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Not months of lay off but no more than 10 days takes my muscles, especially of my arms, from looking big and feeling hard to something that doesn't make me look like I lift serious weight. It stays in good shape and feel for up to a week of not working out but anything more than that and this happens.

Why does this happen?

I don't lose strength though. I consume enough protein as well.

Is this just my body type or is there any solution for this?

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Aren't your muscles simply swollen after the training and after few days they come back to being normal? This is what happens to me. This is actually real size of your muscles. –  gruszczy Nov 24 '11 at 23:19
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3 Answers

I agree with MountainX about the stress. Stress is proven by several studies to make you lose muscle, increasing the muscle catabolism. I have noticed that stress affects my body, making me lose muscle, even more than I have seen it affecting my friends.

However I don't think this is your problem. You mentioned not working out for 10 days. I have learnt from gymnastics' coaches in my gym that it takes exactly 3 days of not using a particular muscle group in your body and the process of muscle atrophy will be present there. That's because, as Berin mentioned, your body will see no reason to maintain a bigger muscle group. It will burn more calories on a daily basis, harder to maintain and so on. That's why the body will decrease the amount of muscle in a certain area regarding the amount of load/exercising that you apply to it. In other words use it or lose it. Again as Berin mentioned, muscles have memory so you can regain your muscle size and strength in a very short period of time.

The only certain way to maintain particular amount of muscle mass is to keep working out. You have to remind the body that you need that muscle group and it should keep it there. If you don't have enough time for a whole workout you can still maintain the size just by throwing in several sets of clean executed chin-ups/biceps curling throughout your day. The examples serves the biceps muscle group.

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Your body is adapting itself to the lower demands you are placing on it. There are two basic types of adaptation that your body can go through when lifting weights:

  • Myofibrillar hypertrophy--this increases the number of protein pairs per muscle cell. In very basic terms, the more protein pairs the more work that muscle cell can do. More myofibrillar hypertrophy translates to increased strength--but not necessarily bulk.
  • Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy--this increased the amount of energy support within each muscle cell. In very basic terms, it allows you to lift for longer periods of time. The energy support systems take up more room than protein pairs, and is responsible for the bulk that bodybuilders seek.

When your body is detraining itself due to inactivity for longer periods of time, the first systems to unadapt themselves are the support systems. It holds on to the strength part just in case it is still needed, but the body assumes that the need for that strength will be fewer and farther between. This is why it is always a good idea to either repeat your last training cycle after an extended rest or take a small deload.

In your case, the sarcoplasmic hypertrophy that you attained while working out is starting to become unadapted (less sarcoplasmic fluid in the muscle cells). The myofibrillar hypertrophy takes longer to unadapt (or adapt to lower levels).

Bottom line: the longer you go without training, the more you will lose endurance/size (first) and strength (second). However, because your body knows how it needs to adapt when you start training it again, you will get back to your trained state quicker.

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In Practical Programming, Rippetoe claims that hypertrophy is the last thing to degrade, persisting even longer than strength. –  Greg Nov 25 '11 at 18:45
    
Same source says recovery is the first thing to detrain. And note there are 2 types of hypertrophy. Which one did he say degraded first? –  Berin Loritsch Nov 25 '11 at 19:00
    
He didn't specify, just "hypertrophy", but since he listed strength as a separate item (and not mass/size), I took that to mean sarco. –  Greg Nov 25 '11 at 19:29
    
Good answer but I think the loss of hypertrophy as mentioned by Berin is more in novices than in advanced BB. Some advanced BB can go on without any loss of hypertrophy if they are still on a good diet. Though I don't have a scientific background on this but in real life I have seen this to be true for a number of novice or intermediate BB. –  Geek Jan 7 '13 at 7:15
    
There's probably some truth to that @Geek. I have a feeling though that the OP is more a beginner than intermediate/advanced. –  Berin Loritsch Jan 7 '13 at 11:56
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I seem to lose muscle size quickly if not working out for some time. Why does this happen?

I take it that you feel the changes are quicker for you than in comparison with your friends or peers. You asked, "Is this just my body type?"

So the question isn't limited to general principles. If you are seeing unusual results, it could be stress or lack of good lifestyle habits. Do you get enough sleep? Are you under psychological stress? Is your schedule regular?

Psychological stress (even something as common as being a student in a challenging major) can increase your levels of catabolic hormones.

You also asked, "is there any solution for this?" Yes. Focus on getting lots of rest, managing stress and having a regular schedule. You may see that you don't lose mass as quickly if your stress goes down and your lifestyle improves.

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