How Long Does It Take To Lose Muscle?


How Long Does It Take To Lose Muscle?

Putting on muscle is no easy feat. It requires patience, protein and hard work in the gym. Sometimes life gets in the way and we are forced to take a break from training. If this happens, how long does it take before all of that hard earned muscle disappears? If you plan to take some time off the gym, due to an injury or an upcoming holiday, and don’t want to lose your gains then read below. You’ll learn how long off the gym it really takes before significant muscle loss occurs and what you can do to mitigate the atrophy.

Why Does Muscle Loss Occur?

In order to get a ripped physique, you need to be tearing those muscles up in the gym and giving them sufficient fuel afterwards. Hard workouts damage your muscles. Adequate nutrition synthesises more muscle. Failure to meet both of these requirements will result in a lack of gains. Unfortunately you can’t just build a bit of muscle and keep it for life. Maintenance requires regular upkeep and those guns will disappear unless you give them a reason to stay. Similar to how tenants must pay their rent on time in order to stay in their house. Regular workouts and sufficient calorie intake is equivalent to rent if you wish to live in a buff, strong body.

woman drinking a protein shake seated stock image

How Big Is Your Reduction In Training Volume?

The amount of muscle you might lose from taking time off will depend on the size of the reduction in your training volume. Are you skipping a few days or a month? Are you still partaking in everyday physical activities or completely bedridden? Obviously the less movement you do, the more likely your muscles are to atrophy. One study found that a group of ten healthy men lost a substantial amount of muscle mass after spending only a week in bed. The thought that it might take only seven days to lose your precious muscle is a frightening prospect. However, you must remember this is only one study and the subjects in it were completely bedridden. We don’t know how long these men had been training for prior to this and they likely were able to regain the lost muscle in no time. Another study found that two weeks off the gym had no impact on muscle mass provided the subjects continued to do everyday tasks like walking. These findings are reassuring as it means you can go on a cheeky summer holiday and not have to worry about losing progress. Most research, like this study here, concludes that it takes at least three weeks of detraining before any small changes even start to occur. Even if you take a month or so off the gym, the reduction in muscle mass will be quite minimal and you’d be able to bounce back easily.

Age Matters

Obviously the size of the reduction in training volume is not the only consideration. A myriad of factors are always at play whenever the human body is involved. Your physical and training age can affect how much muscle you lose when taking a break. Older people are more at risk of muscle loss, also known as sarcopenia. This is because muscle mass and strength naturally decreases as we age. It makes sense that taking a break from working out might be more detrimental if you’re in your later years. In addition to this, your training age is also relevant. Are you a newbie to resistance training or an experienced lifter? If you’ve been regularly working out for years, training breaks are less significant for you than they would be for someone who has just started at the gym. This is in part due to muscle memory. Well trained individuals can easily regain any lost muscle because they have already gone through the hard slog to build it in the first place. Someone who is brand new to working out might find it harder to get back on their game after a gym hiatus.

Can Nutrition Prevent Muscle Loss?

Luckily there are some nutritional strategies you can implement in order to reduce the amount of muscle loss you may experience. Insufficient calorie intake is a sure fire way to guarantee muscle protein breakdown. If holding onto gains is the goal, make sure you are eating enough calories to at least maintain your weight. Your body will not want to hold onto muscle if it isn’t getting enough energy to function or is in a caloric deficit. Make sure you don’t drastically eat less during this period of rest. Protein intake is also very important, especially if you are significantly reducing your training load. The majority of research suggests you need a bare minimum of 1.2g of protein per kg of body weight if you wish to maintain muscle. Even more than this would be ideal as not every gram of protein consumed gets perfectly absorbed. The good news is that achieving your optimal intake is easy to do these days with tasty products like NZProtein mallows and mug cakes. Keep your protein intake high and the likelihood of muscle atrophy will be heavily reduced.


A break from the gym is not the end of the world and you won’t lose all your gains. Research suggests it takes at least three weeks off training before any small changes start to occur. Even if you do lose a bit of progress, muscle memory exists and it will be relatively easy to pick up where you left off. Just make sure to keep doing everyday physical tasks, eat at maintenance and prioritise protein. These simple yet effective tactics significantly reduce muscle breakdown and you’ll be back on the gains train in no time.


Written by Lauren Carruthers