For those who go to the gym regularly and work to build muscle and endurance, it can be stressful to contemplate taking a break from your fitness program. But sometimes a break is inevitable, whether it’s because of work, a vacation or even injury.

But what happens to your muscles when you stop, or decrease your workouts?

For many people, there’s a real fear that if you stop, your muscles will turn to fat.

The good news is, that’s a myth. When you stop working out, your muscles shrink and decrease in mass. They don’t convert to fat, as many people think.

The not-so-good news? Muscle deterioration happens quickly, and it can require significant effort to rebuild your strength.

The minute you stop training, your body stops building muscle. Your muscles sit waiting to be used, and when you don’t use them, they begin to atrophy.

How quickly do muscles start to deteriorate?

How quickly your muscles deteriorate really depends on your training regime and fitness levels. The more you have invested in training, the longer it will take.

Unfortunately, it’s much quicker to lose muscle than to build it, so if you have to stop for a longer time, it’s important to find other ways to use your muscles – keep moving by walking, running, biking, swimming if you can. This doesn’t mean you can’t skip the gym occasionally, but if you decrease your activity level to zero, you’ll lose muscle strength relatively quickly.

 3 ways to build your muscles back up

Start slowly and work your way up. When it comes to building muscle back up again, the more fit you are, the more quickly you can build. Your muscles will remember where you left off and build more rapidly than if you were just starting a new program. Start slowly and build your workouts up to match your stamina and strength.

Practice proper nutrition. A balanced, varied diet with lean proteins, complex carbs and lots of veggies and fruit will help deliver the amino acids, vitamins, and minerals the body needs to build muscle and stay strong.

Get a good night’s sleep. The body repairs and builds itself while you sleep. Make sure you get enough sleep to allow your body to recover and get stronger.

Keep in mind that breaks are inevitable, so don’t panic if you have to take a break from your workout program. Your body benefits from a recovery period, and you can build your strength back up with focus and consistency, as well as healthy habits.