How Long Does It Take to Regain Muscle?

How Long Does It Take to Regain Muscle?

If you've been working out for a while, you probably know how hard it is to gain muscle. For most of us, it can take years and years of consistency to see the muscle growth we want.

The problem is, most people have trouble staying consistent for that long. I can relate to that too. Working out is one of my passions, and there have been plenty of times when life got in the way of my training.

Sometimes life can throw you a curveball and staying on track can be real hard.

Maybe you get an injury that keeps you out of the gym. Maybe you just had your first child, and have another life depending on you. Or, you could be like me, and choose to spend more of your time focused on other areas of your life.

Unfortunately, if you stop altogether, you can fall out of shape and lose hard earned muscle quickly.

The good news is, it’s totally natural for your fitness to fluctuate throughout your life. It happens to all of us and we can rarely predict when it will happen.

Don’t worry, your body is actually prepared to bounce back from it!

You can regain muscle and get back to your old physique if you’ve lost some progress over time. You will have to work for it, but you can get it back!

First, let’s dive into how you build muscle in the first place. Then I will cover how soon you can start losing muscle, and how long it takes to regain muscle.

How Do You Build Muscle? 

First things first, how do you build muscle? Well, this is a complex question to answer, but I’ll do my best to keep it simple. 

In order to build muscle, you have to FORCE your body to do it. This is done in a couple ways.

The first thing you must do to build muscle effectively is resistance train. Lifting weights, for example, puts stress on your muscles.

When you put enough of this stress on your muscles, it signals to your body that you need bigger and stronger muscles. This stress is measured by volume. In weight training, this is your sets, reps, and the weight you use (Sets x Reps x Weight).

Once you’ve created the stimulus for muscle growth, you also have to eat correctly.

Your muscles are made of protein and water. Drinking enough water, eating enough protein, and eating enough calories are all required for muscle growth.

Think of protein as the bricks you need to build a wall. Protein is the material required to build muscle in the same way bricks are used to build a wall.

Eating a meal with enough of a high-quality protein in itself can actually stimulate muscle repair. This is a process called muscle protein synthesis. It's when your body takes amino acids from the protein you eat and uses them to build new muscle tissue. So, you do not want to skip this step!

You also need bricklayers to put the work into building a wall though, right? In the same way, you need enough total calories to fuel that muscle growth. The calories are the the bricklayers, or the energy, needed to do the work.

With these factors on point, from your workouts to your diet, now you need quality sleep. Studies show that without enough quality sleep, you lose a lot of muscle building potential (1).

Your testosterone levels may drop, cortisol (stress hormone) may rise, and much more. These are just some reasons as to why poor sleep can affect muscle growth.

With even one night of too little sleep, the muscle building process may not be as effective. Studies show it may go down by as much as 18% (1), and that’s just from one night. Just imagine what multiple nights could do!

In short, that's how you build muscle. Those are the important factors to focus on.

Obviously, training is a part of this process. However, what happens when you stop training?

What Happens When You Stop Working Out?

This is a big factor regarding muscle loss. When you stop working out, it's called detraining. Get it, "De-training"?

You see, working out doesn't only help you build muscle. Working out also helps you maintain muscle. At the end of the day, if your body doesn't need the extra muscle, it doesn't want it.

Look at it this way: Your body is a survival machine. Every adaptation your body makes is to ensure longer survival.

Building muscle makes sure you have the strength to fight off whatever threatens your survival. This could be fighting off a person, an animal, or being able to save yourself in any dangerous situation.

When you overeat, your body stores fat under the skin and around your organs. This is extra stored calories to keep you alive in case there is a famine. That adaptation is strictly to ensure your survival.

When you run a lot, your body gets much more efficient at it. So, not only does it feel easier, but your body learns how to burn less calories doing the same thing. Being able to run long distances while using less energy increases your chances of, you guessed it… survival!

Now, when it comes to building muscle, it’s a love-hate relationship. Allow me to explain.

Yes, when your body builds muscle, it's for the sake of survival. This comes with a catch though.

Your muscles are constantly burning calories 24 hours a day. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, and the more you must eat in order to maintain it.

So, the moment your body doesn’t feel like you need the muscle anymore, you may start losing it.

If you stop resistance training, you tell your body that you don’t need to keep that muscle anymore. Why would it want to burn extra calories everyday when it’s not necessary? That decreases your chance of survival. At least, if you look at it from an energy efficiency perspective. 

Your body wants to burn as few calories as possible, and store as much as possible. That way, you won’t run out of energy, and can live for a long time.

Obviously, that would be very unhealthy. The problem is, your body doesn’t realize that ... It’s just responding to what you do to it. 

So, if you don’t use your muscles, you’ll lose them. No, it won’t happen overnight. However it will be inevitable if you take enough time off. That doesn't mean you can't regain this muscle!

What Else Makes You Lose Muscle?

In addition to not resistance training, there are many other reasons you may start losing muscle.

