boost in your quest to regain muscle.
In fact, you should aim to eat above the recommended daily allowance of these foods while you are pushing to regain your muscles – and try especially hard to eat at least 7 servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
Supplements That Can Help With Regaining Muscle Mass
If you think you might have a hard time fitting enough of the above foods into your diet, or you want to ensure that you have as many of them as possible, using supplements can help.
It goes without saying that nothing beats a balanced, healthy diet so you still need to make sure that you are eating well before you begin using supplements. For example, a protein supplement on its own won’t contain all of the other important vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that foods high in protein will have.
The best supplements to help you regain muscle mass will include calcium, magnesium, and selenium minerals. They will also contain vitamin C, E, and D. It can be especially important to supplement vitamin D. We aren’t able to create this vitamin in our bodies and it can be hard to obtain enough of it from your diet or through being out in the sun.
In fact, many countries recommend that the entire population supplement with vitamin D during the winter months because being deficient in it is so common.
Coenzyme Q10 is another vitamin-type micronutrient to look out for that helps to grow and maintain skeletal muscle and may help to reverse muscle atrophy.
Creatine is one of the most popular dietary supplements to help with many different types of training. It is a monohydrate that is effective at improving training and increasing both strength and muscle growth. It does this at a cellular level by increasing the turnover of adenosine triphosphate, which is the source of energy for your body’s cells.
Supplements made with medicinal plants can also help you to regain muscle mass after atrophy. Ashwagandha (Wisteria somnifera) is a plant that is known for its effect on fitness and cardiac health and has been shown to increase velocity, power, and VO2 max.
It can be used to treat weakness and to increase speed, muscular strength, and how well you can coordinate your muscles. All of these factors can help to make your training more effective and make it that bit easier for you to regain your muscles. It can also help to lower inflammation, which will support your body in preventing muscle atrophy.
More importantly however, Ashwagandha has been shown in repeated studies to normalise (and lower) serum cortisol. In my own experience, it has made a dramatic difference to my own stress and anxiety levels.
The study linked to above shows that participants in the trial who were taking 600mg of Ashwagandha per day saw a 33% drop in serum cortisol levels after an 8 week period, compared to a 4% drop in the placebo group.
If your muscle loss has been caused by stress then you NEED to be taking Ashwagandha!
==> Not all Ashwagandha products are made equal. Find out which Ashwagandha I have been using here.
The Bottom Line
Regaining muscles after atrophy can be a difficult road to start on, but you can give yourself the best chance of doing so as efficiently and effectively as possible by making sure that your body gets everything it needs to grow your muscles and using Ashwagandha if your muscle loss is stress related.
A mix of the right exercises, the right diet, and the right supplements will ensure that your body is supported in the biochemical processes involved in muscle growth and that you perform at your best during your training. Both of these together will help you to rapidly regain your muscles and your strength.