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Lifting weights breaks down muscle tissues. This may sound counterproductive, but it’s a process known as catabolism and is essential for muscle growth. When you break down muscle, you enter a catabolic state.
During your rest after your workout, both in the following hours and even for several days afterwards, your body works hard to repair this damage. Provided you rest enough, don’t train the area again until it’s recovered, and eat plenty of food, rich in calories, protein and carbohydrate, you’ll recover and grow bigger and stronger.
This rebuilding process is known as anabolism.
Trouble occurs however when you stay in this catabolic state for too long, or worse still, don’t come out of it at all.
Essentially, catabolism is a form of over training – you’re throwing too much at your body and not giving it adequate means to repair itself. While a degree of catabolism is necessary, your end goal should be to spend more time in an anabolic state than a catabolic one.
Catabolism can also occur during a prolonged period of not training. This probably doesn’t affect you too much though – you’ll maintain your muscle mass just fine for several weeks without training before you even have to consider muscle breakdown. Even a month long vacation is highly unlikely to have any negative impact on your gains.
Main Signs of Catabolism
A drop in progress is the number one telltale sign to watch out for. If you find you’re getting weaker, your poundages on lifts are dropping and you’re falling short of your required sets and reps, you’re probably going catabolic.
This moves in tune with muscle size too. This is difficult to assess from day to day, but if you’re keeping on top of your progress, taking regular physique photos or measurements of body parts like your thighs, chest, shoulders and arms, this gives a good indication of whether or not you’re going catabolic.
Feeling sore is another one. Everybody gets sore from time to time after a tough workout – it’s just part and parcel of lifting weights and training hard, but if you find you’re constantly hurting, feeling stiff and achy, you could be overdoing it and not recovering fully.
Finally, extreme fatigue and sleeplessness are key indicators of overtraining and catabolism. If you’re falling asleep at your desk or severely struggling for energy in the mornings, but finding that you can’t switch off when you hit the sheets, or spend hours each night staring at the ceiling, take a step back and address your catabolism issues.