Obviously, most of us want to have muscles that look shredded and big. And, it’s frustrating to work out for years on end, build your physique- and find out that some days when you wake up, you just look smaller.
But, why is this? Why do my muscles look smaller some days?
The answer is simple. Our muscles look smaller some days because: our ‘pump’ fades away after a few days, our level of carbs fluctuates, we get dehydrated, and our creatine levels fade too. It could also just be stress or other things, and this process is normal- some days we look smaller than other days, and there’s nothing to worry about.
There are many misconceptions in bodybuilding that get people confused about why their muscles look smaller some days, including:
The ‘pump’ doesn’t really only last like 30 minutes.
- The “big” pump lasts about 30 minutes, but your muscles stay looking much bigger than their normal size for a few days afterward.
We only get creatine by eating a powder.
- Creatine is found naturally in many meats, and because of this- your levels can fluctuate day to day.
Carbs are bad.
- Carbs are super important in muscle building and making yourself look bigger.
Water doesn’t affect my size.
- Water is one of the biggest factors in how big your muscles look, if you’re dehydrated- you’ll look tiny.
There is a lot to unpack here, but we are going to explain it all.
Let’s cover this complicated topic, in-depth, and get an answer for this confusing question.
#1 – Our ‘Pump’ Fades, This Is The BIGGEST Reason
If you’ve been working out for a while, you may be familiar with the term, ‘the pump’.
If not, I can’t blame you. It’s kind of a weird term.
The ‘pump’ is a term coined long ago that represents how our muscles swell up and get bigger after working them out.
Ever notice that when you do some curls- your muscles kind of ‘tingle’ and your arms look bigger? That’s exactly what a ‘pump’ is.
A Big Myth is That Our Pump Only Lasts 30 Minutes, It’s Way Longer
Oftentimes, you’ll hear people say- no bro, the pump only lasts 30 minutes after your workout!
This is, partially, true. The ‘big pump’, the one that makes your muscles look the biggest only lasts about 30 minutes. But, a smaller pump that still makes your muscles look much bigger lasts around 1-2 days.
So, this is why some days when you wake up, your muscles are smaller. Your pump from a few days ago has now finally worn off.
If you are on a program that involves a split like: arms, chest/back, legs. You might actually see this happen.
On about your 3rd-4th day of the program you may notice that your arms are looking smaller and once you get back to your arm day- they’ll go right back to size.
#2 – Our Level of Carbohydrates Fluctuates (2nd Biggest Reason!)
Our level of carbohydrates fluctuates day to day. The more carbs that are in your system- the bigger you will look.
Now, this is obviously the difficult part. Carbs are often the thing people want to eat the least of since they are usually in things like ice cream and desserts.
While people try to avoid carbs, they’re in basically everything and they are our most consumed macronutrient.
Because of this, our carb level can heavily fluctuate from day to day. Say you went out to dinner with your friends and got a ton of dessert and treats, you may have a ton of carbs- and look HUGE the next day.
Meanwhile, you’ll have fewer carbs the next day and your muscle will look like it shrunk back to the days you never lifted!
So, many people do things like ‘carb feeds’ because of an upcoming competition or pool party so they look bigger.
#3 – Our Water Levels Change (We Get Dehydrated)
Our water levels change on a day-to-day basis, often being one of the biggest contributing factors to why we look smaller somedays.
If you’re hydrated, you will look your ‘biggest’. However, you won’t necessarily look ‘shredded’. This is also often why it’s best to take those physique pictures in the morning. You look more shredded, even if you look a little smaller.
The more dehydrated you are, the smaller you will look.
Generally, this will happen if you didn’t drink a lot of fluid the day before.
But, really, there are a lot of things that change our water levels. Some of these include:
- Sleeping- we lose a TON of water when we sleep naturally.
- Perhaps you slept longer, or overslept.
- The temperature outside may make you sweat more or less.
- You got busy at work or school and forgot to drink as much.
Regardless, there are tons of reasons our water levels change every day.
The simplest way to combat this, is well, staying hydrated. If your pee is yellow, you should drink more water.
It’s a very overlooked part of ‘looking big’, but it’s also one of the easiest things to do to get back to that ‘swole’ size if you wake up looking smaller.
#4 – Our Creatine Levels Fade
You’ve probably heard of creatine. There are endless videos telling you to purchase the supplement as it’s one of the only supplements that is proven to make you look bigger.
Well, you don’t only get creatine from the supplement. Creatine is a natural ingredient found in meats.
What do people who work out eat? Protein, lots of it. Most of our protein comes from meats.
So, that creatine from the meat you consume actually goes to your body and makes you look bigger. While it’s not as much creatine as you’d get from direct supplementation, it’s still notable.
Because of this, our creatine levels often fluctuate day to day. Creatine, generally speaking, pushes more water into your muscles, making you look bigger.
(Again, this isn’t exactly how it works, so before the science guys come in and explain everything- this is just a general explanation.)
So, depending on your diet, you could be looking smaller because of something you ate Tuesday and didn’t eat Wednesday.
#5 – This is Normal, Don’t Worry About It
This process of us looking smaller some days is completely normal. Don’t worry about it.
You’ll go back to your bigger size in no time. It’s normal to fluctuate day to day.
Why Do My Muscles Look Smaller When I’m Sick?
Muscles often look smaller when you’re sick because: you become dehydrated, a lot of your body becomes inflamed, your body pulls important nutrients from your muscles to fight the infection, you eat less, and your body temporarily halts building muscle while you are sick.
Why Do My Muscles Look Smaller After a Workout?
Directly after a workout, your muscles look smaller because: your muscles have been literally torn apart due to the workout, you have burned many carbs, and you’ve lost a lot of fluid.
Don’t worry about your muscles being torn, that is exactly what working out does. Your muscles ‘grow’ and get bigger when these tears are replaced and fixed to be ‘stronger’.
Do Muscles Look Smaller When Recovering?
Yes, muscles do look smaller when recovering. Although, this is temporary and it should only be a few days before it returns to its normal size, or hopefully an even bigger size.
Do Muscles Get Smaller Before They Get Bigger?
Yes, muscles will get a little smaller before they get bigger. But, this process should only take a few days. If this is taking longer, or your muscles have become smaller for months, you are not eating enough calories and/or protein, you need to most likely increase your calories massively.
This is a common myth- you cannot build muscle without an increase in calories! Don’t worry though, that increase in calories turns into muscle, NOT FAT.
When I started lifting, I decreased my calories- leading to my muscles getting way smaller and NOT bigger. This was bad, once I started increasing the calories, I gained a ton of muscle.
#6 – Conclusion of Why Do My Muscles Look Smaller Some Days?
Whew- that was a lot to cover.
- You might be low on carbs.
- You might be low on water.
- It may have been a while since you worked out that particular muscle.
- Your creatine levels may have changed.
- And honestly, it could just be stress or random things.
The point is, don’t worry about it. It’s a part of growing muscle, it comes and goes and you’ll be back to your bigger size again in no time.