How to maintain muscle mass when injured

This week’s article was inspired by my plight this week. The prospect of a lengthy layoff when injured can put the fear of God into those worried about “losing gains”. So if you’re forced to rest up, let's take a look at ways to help maintain muscle mass while injured.

The amount of training you can and can't do is dictated by the severity of your injury, so aim to seek the opinion of your doctor or physio first of all. If you have an injury affecting one particular muscle, and if it's safe to do so, you can still train other muscle groups as usual. So if you’ve pulled a muscle in your lower body, you may still be able to train your upper body under the right conditions. To maintain muscle while injured, train unaffected body parts as much as possible.

Aim to stay active! There's always the temptation just to sit and feel sorry for ourselves and open up the Milk Tray, but if it’s safe to do so, try some light activity. Something can be better than nothing in this case. Walking and isometric holds are just two examples of lighter movements. This approach will still allow your muscles to be active to a degree. Bear in mind; training intensity doesn't need to be as high to maintain muscle while recovering.

Once you’re back fighting fit, ease yourself back into things. Take your time getting back to full training. Think smart and think longevity. Start light, focus on form and build up slowly over time. If training technique issues caused the injury, make sure to address these first and foremost.

Changes to your nutrition will be governed by how much your activity has changed. A minor injury may not have a massive impact on energy balance. More severe injuries could result in a lengthy layoff, a considerable change in activity levels and a more relaxed approach to your nutrition. This scenario would perhaps need a calorie adjustment. The focus may move away from areas like protein intake; you might move less, and your sleep patterns may change - all of which can hinder your recovery.

So the key areas to focus on here and now are:

(1 ) Adjusting your calories back to maintenance, accounting for changes in activity levels and or training intensity. If you need help calculating your maintenance calories, check out our online calculator over at (2 ) Keep your protein intake high. Maintaining muscle while injured is difficult when not training. It’s even harder by disregarding protein intake. If you’re already on a high protein diet (above 1.4g of protein per kg body weight ), keep it around this mark and recover. However, if you’re below that marker, consider increasing your intake with protein sources you enjoy. It will help with recovery and the prevention of muscle loss.

(3 ) Focus on rest and sleep where possible while maintaining as much of the positive daily habits and routines you had already in place. From a supplement perspective, continue with your daily 5g dose of creatine, your vitamin D and fish oil intakes.

Injuries are a pain, and maintaining muscle can be difficult if you cannot train for some time. Focus on the things you can control. Train as and when you can, be patient with the comeback and pay close attention to your nutrition and rest to maximise recovery.

Micheál Penston is the Head Coach at FM Fitness and Nutrition based in Westport, Co. Mayo. They specialise in helping busy men and women create the healthiest versions of themselves by educating and empowering all areas of their lifestyle, nutrition, recovery, and behaviours. You can grab a free copy of the 5 Stage Health and Fitness Kickstarter or find out more about their online and in-person coaching methods at or social media handles @fmfitnessnutrition


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