Agh, the question we all ask ourselves. I hate to break it to you, but it’s not possible. There is no shortcut, there is no secret formula to maintaining a body achieved through exercise. Here’s why:
A. So you start exercising. You’ve heard it’s a good thing to do for your health. But what does it do to your body? First off, you put your body through stress. The response is only natural – trying to adapt to stress. Your body does many things but for the sake of keeping this answer relatively short, I’ll narrow them down to two main reactions.
- Increased muscle mass and therefore calorie expenditure. Your body adapts to physical stress by increasing muscle mass in order to accommodate the increased activity and make it easier on you. So if you started running two miles a day or lifting weights 3 times a week or any other activity, your body will eventually adapt to that stress and it will no longer feel “hard”. You probably increase exercise in order to keep your body changing along the way so the process doesn’t stop. Your body synthesizes new muscle fibers and they require more energy to maintain and function so you eat more and exercise more.
- Increased hormone production: As a result of physical stress your body requires more hormones to function properly, the main hormones affected being androgens ( primarily testosterone) and the so called stress hormones ( primarily cortisol). Provided that you exercise well and eat well, more testosterone is synthesized than cortisol, which puts your body through anabolic processes, which increase your muscle mass. If you exercise too much and eat too little more cortisol is produced, hence putting your body in a catabolic state. You may have heard of the term anabolic before( from anabolic steroids for example) making you think that it is something bad for you, but actually an anabolic process is one that creates tissue, where a catabolic process is on that breaks tissue down( usually muscle mass). Fat tissue creation and breakdown is another thing entirely.
B. So now you’ve achieved your goals and for some reason stop exercising. Again, many things change, but I will try to keep it as simple and short as possible.
- The first week or two your body doesn’t change at all, because muscle mass is hard to create so your body hangs on to it, incase you reintroduce the stress ( exercise). You may put on a bit of fat due to the lack of energy expenditure through exercise.
- Between weeks 2 and 6, your body’s loses a lot of aerobic capacity( VO2 max), which means that if you were able to run 10 miles before you stopped, it would now be nearly impossible. Some muscle mass loss occurs due to the fact that stress has not been introduced for a prolonged period of time. You may gain more fat.
- After week 6, your body continues breaking muscle down at even higher rates, due to the fact that muscle mass is “expensive” to maintain in terms of energy required and our bodies do not like spending excess energy on unneeded things. You could put on even more body fat, due to the fact that your BMR decreases as a result of muscle loss, so unless you change your diet to accomodate these changes, you will gain fat.
Generally, after you quit exercising your body doesn’t need the muscles it builds anymore so over time, depending on how long you’d exercised for before stopping and other factors such as genetics and lifestyle, your body will break down all the muscle tissue it gained. Your hormone levels will drop back to their starting point( approximately) and you would look similar to what you looked like before you started exercising, if you change your diet accordingly. Otherwise, you may end up gaining some weight.
To sum it all up, you can’t maintain the muscle mass nor BMR you had while exercising once you stop doing so. So just don’t stop :D.
Hope this helps and if you have any further questions, feel free to ask.
Original Author: Plamen Nikolov