Like I said earlier, your diet is a crucial component to building muscle. The same can be said for maintaining muscle. No, I'm not just talking about the quality of the food you eat either.

I’m mainly talking about your calorie intake and your protein intake.

Remember, your muscles are constantly burning calories. You have to eat more calories when you have more muscle because your body requires it.

Hypothetically, let's say you don't lose muscle from under-eating. In this case, you would keep burning more calories than you’re eating, and the calorie difference would likely come from body fat.

Now this sounds ideal, but to your body, you’d be running low on your fuel reserves. That means you'd literally be lowering your chances of survival. At least, that's how your body looks at it.

What if you lost all of your body fat, and then a famine hit? You’d have little access to food, and over time, those muscles would burn up all of your energy. If it lasted long enough, you’d starve and die.

This is just a visual I use to help people understand how the body works. 

Calories aren’t the only important part of your diet though. Your protein intake is crucial as well!

Remember, your muscles are made of protein and water. As you go about your day, and in your workouts, your muscle tissue gets broken down.

Your body uses muscle protein for energy sometimes. When you resistance train, you also damage the proteins in your muscle fibers. Both situations cause muscle protein loss.

If you don't replace the protein your muscles lose, you will lose muscle over time. Think of it like this...

There is always a certain level of muscle protein breakdown (loss) and muscle protein synthesis (gain) happening. If you want to gain or regain muscle, you need to be in a state of muscle protein synthesis longer than muscle protein breakdown.

Eating meals high in protein can stimulate this muscle growth and repair process. However, doing it once isn’t enough.

You need to do this consistently every day, and in enough meals to hit your protein goal. I could dive deep into the science here, but I’ll give you a simple rule for how much protein you need.

That rule is to get 1 gram of protein per pound of your goal body weight (2.2 g/kg) per day. This should give you enough protein to replace what is lost, and maybe even add some more muscle on top of it.

Undereat on your calories and/or protein and you will likely lose muscle over time. If you do that and stop lifting weights, that process will happen even faster.

When Do You Start to Lose Muscle?

When you take time away from working out, how quickly do you lose your muscle? Are your muscles going to lose strength after only a few days? 

Well, lucky for you, you probably won’t lose strength after only a couple days (2). 

While you won’t notice the muscle loss early on, that doesn’t mean nothing is happening. 

Your body may be increasing the expression of a gene called myostatin after only a few days (3). Myostatin is a negative regulator of muscle tissue growth, so this would likely lead to more muscle loss.

Some of your most recent muscle gains may even be noticeably leaving you within 10 days too (3). Not everyone will notice the same rate or level of muscle loss, but that’s what some of the studies show.

Now, you’re not going to lose multiple pounds of muscle in just a week or two, or at least it isn’t likely. The muscle loss process can start sooner than you think, but it still takes a while to become noticeable. 

I do have some good news though! Once you have gained muscle once, losing it isn’t permanent.

You can regain muscle you've lost, and it will be easier than it was to build it the first time. Let's talk about why that is next.

How Muscle Memory Helps You Regain Muscle

If you’ve lost muscle, don’t worry. It won't be permanent if you're willing to get back to doing the work!

We often think of muscle memory as something that helps us remember movements ... Kind of like how a pianist knows just how to move their fingers during a song. That is muscle memory, but I’m talking about a different kind of muscle memory.

The muscle memory I’m referring to is the ability to regain muscle you’ve previously gained, and then lost. Your body remembers EVERYTHING!

This means when you lose muscle from inactivity, you can gain it back faster than it took to earn it in the first place. However, that's only when you train and eat correctly.

How does this happen? To be honest, nobody knows for sure. We have theories that seem plausible, but no conclusion has been reached.

One of the major theories out there is that by building muscle, you also add more myonuclei (4). This is just what a nucleus of muscle is called.

The theory is that when you build muscle, you add more of them. Then when you lose that muscle, the myonuclei stay around. This is thought to be why you have “muscle memory” because myonuclei may expedite the process of regaining muscle.

That’s not what all of the research shows though, and that’s why I called it a theory. There is another theory that muscle memory stems from making subtle changes to the DNA in your muscle cells (5).

Those changes seem to stick around after you've lost muscle, and could be why it's easier to regain it. Science hasn’t completely caught up, but it’s very interesting to think about how your body does this all on its own!

Regardless of how it happens, what we do know is this: Once you gain muscle, you can regain it much more quickly.

How Long Does It Take to Regain Muscle?

Now let’s dive into how long it takes to regain muscle. You’re probably not going to like the answer though...

It’s complicated.

There’s no strict formula for how long it’ll take because every situation is different. I’d be lying if I gave you a time frame because there are so many different variables involved.

One of these variables is the level of inactivity during the time you weren't training. Were you bedridden, or were you staying active and just doing other things?

If you were bedridden, it would likely take longer to regain muscle than if you stayed somewhat active. Plus, less overall activity would cause more muscle loss in the same time frame.

