Ask Me Anything: Muscle Cannabalism?

Hey Doug, I was wondering what “Muscle Cannibalism” is and what I should do to avoid it.  Thanks.

If you want to avoid “muscle cannibalism” then avoid trekking in the Sierras with a group of people, get lost, sleep in a cave and then run out of food while waiting to be rescued.  I think what you are referring to is Muscle “Catabolism” which is simply that breakdown of muscle tissue.

I’m going to keep this simple; you cannot avoid muscle catabolism because you need a little bit of it for muscle anabolism (the growing of muscle).  Every time you train you will have some muscle catabolism going on and then upon proper recovery with nutrition and rest an anabolic state will occur and hopefully that process balances or slightly exceeds the catabolic process so you can maintain and/or increase your muscle mass.

The two athletic populations that are most concerned about the negative effects of catabolism are bodybuilders and endurance athletes. The primary goal of bodybuilding is to put on as much muscle mass as possible so that is why they eat a ton, take supplements and sleep as much as they can to keep catabolism to a minimum.  Endurance athletes push their bodies to the limit in terms of exercise volume.  They go for hours running, climbing, and riding.  The amount of energy needed to maintain these tasks is huge so naturally when they run out of nutrients they consume, the proteins in the muscles are used and muscle breakdown occurs.  This is why you see riders looking emaciated at the end of the Tour de France than when they started.  Yes, they lost body fat too but there is some good muscle breakdown going on.

So if you are not a bodybuilder or an endurance athlete and you eat correctly, stay hydrated and get plenty of sleep, you should not have to worry about anything unless you go hiking in the Sierras in the winter, like I mentioned.

Thanks for the question