There are also individual differences. Do you remember when you first started working out and building muscle?

You probably saw some early muscle growth pretty quickly. The people you worked out with probably saw some early muscle growth quickly too.

But, I’d be willing to bet you weren’t getting stronger or bigger at the exact same rate.

Just like you may be able to build muscle or strength faster than someone else at first, you could lose it and regain it at a different rate too.

Regaining muscle is also going to depend on factors like programming, previous fitness levels, and your age. Also, if you’re coming back from an injury, your inability to push 100% could prolong the process.

What I’m getting at is this...

It could take you half the amount of time you detrained to regain muscle. It could take you 75% of the time. It could even take 25% of the time.

The only thing we do know is it will likely take you less time to regain muscle than it took you to build it originally.

I’ve personally had times where it seemed like it only took me a few weeks to regain the muscle I lost previously. I’ve also had times where it took several months before I felt like I was back to my old fitness level.

Just know that the time will pass by whether you worry about it or not. My advice is to try not to focus on how long it will take to regain muscle. 

Instead, focus on what you can do right now to get one step closer to your goal. If you can do that, you’ll be there before you know it!

How To Prevent Muscle Loss

How can you prevent muscle loss when you’re taking a break of some sort? Well, there are many things you can do to help minimize muscle loss.

As far as training goes, the basic idea is something is always better than nothing. So, if you can’t hit the gym for some reason, switch to bodyweight exercises you can do at home. 

That’s the idea.

Here are a few tips to prevent muscle loss: 

• Engage in regular resistance training exercises if you can. Remember that doing some kind of regular exercise is always better than doing nothing at all. If you can keep training hard though, you likely won’t lose much, if any.

• Ensure your diet is rich in protein, and enough calories, so you’re maintaining as much muscle as you can. Aiming for 1 gram of protein per pound of your goal body weight is a good rule of thumb.

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• Stay properly hydrated. This is crucial for muscle health, so make sure you guzzle down the right amount of water every day. Shooting for 1 gallon per day is a good rule of thumb.

• Get plenty of sleep every night! Lack of sleep can lead to higher levels of hormones that favor muscle loss. 7-9 hours is my personal recommendation for optimal sleep.

• Stay active even if you're not engaging in formal workouts. Sitting on the couch and being lazy will lead to more muscle loss than playing recreational sports or going for a walk.

Need Help Regaining Muscle?

So you took a break from training, and lost some of your progress. It happens to almost everyone at some point in their lives. 

Don’t beat yourself up about it! 

If you’re ready to get back to regaining muscle, just know we can help! At 1st Phorm, we have all the tools you need to look and feel your best, and get in the best shape of your life.

In fact, that's why we developed the 1st Phorm App.

Inside the app, we'll connect you with your own advisor. This is your personal coach to help program your nutrition, answer your questions, and hold you accountable.

The 1st Phorm App simplifies the process by giving you access to helpful features like:

• Nutrition programming and tracking
• Full workout programs catered to your goals
• Result monitoring through body metrics and measurements
• Daily live streams and instructional exercise videos
• A culture and community of accountability and support

...all to help you earn the best results possible!

If you have questions in the meantime, just know we're here to help. We have a full team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Nutrition Coaches. Real people right here in St. Louis, Missouri who are available to talk to you and help you reach your goals! Shoot us an email at or give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 anytime.

If you're working toward any specific goals, and you're looking to earn the best results possible, the 1st Phorm App makes it easy. Download the 1st Phorm App and start earning the results you've been looking today!

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(1) Lamon S, Morabito A, Arentson-Lantz E, Knowles O, Vincent GE, Condo D, Alexander SE, Garnham A, Paddon-Jones D, Aisbett B. The effect of acute sleep deprivation on skeletal muscle protein synthesis and the hormonal environment. Physiol Rep. 2021 Jan;9(1):e14660. doi: 10.14814/phy2.14660. PMID: 33400856; PMCID: PMC7785053.

(2) Hortobágyi T, Houmard JA, Stevenson JR, Fraser DD, Johns RA, Israel RG. The effects of detraining on power athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1993 Aug;25(8):929-35. PMID: 8371654.

(3) Jespersen JG, Nedergaard A, Andersen LL, Schjerling P, Andersen JL. Myostatin expression during human muscle hypertrophy and subsequent atrophy: increased myostatin with detraining. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011 Apr;21(2):215-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.01044.x. PMID: 19903317.

(4) Gundersen K. Muscle memory and a new cellular model for muscle atrophy and hypertrophy. J Exp Biol. 2016 Jan;219(Pt 2):235-42. doi: 10.1242/jeb.124495. PMID: 26792335.

(5) Sharples AP. Skeletal Muscle Possesses an Epigenetic Memory of Exercise: Role of Nucleus Type-Specific DNA Methylation. Function (Oxf). 2021 Sep 4;2(5):zqab047. doi: 10.1093/function/zqab047. PMID: 35330953; PMCID: PMC8788876.